I’m one of those people that really craves bitter greens. And France is a funny place because on one hand, radicchio (trevise), frisée, arugula, and Belgian endive are found easily. The more sturdy greens – like kale and broccoli rabe, are frequently absent, although I did recently hear an Italian vendor at the market explaining to a baffled patron what broccoli raab was. He told her it was “…the foie gras of Portugal”, which wasn’t quite how I would phrase it, but I admired how he customized his sales technique appropriate to his clientele.
Results tagged garlic from David Lebovitz
During my trip to the Côte d’Azur with Matt and Adam, after the second or third day, we realized that we hadn’t eaten in any restaurants. With the fresh ingredients available, we were preparing our own meals (pretty well, I might add), and we didn’t feel the need to hand over the cooking duties to a third-party. It was a bit of heaven being in part of the country where garden-fresh vegetables are abundant, and we found ourselves gorging on local specialties that we made ourselves, like aïoli and socca, and not craving any meat or cheese.
But one restaurant did catch my eye, which many consider the best restaurant on the Côte d’Azur, and that’s Mirazur, located in Menton, a small town that meets the radiantly blue Mediterranean and is literally walking distance to Italy. When I wrote to Rosa Jackson, who teaches regional cooking classes in nearby Nice, about the restaurant, she wrote me right back; “… if you go, you should arrange in advance to visit their vegetable garden, it’s amazing!”
The French have a lot of protests and manifestations. Some of the issues they march for are a bit of a reach and we roll our eyes. And it’s annoying when the trains and other forms of transport go on strike and you need to get somewhere. But on the other hand, it’s good that they feel strongly about certain issues, enough to hit the streets. So yesterday there was a mouvement social in my neighborhood. But the one yesterday was an issue I could easily get behind.
Many people have an image of France as being an agricultural country, packed with farmers growing produce and selling it at local markets. This is pretty true outside of the major cities, but only two of the outdoor markets in Paris are “farmer’s” markets: a majority of the merchants buy produce from Rungis, which they boast is the largest market the world, and the produce gets resold at the open air markets sponsored by the ville de Paris.
It felt a little funny heading over to Porchetta for lunch. I mean, I live right next to Italy and had amazing porchetta there just recently. So why am I taking a lengthy subway trip down to the East Village for lunch?
And I was tempted even further when I was on the way to meet my friend Shira (who I met on a boat trip on the Côte d’Azur last year) for lunch, and I passed a ‘San Francisco-style’ burrito place that tugged in the pit of my slightly bulging stomach at my sense of nostalgia for the famed tummy-torpedos I remembered so well.
But like the people who told me that that Mexican food and BBQ in New York aren’t going to be as good as where they originated (which I find partially true, but I’ve had great French food in New York and wonderful Italian fare in San Francisco, so perhaps I’m becoming a little too globalized for my own good) I’m going to agree that it’s pretty hard to replicate a San Francisco burrito. So in my twisted logic that says you can’t get a good San Francisco-style burrito in New York City, but good Tuscan roast pork is a possibility, porchetta it was. And boy, am I glad when my convoluted reasoning works out.
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of soup. (Well, if it was, it’s not anymore.) I just feel odd ordering it in a restaurant, since I’m paying for a bowl of glorified liquid. And I rarely eat it at home, since when I want to eat, I want something more substantial as a meal. And if I eat it as a first course, then it takes up valuable real estate in my stomach for something more interesting.
(Confused? Imagine how I feel.)
However since moving to France, I’ve seen the value of soup—on occasion. Such as in the dead of winter when it’s so cold that only a bowl of very hot liquid will stoke my fire. Yet in the summer, the idea of hot soup isn’t exactly appealing. But I’ve been trying to eat more vegetables lately, and less meat, and the Soupe au Pistou, vegetable soup from Provence, somehow seems okay.
For quite some time, whenever I’d go out to eat in Paris with a visiting friend, their gaze would invariably land on something Italian on the menu. And they’d want to order something like risotto or salad Caprese, which I’d warn them away from. Or pizza, which might come to the table with some unexpected topping, like canned corn or pineapple. When I moved to Paris, I thought it odd that Italian food wasn’t as well- represented here as I assumed it would be. After all, France shares a border with Italy. But on the other hand, look at how Canadian food is represented in the United States. So I guess that explains that.
When I asked a friend who came last year what she wanted for dinner, she said, “I don’t care. As long as the food is good”, which sounded fine to me. The only problem was, that I’d had a long day and wanted to eat somewhere in my neighborhood and I couldn’t think of anywhere decent—except for the pizza place run by the Sardinians. When I suggested it, she said, “I didn’t come to Paris to eat pizza.”
But it made me realize that in the past five years, Italian food has really come into its own in Paris, and last week, a place that makes their own pasta was turning people (including us) away in droves when we tried to get a couple of seats. When I decided to hit Grom on Sunday, the line trailed out the door and onto the street.
There are some really great pizza places now across Paris serving the real-deal, including Al Taglio, which unlike the other places, serves pizza like they do in Rome, meaning they bake off large rectangles of pizza then cut off squares as you order them. The pizza pieces are weighed, priced, and then warmed up and brought to your table, living up to the name al taglio, or “by the slice.”
I immediately knew I would like Al Taglio as soon as I walked in because I like sitting at high counters. Although there are tables overlooking the small square outdoors, there’s something about sitting on a high stool at a communal table that’s always been my very favorite way to eat. It’s just so convivial. When friends came in to eat in restaurants where I worked, I just pulled up a stool next to where I was working so I could talk to them when they had dinner and I love cooking while talking to people, as long as they’re seated and at a distance. And pouring me wine.
The pizzas range from a simple Melanzane (eggplant and garlic) to more ambitious Zucca e pancette (bacon and pumpkin cream). I tried three: Patate tartufo (potato and truffle cream), Salami piccante (artichokes and spicy salami) and Amadriciana. (Even though I said the French are embracing authentic Italian cuisine, I guess these things are considered exotic by some, though, because the Le Fooding guide called their toppings ‘chic‘. Black truffles aside, I’m not sure what’s so chic about eggplant, bacon, salami, and potatoes.)
All the pizzas are sold by the kilo, and prices vary depending on the topping. All three I tried were great, with nice, crunchy crust, and flavorful topping. It made a perfect early afternoon lunch along with a very full glass of Anghelia (€3.8), which brought the total of my meal to just over €13. It also made me a wee-bit tipsy.
One thing that’s a bit curious is the counter service, which some might consider authentically Italian: one woman was busy taking the orders, cutting the pizza, and weighing the squares, while the fellow next to her watched, then brought out the pizza to the customers. The kitchen was a bit more active: just a few feet away, two guys were working on the next batch of pizzas, scattering them with cubes of mozzarella and bits of speck and other toppings, before sliding them into the oven.
But I’ve learned not to be in a hurry when it comes to food, both in France and Italy, and to relax. And I’ve let go of all that racing to get through a meal or expecting service with a snap. When you do, you have a much better time. Indeed, everyone here was smiling and friendly, including her.
And after working in restaurants for three decades, I always advise people to never mess with people who are making their food or serving it to them. (And that applies to nurses and flight attendants, too.)
I’d imagine Al Taglio gets packed at prime time. But since they’re open continuously throughout the afternoon, my advice is to go for a late lunch. So along with places to get good gelato in Paris, I can confidently add Italian pizza to that list.
2, bis rue Neuve Popincourt, 11th (off rue Oberkampf)
Tél: 01 43 38 12 00
Open daily, Noon-11pm, no reservations.
27, rue Saintonge (Upper Marais)
Tél: 09 50 48 84 06
France Declared Best Pizza Maker (Reuters Video)
Pizza al taglio (Wikipedia)
Al Taglio (BarbraAustin.com)
(Note: The blackboard sign in the post isn’t related Al Taglio, which does not offer a tavola calda.)
I don’t think I’ve ever made a New Year’s resolution. Even if I did, I likely didn’t have much success sticking with any of them, so I just don’t bother with them anymore. Usually resolutions involve quickly-forgotten rules about eating better, losing weight, and saving money. (Which is probably why I never make them in the first place.) So I wouldn’t place any bets that I’m going to stick with doing any of those three things this year, I’m happy to report that for those of you with more will-power than I, this Potato Leek Soup falls neatly into all three categories.
I kind of have a funny relationship to soup. If I’m going to eat soup, I eat it as a main course for lunch or dinner, not before. And since for me, soup is a meal, I like thick soups. I’m not a fan of slurping up thin broth from a vessel. If I wanted to lap up watery liquid from a receptacle, I’d slip a collar around my neck and get down on all-fours for my supper. No thank you. (Well, at least not at dinnertime.)
So where do I start with this one?
On a recent visit with my friend Tricia Robinson, who lives in the small village of St Jeannet, overlooking Nice and the Côte d’Azur, after a huge lunch, we weren’t that hungry for dinner, so we decided to just sip some rosé and wait for inspiration to strike. I was admiring her mortar and pestle, there was some violet-colored spring garlic, a bottle of local olive oil was nearby, and voilà…suddenly, there was our dinner.
Frugal me toasted some stale rounds of baguette au levain, which I brushed injudiciously with olive oil that was pressed just a few kilometers away, sold in her village, and scraped them with just-cut garlic cloves while still warm from the oven. (Try it…it’s the best! Or crumble and toss the garlic toasts into your next salad.) But having them simply slathered aïoli, we were content.
The great thing about aïoli is that you always have all the ingredients on hand; olive oil, garlic, egg yolks, and salt, and it pretty much goes with everything. The downside is you should only eat it with others who are eating it as well, since you’ll likely develop a distinct garlicky aroma that will also follow you around for a few days afterward.