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Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 12:01 am

France meets Italy

Fish soup and honey-dashed, wine-glazed fruits intermingle French and Italian cuisine.


Two weeks ago, I wrote about banh mi, the wonderful sandwich that resulted from France’s colonization of Southeast Asia, and the outstanding banh mi served at Springfield’s new Jujobee Café.

But the comingling of France and Vietnamese cuisines is not the only instance where food traditions have entwined to produce wonderfully delectable dishes. Spain’s influence on Mexican food is perhaps most recognizable to Americans. But Spain (and later Portugal) also controlled the Philippines, while the Dutch colonized Indonesia, all influencing the food traditions of both colonizers and colonized.

Crossover cuisine isn’t just the result of colonization, however. There is also an inevitable confluence between neighboring regions of different countries. Ownership of Alsace-Lorraine has historically ping-ponged back and forth between France and Germany. Now firmly in France’s column, its most emblematic dish is choucroute garnie, an elaborate creation of sauerkraut “garnished” with smoked meats and sausages. Northernmost Italy’s cuisine both influences and is influenced by France, Switzerland and Austria. Many traditional Austrian dishes can trace their roots to its current neighbor and former empire partner, Hungary. And so it goes.

The following are traditional crossover recipes of both southeastern France and northwestern Italy, which are separated only by the tiny comma of Monaco.

Soupe de poisson is a humble cousin of French bouillabaisse and Italian cioppino. While the French name may sound fancy, it translates as “fish soup.”

But I vastly prefer its rustic flavor and texture to that of its exalted relatives. As an appetizer, fish soup is often just a simple pureé (albeit with garnishes), the fish flavor coming only from the stock; I most often add fish and seafood to make it an entrée. The pureé freezes beautifully; most often I make a double or triple batch and freeze portions, adding fresh fish/seafood for a quick, delicious weeknight supper that’s especially welcome as temperatures cool.

Both the soup and its garnish of spicy mayonnaise-like rouille include saffron, often touted as the world’s most expensive spice. The bad news: it is costly, primarily because of the labor involved in harvesting the stigmas of a special variety of crocus; it takes approximately 150 flowers to yield just a gram of saffron. The good news: saffron’s flavor is intense; it only takes a small pinch to infuse dishes with its unique flavor and golden color. Saffron is available locally at Food Fantasies.

Soupe de poisson

  • 1 lb. firm fish filets and/or seafood, cut into bite-sized pieces, optional. Use one kind of fish or a combination. Suggestions: monkfish, cod, halibut, snapper, mussels, clams or shelled shrimp or lobster, reserving any shells, fish bones or skin.
  • 6 c. fish stock or substitute 3 c. chicken or vegetable stock combined with 3 c. clam juice
  • 3/4 c. dry white wine or dry vermouth
  • Saffron, crumbled – optional but highly recommended
  • 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 c. chopped onion, not supersweet
  • 1 large fennel bulb, cored and chopped (about 1 c.), feathery fronds reserved for garnish
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 c. peeled, seeded, diced tomatoes, either ripe seasonally fresh, or canned
  • Sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and sugar (optional) to taste

For garnish:

  • Snipped fennel fronds
  • Grated Parmesan or aged Asiago
  • Toasted baguette slices
  • Rouille, recipe follows

If you have any seafood shells or fish bones, skin or trimmings, add them to a large pan with the stock and/or clam juice, bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce to a bare simmer, and cook for 30 minutes. Strain out and discard the shells/trimmings. Set the stock aside; adding water if necessary to make 6 cups.

In a small bowl, heat the white wine to a simmering point in the microwave and stir in the saffron. Set aside. In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel and garlic and stir to coat. Cover the pan and let the vegetables sweat until translucent and softened, but not browned, 5-10 minutes.

Uncover the pan and add the wine/saffron mixture, the fish or chicken/clam stock, and the tomatoes. Simmer covered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Purée the mixture with a hand-held blender or in a blender or food processor. If using the blender or food processor, cool the mixture to room temperature before puréeing or be very careful – hot liquids will expand and can create a mini explosion. Pulse very slowly, especially at first.

Season to taste with the salt and pepper. You may or may not want to add a little sugar, depending on the sweetness of the vegetables.

Return the mixture to the stove and bring to a simmer. If you are using the fish and/or seafood, add the pieces and simmer just until done. This should only take about 2-5 minutes.

Sprinkle the soup with the fennel fronds and serve immediately. Each diner spreads a toast slice with as much of the rouille as he or she wishes, then puts the crouton either into the soup bowl, which will soften it and add body to the soup, or eats a bit with each spoonful, which maintains the toasts’ crunch. Pass the grated cheese for diners to add to their taste. Serves 3-4 as an entrée with the added fish/seafood; 6 as an appetizer.

This mayonnaise-like sauce is absolutely fantastic, with multiple uses: including as a sandwich spread, basis for salad dressing or dip for crudités (raw vegetables). The quick version makes a very good substitute for traditional rouille.
• 1/2 roasted red pepper, diced
• 2 tsp. minced garlic, or to taste
• 1 T. lemon juice
• 1 tsp. hot pepper paste, or cayenne, or hot
   paprika, or to taste
• 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
• Large pinch saffron
• 1 T. tomato paste
• 1 slice homemade-type white bread, torn
   into small pieces
• 1 extra large free range egg or 2 extra large
   egg yolks
• 3/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
• 3/4 c. neutral-flavored vegetable oil, such
   as canola
Combine all the ingredients except the oils in the container of a blender or food processor. Process until thoroughly puréed. Let the mixture rest for about 5 minutes to give the saffron time to thoroughly dissolve. Turn the machine back on, and with the motor running, add the oils in a very thin stream. It is imperative to add the oil slowly in the beginning. Makes 2 plus cups.

Quick rouille
• 1-2 T. minced garlic (depending on your
   taste and the garlic’s strength)
• 1 T. tomato paste,
• 1 T. sweet paprika
• Hot pepper paste (such as Siracha), or
   cayenne, or hot paprika to taste
• 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 c. good-quality mayonnaise. Do not use salad dressing such as Miracle Whip.

This is another preparation that’s good to double or triple. Extras keep, refrigerated for several weeks and are best rewarmed slightly before using.

Roasted fall fruits glazed
with red wine and honey
• 6 medium to large sized pears, plums
   or apples
• 2 T. unsalted butter
• 2 T. honey
• 2 T. dry red wine
• 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
• Pinch of kosher or sea salt
For garnish:
• Ice cream, or sour cream, or heavy cream
• 1/2 c. chopped toasted almonds or hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl or skillet, melt the butter in a microwave or on a stovetop.

Add the honey, wine, cinnamon and salt and stir to combine completely.

Use all of one kind of fruit, or a combination. The fruit should be ripe, but not soft. Wash the fruit, core or pit as needed, and cut into fairly large bite-sized pieces – at least 1 inch. Put the pieces of fruit into the bowl or skillet and toss to coat with the butter/honey/wine mixture.

Pour onto a baking pan or sheet, preferably nonstick. Bake in the oven until the fruit is softened and caramelized, about 30 minutes. Serve while still warm (or rewarmed) over vanilla ice cream, or drizzled with sour or heavy cream; top with the toasted nuts. Serves 6.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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