My friend Didier Frayssou, a wine master who can match any dish to its soul-mate wine, has a quality I adore in French men: a sophisticated palate and a love of his mom's home cooking. I don't think I'd known him five minutes before he started telling me about his mother's farçous, a type of crepe or galette that's loaded with greens, most especially Swiss chard. Didier comes from Laguiole in the Auvergne, but farçous are a staple throughout Southwest France, where all the moms have their own way of making them.
In French homes, farçous are a robust main course, most often served with a salad. Served as supper, the pancakes are usually fairly big, sometimes even as large as a skillet, but they can be made smaller (my preference) and served as an hors d'oeuvre, starter, or side dish. And while I'm sure that moms all over France insist that their combination of chard and herbs is the best (if not the only acceptable one), I'm equally sure that thrifty cooks vary the recipe without apology, adding whatever herbs they can snip from the garden or scavenge from the refrigerator bin and opting for another onion instead of a shallot if that's what they have on hand. I like the addition of parsley and chives to the pancakes, but if you've got rosemary or thyme instead, or if you prefer basil or sage, feel free to play around. I'm sure that somewhere in the rule book it says that farçous can only be made with Swiss chard, but spinach, however unorthodox, is also awfully good.
This makes a lot of pancakes, but they freeze perfectly, so I always make the full recipe. If you think this is going to be too much for you, cut the recipe in half and use 1 egg and 1 yolk.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 large eggs
- 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 shallot, coarsely chopped, rinsed, and patted dry
- 2 garlic cloves, split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped
- Leaves from 10 parsley sprigs
- 10 fresh chives, snipped
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 5 large or 10 small Swiss chard leaves, center ribs removed, washed, and dried
- About 1/2 cup grapeseed, peanut, or vegetable oil
1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil, and line a plate with paper towels.
2. Put everything except the Swiss chard and oil in a blender or food processor, making sure you season the mix generously with salt and pepper, and whir until the batter is smooth. (If your machine won't handle this quantity, work in batches.) Little by little, add the chard to the mix and whir to incorporate it. There's no need to pulverize the chard — having some strands is nice.
3. Pour 1/4 to 1/2 inch of oil into a large skillet and place the skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (a drop of batter should seize immediately), spoon in a scant 1/4 cup batter for each pancake — don't crowd the pan: depending on the size of the pan, 4 pancakes is probably max per batch. Cook the pancakes for about 3 minutes, until the underside is nicely browned and the edges are browned and curled. Flip the pancakes over and cook for another 2 minutes or so. Transfer the pancakes to the paper-towel-lined plate, cover with more towels, and pat off the excess oil. Place them on the foil-lined baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you continue to make pancakes, adding more oil to the pan as needed.
Serving:Traditionally, farçous are served with a salad as a main course, but you could serve fewer per portion as a starter or omit the salad and serve them as a side dish. If you want to serve the farçous as an hors d'oeuvre, you might want to include a dipping sauce or topping of crème fraîche, cervelle de canut, or plain yogurt. You might also think about drizzling them with a little basil or parsley coulis— they don't really need the coulis, but it's a good combination.
Storing:You can make the farçous a few hours ahead, keep them covered at room temperature, and reheat them in a conventional oven or microwave before serving. Or you can pack them airtight (make sure to separate them with small squares of wax or parchment paper) and freeze them, then reheat as needed.