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Hachis parmentier (French cottage pie)

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The Runaway Spoon

(Read caption) Hachis parmentier is a rich beef casserole topped with Parmesan flavored mashed potatoes.

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My introduction to this French country dish was, oddly, in London.  And the first time I had it, I had never heard of it.  Since my graduate school days, I have made an annual pilgrimage to London, extending the trip each year, to spend enough time to settle in and not feel rushed or overwhelmed.  Sure, I go to museums and historical sights and see friends, but my main focus, as is always the case, is food. 

The first thing I do when I arrive is hit the various markets in town to stock up on whatever is fresh and in season. I rent a flat for my stay so I have access to a kitchen. Several years ago, in my neighborhood, a new street market began. And it is fabulous. Not big like Borough Market, but a perfect gem of a Saturday stop.  The vendors offer mostly prepared foods in such a diverse array it’s like vacation with in a vacation. Oysters driven up from the South coast that morning, two Syrian brothers who sell sticky, sweet pastries. An Indonesian family making unbelievable rice flour fritters with curry and shrimp. A young English woman who sells the most meltingly delicious handmade fudge. Homemade Portugese jams, freshly baked breads, an array of cheeses from all over England, and another booth specializing in French cheese. When I plan my schedule, I make sure to be in London on as many Saturdays as possible to visit this jewel-box market.

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