Sunday, 25 July 2010

A taste of the south

It's not the obvious souvenir to bring back from a break in Paris, but an hour's wait at Gord de Nord for the Eurostar last week had offered the opportunity for a bit of last-minute shopping and, together with a bottle or perfume, I couldn't resist a book about Provencal cooking.

Lovely to look at and full of mouth-watering ideas (some of which I was already familiar with), it proved a calming read on the journey home from civilisation (which is basically how I always feel on returning from the Continent).

That was Tuesday – and it was followed by three extremely busy days as we turned around a publication and got it out, on time, on Friday. Okay – we always knew that we would, but the timetable still meant that it was a lot of actual work in a short time. I think I designed/set seven pages on Thursday alone.

So finally to Saturday, and time to sit down with the new cookery book as I contemplated the weekend's food.

So many great ideas made it a difficult choice. In the end, my weekend menu saw me poach a bit of salmon on Saturday, served with new potatoes, sautéed baby courgette and freshly made aioli (which is becoming a weekly habit). This was not from any recipe, but I'm always aware that, unless I cook some, The Other Half is unlikely to ensure that he has at least one portion of oily fish a week.

For Sunday, however, it was a dish from the new book: chicken, sautéed in a Provençale style.

Depending on how many you're cooking for: take some chicken pieces (I used four thighs for the two of us), pat them dry and season. Heat some olive oil in a large sauté pan and fry the chicken until golden on the skin side; turn and get it cooked on the flesh side too. Remove to a plate.

Pop in a sliced onion and cook for a minute or two.

Add a good glug (100ml or so) or white or rosé wine. Deglaze.

Add some skinned, deseeded and chopped tomatoes, some black olives, a good squeeze of tomato purée and a bouquet garni – ideally including oregano or marjoram, but I hadn't got any, so used flat leaf parsley, basil, thyme and bay. Cook for a few minutes and then pop the chicken pieces back in. Cover and simmer until the meat is really tender (the book said 10 minutes – 20 was hardly over the top).

Not bad at all. Tasty and pretty healthy too.

In the meantime, I was a little surprised to read Christopher Hirst's A bitter taste in the mouth? The myth of British gastronomy in the Independent.

He makes some valid points, but can he really have forgotten (or perhaps he's not old enough to have experienced) what food was like in the UK back in the 1970s, say?

In terms of my weekend fodder, I no longer have to go to a supermarket and be surrounded by whole aisles of 'potato snacks', while struggling to find one decent loaf of bread of a tomato that has taste – I can use one of the markets that he mentions: something that has only been available to me in the last six years.

I don't have to use it – it's a choice. Because the presence of such a market hasn't removed choice, but added to it.

Hirst is right – to an extent – to pour some cold water on the sort of claims that the food at such markets is as good as it gets anywhere, but he forgets that this is, to a very large extent, a new and developing world of British foodyism. And while it's difficult to argue that any British artisan baker is as good as their French counterparts, for instance, British cheeses – but mostly not the ones found in supermarkets, wrapped in plastic – are high up there with the best.

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