French seasonal treats: répountsous (asparagus alternative)

Strangely bent figures can be seen at this time of year patrolling the grass verges, heads bowed in concentration, oblivious to the juggernauts thundering past. What are they doing?

Spring is the time when French peoples’ fancy turns to répountsous (there are several possible spellings) the Occitan name for the tamus communis, a climbing wild vine which is toxic except the young shoots (7-8 cm). They are available for only a few weeks, after which they get tough and woody (and toxic!). They are considered a great delicacy in the Aveyron, Tarn and Tarn-et-Garonne, not unlike wild asparagus (although they are not the same thing). More important, they’re free, provided you don’t mind the traffic fumes and whatever else that gets deposited on them.

You can see répountsous on sale in the local markets, but most people prefer to pick their own and I am told they have an ancient right to enter others’ property to do so. There is even an annual repountchous  (local spelling) fête in April at Cordes-sur-Ciel .

Here I must admit that I’ve never tried it, but from our straw poll of the neighbours, it appears you either love it or hate it. Everyone has his or her opinion on whether the tiniest shoots are best or if you should wait till they are finger-thick; also on how long you should blanch them to remove the bitter taste.

Here is the local recipe for a salad in which répountsous is the star ingredient:

For 4 people:

1 large bunch répountsous (about 500g), blanched in salted, boiling water for 2 minutes (some add 1 tbsp vinegar to the cooking water). Or use ordinary asparagus tips.

3 large potatoes, boiled and sliced into rounds

2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced in two lengthwise

50g smoked lardons (bacon chopped small), fried

For the dressing:

4 tbsp walnut oil

1 tbsp Balsamic or white wine vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Arrange the ingredients in a large, shallow-sided serving dish, mix the dressing and pour it over the salad.

Copyright © 2010 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved

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