7 Aug 2010

Corsican Gastronomy - On the Menu (Part 1)

My inspiration for this article will take me back to my souvenirs of mémé, and how in that modest rustic Corsican kitchen of hers, using her ancient yet foolproof kitchen utensils, simple wholesome tried-and-tested family recipes from her elders, and local produce from her trusted local butcher and marchande de légumes (a travelling van that used to deliver a selection of Corsican fruit & veg to the Cape), she would operate her magic.

Her magic could - should - silence the self-important superstar TV cooks, presumptuous Michelin chefs, hyped-up blogging kings and queens who are kidding us into believing that they have indeed reinvented the wheel, when all they have mostly produced is a waff of hot air on the media circuit.

Patience was my grandma's virtue: if a hotpot was supposed to bubble away for three hours, so be it, there was no cutting down time, no shortcuts, because this would alter the taste, full stop. She was also resourceful and pragmatic, whipping up a meal with a few ingredients and using leftovers. The secret to her talent was to cook with heart, this was no half-hearted affair. She relished in anticipation of the effect her cuisine would produce on her guests, and man, did it work!

She was a grandma to be proud of, and  I know I could carry on for the rest of this blog's existence, writing pages about her and rekindling her memory, but these would only be words to you, for unless you have known her, it is difficult to picture what a character she was. I hope this sort of grandma still exists today, and if yours resembles the description of mine, do drop me a line.

Now time to get back to our subject and find below a list of the Corsican dishes mémé used to delight us with (and that you have every right to expect from any self-proclaimed speciality restaurant on the island):

Aïola: This delightfully tasty one-meal soup is on a par with the delicious 'Puchero de Zanahorias' which I had the privilege to taste over 25 years ago, at an off-the-tourist-radar workers' canteen in Malaga where a friend of my auntie used to take us, for its cheap yet flavoursome homemade meals. Aïola, like puchero, was originally the soup of the poor, but don't let this patronising tag fool you. To me, aïola stands above the most poncey veloutés and delicate consommés of this world. A clear stock with fresh Corsican tomato slices, potato cubes, fresh white haricot beans, fresh Corsican marjoram stalks, garlic and an egg per person, poached in the stock. Vitamins à gogo and a party in your plate!

Soupe au Pistou: Here is another liquid culinary delight bursting with vitamins and aromas (pictured above). This Provençal hearty dish is a staple of traditional Corsican cuisine: a carrot, courgette, bean and potato soup livened up by a bewitching combination of fresh whole Corsican basil leaves, crushed garlic and a spoonful of olive oil. Believe me, this warm soup is actually quite refreshing and therefore appropriate for Summer dinning.

Soupe de Poissons de Roche: There is no point visiting an island if, at least once, you do not taste the local fish. Mémé would boast that her fish soup was nicer than restaurant fish soup for she only used the noble part of the fish (i.e. no heads or tails). Her soup consisted of a variety of small local fish (according to the catch), from rougets to girelles, keeping the bigger elements for frying (for another meal). She added fresh tomato and wild marjoram to the stock before sieving and blending. Small fish being what they are (i.e. bony!), you had to expect the odd sneaky bone in your soup bowl (despite all of mémé's care).

Aïoli: Not to be confused with aïola, this garlic mayonnaise is the perfect accompaniement to fresh langouste (lobster) and fried fish. Meanwhile rouille is its spiced-up rusty-looking counterpart. (to be continued)

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