Sunday, November 30, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving dinner this year, was somewhat lesser than in years past. For one thing, we missed good friends in Chicago, who we usually celebrate with. Besides that, James had to go to Paris for a meeting with the Paris lab. However, we celebrated the night before with a traditional Hungarian-Provençal Thanksgiving dish called goulash avec sa garniture de panisse. Didn't know about the Hungary - Provence connection? Well, when I say "traditional" I really mean that the tradition started on Wednesday night.

Panisse is a mixture of chickpea flour, water, olive oil and salt. You cook it, whisking constantly, until it has the consistency of a thick batter, or polenta, and then you pour it into a mold or onto a cookie sheet with sides. Around here, it usually seems to have been poured into a mold that's about the shape of a 14oz. canned-vegetable can. (Sometimes it actually has the rings like the cranberry sauce in a can.) After it cools and solidifies, you unmold it and slice it into rounds (or if you've put it on the cookie sheet, you slice it into french-fry size strips) and fry it in some olive oil until it gets golden brown and crisp on the outside, still creamy on the inside. (Incidentally, there's a similar recipe in the Thanksgiving issue of a cooking magazine from a few years ago that involved cooking the chickpea flour in milk, with a clove of garlic, minced. Milk's not used around here, but it was good like that and the garlic gave it had a really nice flavor.)

As far as tradition is concerned, I can say that the panisse was prepared in the traditional style because I have asked both the lady with the fresh pasta cart at the market and the butcher-charcutier who sell panisse how it's usually prepared. On the other hand, I can't claim that the goulash was a traditional Hungarian goulash that I learned to make when I was in Tab because, in fact, all the gulyás I had in Hungary (and there are many variations) were gulyásleves (gulyas soup), not the thicker stew variety that I made. What I made was more like a bogrács gulyás (kettle gulyas), but I think probably still thicker than any real bogrács gulyás. At least it had real beef shin in it and not ground beef, that would be heresy.

Since we we have no oven, there would be no baking of pies at the Mas de Bonheur. Pie would have to be purchased. But what? A fruit tarte didn't seem exactly right, because I didn't see any that were made from apples or pears -- all berries and tropical fruits. A "pecan pie" or the closest thing, a tarte aux mendiants (dried fruits and mixed nuts), was too risky. Pumpkin pie was nowhere to be seen in the pâtisseries of Aix. In the end, I didn't buy any for our Wednesday night Thanksgiving. We had chocolate.

Still, no Thanksgiving is complete without a slice (or several) of pie, so I bought one for my own Thanksgiving on Thursday (and I ate it the right way: crust to tip). I got a slice of a Corsican tarte called fiadone from the little café around the corner. I really want to work there because it's the kind of café I would want to own with a certain pie-making friend. It's owned and operated by this older lady who makes a lot of savory and a couple of sweet tartes and just a few other dishes. She's open for lunch and through the early evening Monday through Saturday. And she's nice. But back to the fiadone.

I don't have a picture because James had the camera in Paris, but this fiadone was sort of like a cheesecake and a tarte in one. The filling is traditionally made with brocciu (a fresh ewe's milk cheese from Corsica that's kind of like ricotta in texture) or brousse (the Provençal equivalent of brocciu, which can be made from cow, ewe or goat milk), but as the tarte-lady told me, it's too expensive to use on a café scale, so she "does what she can", which means she probably uses ricotta. The filling also has citrus zest (this one had some citron, and that's not French intruding on my English, I mean cédrat) and eau de vie. However she does it, and whether or not it's like a traditional fiadone, it was delicious: the ricotta was sweet and creamy, the bits of citrus and eau de vie gave it depth, and there was the lightest touch of salt from the crust.

Goulash with panisse and fiadone may be my new favorite Thanksgiving traditions. Better when shared with friends, of course.

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