I ran into a lady today from Northern France and we chatted about France and French food. I have spent some time living and working in the North East of France, so it was great to chat to such a beautiful lady.
Coincidentally, I have just started to re-read, Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking. I love the simple approach to food and the reverence she shows to food and eating.
For those of us who love cooking, it is easy to get carried away with the complexities of creating flavours and tastes, of cooking slow or fast, of whether we should chop, grind, blend or mince.
Sometimes we forget that simplest is bestest. We no longer live in an age where the food is not fresh or of good quality and must be hidden with sauces and gravies, spices and herbs.
We live in an age where we have access to food of incredible quality.
Thank you, Elizabeth David, for reminding us of this. I want to share with you her thoughts on simple ways with vegetables and salads.
The following is from French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David. The bolding, numbering and paragraphing is mine, so you can locate information easily.
- Sliced very firm raw tomatoes, dressed with the minimum of oil, lemon and seasoning, sprinkled with finely chopped parsley.
- Cucumber sliced very thin and dressed in the same way.
- Radishes, washed, trimmed of excess greenery but left otherwise as god made them, rather than disguised as water lilies.
- Raw Florentine fennel, the outer leaves removed, the heart cut into quarters, and sprinkled with plenty of lemon juice to prevent it turning brown. Or alternatively, cut into fine strips. Dress with oil, salt, lemon.
- Celery treated the same way.
- Very young broad beans, piled on a dish in their pods, to be eaten a la croque au sel i.e. simply with salt.
- Raw red and green peppers, cut into the thinnest of rounds, all seeds and core carefully removed, dressed with oil, prepared in advance and perhaps mixed with a few black olives.
- Raw carrots very finely grated, the red part only, the yellow core being discarded; the resulting preparation almost a puree, is mixed with a very small amount of finely chopped shallot, a little oil, lemon juice, salt and a pinch of sugar if necessary, depending on the quality of the carrots.
This salad is particularly delicious – sweet and light. In a hurry I make it with the whole, peeled carrot rather than removing the core.
- Celleri-rave remoulade, [i.e.] peeled and washed celeriac, shredded on the special crinkled blade of the mandoline into match-sized strips, put straight into a bowl of acidulated water to preserve its colour; blanch a few seconds in boiling salted water, drained very dry, mixed with a thick [yogurt] mayonnaise very highly seasoned with salt, mustard and a good deal more vinegar than is ordinarily allowed.
I also love to mix celeriac with a fennel puree and tahini dressing. It can be made tart and mustardy too, if desired.
- A salad of cooked vegetables supplies the soft element of an hors-d’oeuvre; it may be potato salad, white haricot beans, beetroot, leeks, french beans. Boil them, in the case of potatoes and beetroots, in their skins. Keep them firm; drain them carefully. Always skin and season them while still hot with a dressing of oil, vinegar or lemon, salt, pepper; a little mustard if you like. According to taste add a little chopped shallot or garlic; parsley, chives or tarragon.
- A rice salad, mixed with a few strips of sweet pepper, comes into the same category; again, keep the rice on the firm side; season while hot, not forgetting a little nutmeg and tarragon vinegar as well as oil, salt and pepper. (Other grains can be used – freekeh, coarse burghul, couscous, buckwheat etc.)
Drizzling the fennel with garlic infused olive oil in place of the normal evo adds another dimension to the salad. Delicious!
Fennel salad with white and red radishes from the garden, olive oil and lemon juice, with some watermelon rind pickles.
This salad is also very good sprinkled with some brown mustard seeds roasted in a little oil till they pop. Use your olive oil to pop them – it will become mustard seed-infused, then mix the oil and mustard seeds with a little mustard paste, vinegar and seasoning.
I love black pepper with beetroot, so it is liberally used here, along with black mustard seed and cumin seed that have been roasted in a little oil until the mustard seeds pop. Vinegar, oil, salt, chives.
Roasted or char grilled leeks combined with poached leeks for flavour variation, with toasted walnuts and grilled peaches (optional). Dressed with lemon or vinegar, oil and salt and white pepper. Can be strewn with chopped parsley or tarragon. Even nice with feta and dill.
Simple white bean salad with chopped parsley and chives, lemon or vinegar, oil and salt and pepper. Add a little mustard or garlic if desired. Today I topped it with chopped radish and watermelon rind pickle. The tart pickle lifts the salad and pairs well with the creaminess of the beans.