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Archive for the ‘shopping’ Category

cotes de Provence, tarali, charcuterie, baguette, taramasalata
Not much going on here, just the fixings for a lazy afternoon at our home from home in Vieux Nice: what more could you need than a chilled bottle of Côtes de Provence rosé, a package of freshly sliced finocchiona (fennel salami), crunchy taralli with chili, baguette still-warm from its wood oven, a block of freshly churned butter and a wee pot of taramasalata, all picked up during the course of a leisurely shopping stroll around the old town streets?  Well, I can tell you, a copy of Nice Matin to read on the balcony, that’s what.

Nice Matin newspaper

Too bad we flew home before the volcano exploded…

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My first husband’s idea of wit was to exclaim, whenever the opportunity presented itself (surprisingly, gratingly, often);  “Anchovies? Smelly little fish!”   The marriage didn’t last long, but if by some warped circumstance we had found ourselves strolling the markets of Vieux Nice last week, I should have been delighted to waterboard him with a vat of poutine in response.

baby anchovies for sale in Vieux Nice

Now, fresh poutine is not smelly but it is most certainly a preponderance of tiny little baby fish: the fry of sardines and, yes-you-guessed-it, anchovies; rather rare, rather restricted and rather delicious, netted strictly by licence, only along the Côte d’Azur between Antibes and Menton, and only for a month at the end of winter (February/March): very local, very special and altogether too good for no-good husbands.  Happily for the peace of the Vieille Ville, I was accompanied by the darling Mr T, whose adult approach to things piscine is a joy, an ichthyic ideal.

Jacques Médecin, controversial erstwhile mayor of Nice, was a passionate advocate of Niçoise cuisine and I quote here from his well-regarded cookbook, La bonne cuisine du Comté de Nice:

A la saison de février, lorsque brille, sur les étals, la nacre de poutine, les rues des villes – vieilles ou nouvelles – retentissent de l’appel des marchandes: “A la bella poutina!  A la bella poutina!”  qui inspira mon vieux camarade de classe Gilbert Becaud dans sa chanson sur les marchés de Provence.

Around February, as the pearly sheen of poutine gleams on the market stalls, town streets – old and new – ring with the call of the vendors: “A la bella poutina!  A la bella poutina!”, the inspiration for my former classmate Gilbert Becaud’s song,  The Markets of Provence [Gastroplod’s rough & ready translation]

and for your extreme pleasure, here’s Gilbert Becaud himself – listen out for him calling “A la bella poutina” at the very end and you will have a charming early-spring echo of  Place St-François in Vieux Nice.


click here for the lyrics (in French)

I took my first and as-yet-only taste of poutine at the Café des Fleurs on the Cours Saleya, in one of its traditional preparations in the form of an omelette.  No surprises here, it tasted just like an omelette with all the briny flavour and savour of very fresh anchovies and sardines, and I did enjoy the sparkle of their teeny-weeny little eyes glinting in the sunlight.
omelette made with seasonal baby fish; sardines, anchovies, in Vieux Nice

French Wiki reference: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poutine_(Nice)

* this poutine has nothing to do with that somewhat-stodgier Québecois fries-gravy-curds speciality also called poutine: although I used to enjoy that version now & then in Vancouver, I know which I’d prefer now…

apartment rental

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Cured meats, two of our favourite convenience foods: sitting on the left side of our slate roof tile we have saucisson with pimento and mustard seeds and on the right,  prosciutto crudo – home-carved from the boneless joint I scooped at Lidl just before Christmas…

£14 at Sainsbury's March 2009
….add rosé Champagne, one of my favourite things to drink, and we had the raw ingredients for a very Happy Valentine’s Day.  This Taittinger was an unusual tawny-orange, possibly from the extra year’s bottle age and meatier than most, possibly from the Pinot Noir, maybe the terroir: whatever the reason, it stood its ground with the charcuterie.  Sighing with satisfaction I could only hope everyone was having such a lovely, lazy afternoon last Sunday: everything came up roses.

Valentine’s Day luxuries without spending a fortune

  • Saucisson with pimento and mustard seed £3.99 new at Waitrose (paid £1.49 on sell-by date)
  • Prosciutto crudo joint £11.74 at Lidl (about £8 a kilo as far as I recall)
  • Taittinger Prestige Rosé £14-ish on the sale shelf in Sainsbury last Spring – total bargain! – now £36 approx.

btw: it was quite something to see the bunfight at the steak counter in M&S on Saturday – don’t these people have any imagination?

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sanguine bloody sanguines

sanguine And then I tried the Maltese sanguines: smaller and cheaper by 50p, sharper and less fragrant.  A much milder thrill than the stunning Sicilian Tarocco, but a welcome dose of sunshine all the same.

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Treat time at Waitrose: Tarocco “blush” oranges are on the shelves again, it’s Blood Orange season!tarocco

Much as I disapprove in theory, I do understand blood oranges’ rebranding to something a little less daunting; I remember as a child when presented with a carefully peeled and segmented Blood Orange I used to wonder if it really might be blood I was eating, and if so, whose, and how did it get there and how did they die – and then losing my appetite.  It’s a hard sell to the impressionable.

Blush might not be original nor evoke the sunshine blazing from the heart of each fruit, but if it means we can still get hold of these sparkling gems of the citrus world then I’m all for it, and as wrote Shakespeare for Juliet,

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

And the Tarocco is certainly sweet:   it’s one of the world’s most popular oranges, apparently, thanks to its sweetness, juciness AND glorious subtleties of flavour.    I’m told it also happens to contain the highest Vitamin C content of any orange variety grown in the world, PLUS a bucketful of anthocyanin antioxidants (thanks to the red bits).  As if that weren’t temptation enough the wonderful Tarocco is seedless and its thin skin is easy to peel – very little pith too.

It’s also pretty right-on, what with having its own AOC – or is that IGT – or DOP?  Not sure, but it’s EU protected, its production having been under threat from the ubiquitous and frankly dull in comparison Navel and Valencia oranges (of no fixed abode).  BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme about blood/blush orange growing in Sicily is excellent, full of information and an aural evocation of sunny Sicily, most welcome with our bleak British winter as yet unwilling to relinquish its icy grip: listen again and again…

I don’t advocate doing anything with a Tarocco during its short season of availability other than devouring it raw and alone (the orange, that is).  You could admire its rosy beauty in a salad with chicory or fennel with a strew of black olives, but don’t waste the exuberance of its flavour and fragrance by cooking a Tarocco – better buy a Seville for that.

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One of my all-time favourite dishes is brandade de morue – salt cod whipped up with olive oil and mashed potato plus a wee hint or more of garlic and a scatter of parsley.  Much as I adore the taste, though, I’m not about to pack in my suitcase a whiffy hunk of dried North Atlantic cod just so I can then rehydrate it under a running cold tap for a couple of days before cooking.

pureeAuthenticity be damned in this instance and come to think of it, I don’t remember when I last peeled a potato to make mash – certainly not since discovering this wonder-product from Lidl: 99p for a four-pouch box.  If you’ve ever read the ingredients list on a packet of Smash and its ilk, the relative purity of this product will come as some surprise, for it reads thus: Dehydrated potatoes (97%), salt, emulsifier (E471), nutmeg, spices, stabiliser (E450i), preservative: sodium metabisuphite (E223), antioxidant (E304), Acid (E330).  May contain traces of milk: that’s it. 

And before you start squealing in horror at the E numbers allow me to enlighten:

  • E330 = ascorbic acid = Vitamin C
  • E304 = ascorbic acid ester = Vitamin C+palmitic acid

The others are arguably possibly slightly dodgy, in that:

  • E223 can be an allergen, not recommended for consumption by children
  • E450i = disodium diphosphate, high intakes of which may upset the body’s calcium/phosphate equilibrium, so excessive use may lead to imbalance of mineral levels, which could potentially lead to damage to bone density and osteoporosis (drinking too much fizzy anything destroys your bones too)
  • E471 = mono and diglycerides of fatty acids; could be animal in origin or from genetically modified soya.

brandadefumee
I can live with that, especially when pretty much all you have to do is scald 250ml milk with 500ml water and sprinkle one sachet over the top for some pretty good pommes purées.  It’s definitely French-style though so don’t even think of using this stuff for fishcakes – for that you need the real McCoy! The consistency is purrrfect however, for a creamy brandade. I take a few fillets of smoked fish – here I was fortunate enough to have hot-smoked sea bass and cold-smoked haddock cruising around the freezer – and poach them in the milk & water with finely sliced garlic, a strip of lemon peel, bay leaf and a pinch of saffron.  I then remove the fillets, skin and flake them hot in the few minutes while the potato flakes do their magic in the hot liquid, then stir the fish back in with a fork to blend. Sometimes I shred them finely and actually whisk the mix to more closely approximate brandade but it’s not strictly necessary by any means.
smokyfishmash

Piled into a ceramic dish and finished off in a hot oven it’s a fantastically hearty meal for two on a cold night, accompanied by a woodcutter’s pile of steamed carrots and courgettes and a lightly oaked chardonnay.  Somehow winter doesn’t seem so bad after all…

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Don’t get me wrong here folks, I have huge admiration for Michelin-starred chef/restaurateur/TV presenter/cookbook author Richard Corrigan, with his salt-of-the-earth bonhomie, clear-eyed yet unjaundiced worldview and his solid, down-home cooking style.  But I did a double-take when I saw his latest publication, The Clatter of Forks and Spoons placed next to Big Flavours & Rough Edges: Recipes from the Eagle – wouldn’t you?

roughandtumble1
It’s a terrific image so I don’t begrudge it at all – that’s my charity-shop-chic silver plate cutlery! – and Corrie’s text is so environmentally and politically astute, I can even find the recycling of a cover idea eco-fabulously forgiveable.  It’s almost a shame he couldn’t have borrowed the title too, but the rattle of battered flatware on a hard surface is even more gorgeously evocative of his writing.  Not a plain celebrity chef collection of restaurant recipe formulae, this book follows the current fashion, being a collation of discursive thoughts and memories, favourite dishes and discoveries: recipes sharing equal space with long tracts of text and a smattering of mood-evoking photographs; similar to Georgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy, for example.  To which I say hooray, by the way – who ever learnt anything about food or cooking from a mere recipe book?

On the other hand, I was going to recommend David Eyre’s excellent-in-parts Eagle gastro-pub-grub book – for its informative recipes but not its crummy index – until I realised it’s out of print and £95 – bloody hell! – so I’ll just be wiping the spills and splashes from my precious copy a little more assiduously in the future.  I will however, soon be sharing its best recipe: root vegetable & greens soup.  Prosaic-sounding, I know, but absolutely ambrosial, and to which I return time and time again: a soup apart.
Big Flavours & Rough Edges: Recipes from the Eagle
The Clatter of Forks and Spoons

And if you’re not into reading or cooking, sample Richard Corrigan’s hospitality at Bentley’s Oyster Bar 11-15 Swallow Street, London W1 (just off Piccadilly) – bliss – or scroll down and watch this captivating video of him talking about this book
.

His new place sounds pretty nice, too: Corrigan’s Mayfair 28 Upper Grosvenor Street London W1

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