"It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?" A. A. Milne
I have spent a long time trying to find a suitable 'starter' picture for this post, but in the end I have settled on this which I think is actually an ad for a restaurant somewhere. I chose it because it expresses the idea of France, and celebration, and just in a very oblique way food - particularly food from Provence. So I hope it will do to suck you all in.
Yesterday was Bastille Day, and sort of coincidentally, we were invited to lunch with friends who live in Gisborne, which is a kind of Melbourne outlier. You travel some 30 kilometres through countryside - soon to be built on I fear - to this small country town. Its proximity to Melbourne, however, means it's really an outer, outer suburb, particularly in these days of working from home. It's no worse a commute from other ostensibly closer suburbs after all.
Our friends, like us, love France, and so the theme for the lunch, it being Bastille Day, was French, mostly inspired I think, by Clare's visit to the Lancefield Farmer's Market where she purchased this multicultural saucisson. I say multicultural, because the name on the label sounded Greek and Clare told us that the seller called it salami. However, it looked like saucisson, which after all is the French form of salami, and it did have that outer mouldy looking casing that the French do so well.
It was utterly delicious I have to say, particularly the fennel flavoured one. I told everyone how the French tended to eat their slices of saucisson with a dab of butter on it, and so I tried to recreate that particular taste for myself. However, as Clare said, why would you? I suppose it's a little bit like eating your salami on a slice of buttered bread, but saucisson - like this one - is really a bit hard in texture for that. It's not super soft like other salamis. In fact now that I think about it maybe this is the distinguishing feature of French saucisson - the true version of which is shown below.
There was a brief discussion about the cost of the saucisson. They are pretty expensive. I think this particular one was over $30 for a whole quite long one - kilo I think. At first one is appalled. But think about it. If you buy this sort of thing already sliced and packaged you will find that it costs at least $50 for a kilo. So if you slice it thinly the cost is actually very small in comparison. Which is true. I remember buying some true Italian prosciutto in the supermarket deli at about $45 per kilo. I only needed half a dozen slices - sliced thinly - and actually this cost me less than $2.00 - considerably less than the slices that were prepacked ($70-$85 per kilo) and fresher too.
But then a lovely surprise - one of my favourite French dishes - Soupe de poissons (fish soup) - of the Provençal kind, although not puréed. Served with a saffron flavoured rouille however, as you should, and croutons. As you can see it is very tomatoey and so, so flavoursome. I'm afraid I gorged on second helpings. I was told that this was an Elizabeth David recipe.
However, I'm not sure what particular Elizabeth David recipe this is, having now trawled through all of her books - yes I have them all - twice. The nearest I think is a dish called White fish soup from her first book - A Book of Mediterranean Food. And so, I suppose, it is not necessarily French. Nor is there any rouille. I await notice from Clare as to which recipe was used, although of course, like most of us she may well have adapted a less obvious recipe for the day. Perhaps, for example, it was one of those fish soups which require you to push the fish through a sieve, only she chose not to. I did that once and decided it was just too horrifically difficult and so decided to never do it again. This one, I thought I could try. And I will. Even David who is not a major lover of fish was delighted. And, yes, it was oh so French. Loved it.
On to the cheese. The French, as you know, eat their cheese between the main course and dessert. And here we were treated to an actual French Fromager d'Affinois double brie. Well I now doubt myself as Clare maintained she could not find the producer online, so maybe it was a different one, because the Fromager d'Affinois brand is definitely online and is definitely French - from Pelussin and Belley which is south of Lyon. It was super, whoever made it. Then there was Meredith goat's cheese. Yes, not French but it is superb and it's like the best French fresh goat's cheese. A homage if you like. Alas I am not sure what the hard cheese was, but that too was quality. And I hope you notice the French knives - the ones with the cicada on the side. And the French looking crockery too.
By now we had consumed a fair amount of good Australian wine - well to get good French wine is difficult and expensive, so why would you? So for dessert we turned to coffee to accompany a Tarte aux Poires. Pears on a frangipane base, just like the French do. How could you not like that?
With apologies to Clare though I cannot resist inserting this picture of an amazingly beautiful looking tart of the same name from a Coles Magazine - Poached pear frangipane tart. It's probably quite simple to make but I'm pretty sure that neither you nor I will end up with something looking as precise as that. How do people manage to slice pears so elegantly and then arrange them equally elegantly? I personally think that only a professional pastry cook like all those French patissiers can do it. And does it matter that our efforts look a lot more humble, because the taste will actually be the same. The fundamental elements are easy to make. It's just the presentation skills that are lacking. And let's be a little bit catty - maybe it wouldn't taste as good as ours anyway. Clare's was superb.
So yes a wonderful way to celebrate Bastille Day, and I should say, that although the food was magnifique, really it was the company that made the occasion. We had not seen our friends for a while so it was good to catch up and the conversation sparkled. Nostalgia for all things French - we are all Francophiles - and not too much on the woes and ills of the world. Well maybe the men did a bit of that, but I suspect that women are not quite as interested. No that's not true. We just don't like to engage in doom and gloom when enjoying a French lunch.
So belatedly - Joyeux Quatorze Juillet. Much better food than for Independence Day (July 4)