About Me

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Salad Niçoise: Adding Hearty and Healthy Ingredients as desired

 A  French chef recently got himself into trouble for cheerily telling viewers to add beans, potatoes, and parmesan in his salade niçoise recipe. It wouldn't be so bad if the report were in the local press, but this was on National French television Chanel 6. 

Purists defending salade niçoise, a salad made in the style of Nice, claim salade niçoise should only be made with the freshest of uncooked vegetables. You can’t help feeling sorry for Cyril Lignac; he had to put up with loads of unfair comments from angry spectators. With words such as 'Defiling our culture,' the poor guy felt compelled to revise his original recipe containing 17 ingredients.

It all seems a bit unfair because Lignac is not the only French chef who strayed from tradition. French culinary writer Auguste Escoffier (1846 – 1935) also added green beans and potatoes to his salad niçoise.  Defenders also attacked Escoffier saying he was not a real Nicois (a resident of Nice), which is unjust  as he was born in Villeneuve-Lou bet, a few villages away from Nice.

And, if you type in salade niçoise into your favorite search engine, there are tons of made from heaven recipes for this French classic. Purists should recognize sticking to traditional methods does not make us creative and adventurous when it comes to cooking  and enjoying food.

 Making  olive oil (so important for any salad nicoise)  is an excellent example of how traditional methods can improve over time. Today, most olive oil mills have a centrifugal system of pressing olives, replacing the original millstone method, which was unhygienic and time-consuming. But some consumers still look for olive oil pressed the authentic way, holding on to a tradition that is no longer efficient.  On visiting a modern mill at harvest time, they are surprised at the progress  commenting on how clean and odor-free the premises are.

Thankfully extra virgin olive oil is much tastier and healthier, all because of new modern techniques

To  summarize, holding on to tradition is not always the best solution.. And don’t fret, you can add whatever vegetables you like in a salad niçoise.

Here's what you need for a colorful, healthy, vibrant salad niçoise. 

Salade Niçoise 

 Salade Niçoise   – 10 ingredients

3 large eggs
Cos lettuce leaves
250 gms. French (green) beans
1 Lebanese cucumber sliced
½ red sliced onion
4 tomatoes cut in 8
3 waxy potatoes cooked and  quartered
1 tin of tuna chunks or fillets in olive oil, drained

1 can of anchovies in olive oil, drained

½ cup of green or black olives

Monday, August 3, 2020

Portrait of a Corsican Olive Oil Producer

People who grow olives are lovely. People who produce olive oil are special because they make something that will make us healthier. 

 Sandrine Marfisi’s dream of growing olives became a reality when she married and moved to Corsica back in 1996. Today this successful olive producer runs the family business, Domaine L'Asprellu, in the Nebbiu region in North Corsica, where they make  100% natural Corsican olive oil with olives from their estate. They press their extra virgin olive oil, L’Aliva Marina, to perfection in their very own mill without additives and filtration, and more importantly, it carries the prestigious AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) label.
Ripe olives ready for crushing
Here is her story.

The Domaine, situated about 25 kilometers from Bastia, is a relatively young Corsican plantation – the first trees were planted in 2003.   The remaining one-third of the estate consists of grafted olive trees rescued after the two devastating fires in 1957 and 1985.

Managing the soil and protecting these two orchards is an ongoing affair.

“It started as a hobby," Sandrine said. Today, the family cultivates four species, each with its distinct quality and sometimes with fascinating historical backgrounds. The Ghjermana,
 for example, a predominant cultivar, was introduced in Corsica during the Genoese occupation.   The Corsican people had little choice at the time, the invaders made the rules.
 Growers either had to grow the species or pay a hefty fine.

 “It turned out to be a good investment though because today it is one of the hardiest cultivars and resists strong winds very well a boost for Corsican Olive Oil,” noted Sandrine.

You couldn’t ask for a more idyllic geographic location for Domaine L’ Asprellu.  All of the 1,100 trees on the 6-hectare estate face the sunny blue Mediterranean Sea.  This means that   Sandrine gets to harvest her olives a good three weeks or so before the other plantations. In Corsica, there are six varieties of olives and producers of Corsican olive oil aiming for the precious AOP label ‘Oliu di Corsica’ pick the fruit when they are already black or fully ripe.

A perfect location for olives

Being close to the sea has other advantages as Sandrine Marfisi pointed out:

“We plant our trees with lots of space between them, and thanks to the microclimate, gentle breeze, our trees don't suffer from any fungal infection. And more importantly, the air is pollution-free. ”
I asked Sandrine whether the sea air left a taste of iodine in the mouth.  She explained that even though on the first contact, the fruit might have a salty feel,  on processing, there is no hint of saltiness in the oil as the salt crystals are evacuated during processing. Olive oil contains no water.

On the flip side, there are disadvantages to being so close to the sea.  Storms are sometimes a problem as heavy storms can damage the trees. The wind can cause havoc during the flowering period, especially for the Sabine variety, which is very sensitive to sea spray.
Harvesting starts as soon as the fruit is ready using an electric comb but without a vibrator to avoid damage to the tree.

Collecting the olives in the nets below is a fun affair. Listening to Sandrine, it’s easy to see what she means. The watchful hard-working period is now over; the day the family has been waiting for is finally here. Harvesting is a time for rejoicing. Her husband Patrice and their two sons also take an active part working as diligently as possible. On a good day, they can collect around 1 ton of olives giving around  200 liters of Corsican Olive Oil.

Crushing takes place on the estate as soon as possible, everyone anxious to taste the new oil, eager to check the aroma of hay and almond that  AOP status requires.  

And the taste?

 “Respecting the fruity mûr criteria for AOP, the oil should be mild, not too bitter, not too spicy but with a hint of pepper,” Sandrine says.
  Admittedly living in Corsica has many perks, but for running an olive oil business, there can be some frustrations.

 Sandrine admits:

 “We have poor infrastructure, especially here in this part of the Nebbiu region and sometimes have to go without electricity. The other problem is getting Corsican olive oil out to mainland France. It takes time and can be expensive as well. Corsican Olive oil is not cheap because most of us have small farms requiring a lot of labor, and there’s the competition to think about."
Sandrine talks with passion about Corsica, olive trees and Corsican Olive Oil, with such infectious courage and cheerfulness, I realize I could talk to her for ages.

   “Working sustainably on the lands which are ours and which produce our olives is the greatest mark of respect for our “Island of Beauty”, for the land where we live and which we wish to bequeath to our children.”  

This Corsican Olive oil producer means every word.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

COVID -19 leads to New Norms for Food Education

The silence these past few months worried me.  It wasn't so much the silence in my head, but the silence around me. Thankfully, many of us are now  in a better space.   The winds of change are finally rolling back the clouds of depression and repression that Covid-19 brought.

Staying at home might have felt like being in prison in the beginning, but did you notice changes in your eating habits?

Wanting to focus on the positives for this long overdue post, I caught up with two professionals sharing a common interest, the science of food. This post then isn't about the rules of social distance or the hard blows they had to put up with, but offers some positive insight as to what they gleaned from these three months of confinement.

I wasn't surprised that both olive oil expert Cecile Le Galliard from France and Lee Anne Mundy, an Australian dietitian, applauded the new consumer habit of resorting to short distribution channels for food supplies.
Olive oil expert Cécile Le Galliard judging extra virgin olive oil

The Trend for buying local

With the open-air markets in France closed, folks had to make an effort to find fresh vegetables and fruit. Supermarket shortages, restricted shopping, and confinement regulations forced them to stay at home and cook. 

Cécile, who lives in a rural area not far away from the Spanish border, noticed that more and more folks were purchasing food supplies from local producers.
"Rather than buying eggs, vegetables, and fruit from remote European countries, we should continue this positive trend of promoting local food economy, she said." 
Lee Anne Mundy, who lives in the north Tasmania, noticed the same trend.  She said that NW 
Tasmania is a key agricultural region for Tasmania but with  the COVID  epidemic  local and artisan producers were unable to get their produce to farmers markets, restaurants and other outlets.
Seasonal Eating a trend to cultivate

"One positive outcome of the COVID- 19 closures was the emergence of direct buying from the producer, thus cutting down on middlemen, food miles, and nurturing seasonal eating." Lee Anne observed.

Lee- Anne noted that during lockdown more Australians were making bread at home and, in particular, sourdough bread (pain de campagne). This is good news, a healthy trend when you think of commercial bread packed with preservatives.

 She said “ Not only does sourdough have great taste and longer shelf life but  it's also a healthy option, more comfortable to digest probably due to the prebiotic(useful bacteria promoters)  content.”

Diabetes sufferers, people with food intolerance and irritable bowel have another reason for opting for this type of bread.  It has a lower glycemic index, and the sourdough process breaks down some common culprits of bloating and digestive upset in people. 

Online education to improve olive oil knowledge

It wasn’t an easy time for Cecile Le Galliard. She couldn’t travel to judge olive oil competitions, she couldn’t meet with clients, and she couldn't have olive oil tasting sessions, one of her main occupations.

Luckily there was a solution – meeting the participants on line.

Teaming up with olive oil trainer and producer Alexandra Gauquelin Roche, the two trainers assembled ebox tasting kits containing 5 different kinds of oils as well as learning material such as a scoring sheets to assess the oils. These were sent out to participants who had already followed their basic olive oil tasting course.
  The follow up online classes to discuss their findings were a hit. Participants loved the sessions that allowed them to keep up and further their olive oil skills and knowledge with the experts.

 "The level two participants had time to study the samples at home with none of the pressure of a typical tasting session. The follow up online course allowed participants to comment, discuss, and learn more about the five different samples.”

Cécile, who spends a lot of time commuting for her work, explained:

“Online teaching has  new meaning, it has opened up my eyes on how much more we can achieve  - even olive oil  tasting."

To summarize:

1. On line, education is not only for children and young adults.  New solutions, connections and inspirations have huge potential with on line marketing

2. More of us are developing and cultivating healthy eating habits looking for the fresh and healthy.  Why not get into the habit of making healthy bread?

3. A shift in consumer interests shows that there are new ways of buying and consuming thus strengthening the role of the local farmer. 

Will these changes make a difference?  Only the future will tell.