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The other Mediterranean


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#1 Jonathan Day

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Posted 13 November 2005 - 01:22 PM

Paula, it's great to see you in this Spotlight session. Thanks for joining us.

Your books on Mediterranean cooking have a lot on slow cooking, things simmered for long times in clay pots, les plats qui mijotent au coin du feu. Slow dishes.

Yet there's another Mediterranean -- the area roughly between the Cinque Terre in Italy and some point in southeastern France. Colman Andrews, in Flavours of the Riviera claims that the area ends with the Var river, just to the west of Nice; I would stretch it further west, perhaps as far as the end of the Bouches du Rhône and the start of the Var, around Bandol.

However you define the region, my sense is that its cookery is generally lighter. I'm not referring to the touristic caricature that reduces this entire cuisine to grilled fish, mesclun salad and tomatoes, all drenched in sunny olive oil. But, even in winter, the Riviera, both French and Italian, sees more use of the sauté pan (and perhaps the deep fryer) than the clay pot.

Do you agree? Does this difference in cuisine happen because the climate in this area is milder with less mistral and less cold, than the areas where slower, "warmer" dishes predominate?
Jonathan Day
"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

#2 Wolfert

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Posted 13 November 2005 - 03:14 PM

I agree in part. It's really a matter of degree between SW France and the region you describe. But I think it has less to do with climate then with the cooking medium: animal fat i.e. duck fat versus olive oil.
“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

#3 Jonathan Day

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 05:34 AM

A follow-up question, if I may.

I see your point about olive oil vs animal fats -- and I experienced something like this in Tunisia, where there seemed to be olive oil in the dishes in Djerba but more animal fats (including camel) deeper into the desert. And in Djerba there were more grilled and sauteed dishes than in the more remote regions, where we tended to be served stews of various sorts.

Do you have a sense as to why animal fats would be more commonly used for long-simmered dishes than olive oil? Is this because olive oils break down or emulsify on long cooking? If it's correct that in the olive oil-dominated regions you see more quickly-cooked dishes and in goose fat-dominated regions, more slowly-cooked dishes, is this due to some characteristic of the two cooking fats?
Jonathan Day
"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

#4 Corinna Dunne

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 09:36 AM

... And if it's not too rude to add another question, I'd also be interested in your views on "The French Paradox"... which I desperately want to be true and applicable to people living outside the region.
Corinna Hardgrave aka "Corinna Dunne"
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#5 Wolfert

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 03:48 PM

Well there are plenty of long cooked dishes served along the Mediterranean coast and lots of them require olive oil. The gargoulette you tasted in Djerba had olive oil in it and it was cooked all night in a claypot.

Think too of tians in Provence and tiellas in southern Italy. I think you could say that cooks are obliged to use the fat that their land offers them. That's what nature has provided and so they figure out ways to make it work for them.


Corinne: It's true that olive oil is good for you. And just to throw a bombshell into this conversation; the people of SWF live longer on a whole than those in Provence and they don't use olive oil--- they cook with duck fat. See page 18 for the scientific background.
“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.