Reviews of travel and cookbook releases

May 23rd, 2006

…will appear in this space through upcoming seasons in Europe’s colorful markets. Meanwhile, vagabondgourmand recommends:

Paris in a Basket –Markets, The Food and the People
By Nicolle A.Meyer and Amanda Pilar Smith
Published in 2000 by Könneman in Cologne, Germany

A masterpiece on the markets of Paris, this comprehensive tome takes the reader through all of the arrondissements into corners (and to metro stops, la vagabonde says from recent experience) one would never otherwise discover. As a travel book it is a bit heavy, but as a cookbook it entices one out to the market before stirring up a chicken in Riesling or quince poached in cassis.

Barefoot in Paris
By Ina Garten
Published in 2004 by Clarkson Potter, New York

With her flair and instincts for synthesizing the spirit and flavors of Paris, Ina Garten sets forth into the markets and cafés of the city of light. What she brings back is not only the ambiance, but the essence of French dishes, en toute simplicité. A book to devour at any hour –when in the mood for a very French treat: a croque-monsieur perhaps?

Italy Sea to Sky
By Ursula Ferrigno
Published in 2003 by Mitchell Beazley, London

This gorgeous, delectable book skims the coasts and rivers, valleys and plains of Italy for the most authentic flavours. Bring her oven-baked sole with olives to the table –it prompts one to consider checking on flights to Apulia, or other tempting coasts and corners of Italy.

A radish is a radish…

May 12th, 2006

…unless you bring a bundle to a spring picnic in France.  Then the blushing little bulb is transformed into a savory ritual. Bring on the butter and salt, slice the baguette de campagne: its time for an apéro hour initiation.  First, the healthy bunch of freshly dug radishes needs a bath under cold running water, then a good dousing of household vinegar will chase any residual sand.  A short rest in ice water perks up the radishes while we cut a chunk of beurre de baratte (unsalted, freshly churned butter) and pour sea salt into a saucer.


Our baguette is cut into thinner slices than usual, keeping it easier to juggle.  Set out a few sharp paring knives, and everyone gathers round to watch the radish pro.  He carefully selects a gleaming bulb, nips off the root thread and incises a cut halfway into the base. Next, a sliver of butter is inserted into the cut, then a quick dip into the salt, et voilà!  Pop the radish into your mouth and reach for another.  They are so good on a bit of bread, but don’t toss away the green stem just above the shoulder- take a bite: it helps to digest the radish.  A sip of local white wine hits the spot on a warm evening in May, and with another dip of the radish the ritual continues –trés conviviale!
A variation on this theme, croque sel, is another spring rite when the fève (broad beans) have begun to bulge.  This early, green stage of fève is usually in April or May.  Some country bars and bistros in the Charente and Bordeaux regions set out bowls of beans in the pod.  The tender, pale fèves are slipped out of the pods, and once a plateful had been shelled, they are dipped into salt and enjoyed croque sel with an apéritif. Does this sound too much like work?  Not when we consider that the season for young fève is merely one or two short weeks.  Locals cherish this seasonal treat, a fleeting taste of the tender beans before they become firm and we must wait for late summer’s second round of shelling them to be cooked.

To return to the radish itself, French markets offer quite a variety from blushing pink to solid red, round to elongated, peppery to mild.  So choose your favorite for the picnic. Alongside the round radishes, some vendors sell the long white Chinese radish or Daikon, which can be peeled and sliced into discs for croque sel.  Long black radishes are often stacked like kindling wood in winter markets.  The radis noir, the black radish is a dusty- looking root that conceals a mild, white interior.  Once peeled, these are sometimes thinly sliced and mixed with grated carrots for a ‘crudité‘ first course, guaranteed to ease digestion of richer dishes to follow.  But to keep it simple, the crisp, round radish with a bit of butter and sea salt holds the top spot on my list of favorite spring rituals.