It’s with great sadness that I learnt of the passing of Umberto Eco. I remember reading The Name of the Rose over a few sleepless nights many years ago. Then I tried Foucault’s Pendulum, but never finished it. Then with pudor attempted to read the first in Italian and stopped at page 3. It is untouched, and I will someday digest it in Italian. Later on some plebeian by the name of Dan Brown wrote the Da Vinci Code. It was highly recommended to me, which is like giving a Coach bag to someone who is accustomed to Hermès. I, of course, counter gifted The Name of the Rose, but this person hasn’t yet read it, and that was over 10 years ago. Aside from the fact that the man knows about semiotics, and hasn’t invented the bullshit study of “symbology”, I think Eco’s work is astonishing because it is so consummate and cerebral: passages in Latin that I glossed over, at times obscure allusions to history and religion, set at the threshold transition between the Middle Ages onto the Renaissance, and a mystery driven by dramatic momentum à la Sherlock Holmes. The question of curiosity for knowledge, and the quest for and rediscovery of it, what it means to be enlightened, and whether to censor or to perhaps even destroy records of knowledge can be justified or not… in perspective we really are a speck in a grander design, religious or otherwise. But I what I appreciate without a doubt is the finition of his work: research for knowledge and attention to detail. Finition is what I also strive to do with my passion for music, cooking, and wine. This is really what separates us from the animals.
The Name of the Rose, one day I will read the original!
For this dinner to celebrate Umberto Eco, I do not go to Italy, but I start in Pays de la Loire with moules marinières with an exotic twist, imagine the sea and boats bringing in ginger and lemongrass amid the vineyards of Muscadet. The mussels here are Canadian. Then we go to the Rhone with sole aux nouilles Fernand Point, here is the river flowing from the Alps, passing by Vienne and its slopes of viognier, marsanne and roussanne. This recipe is from the great Paul Bocuse. It is a classic from his mentor Fernand Point. I have adapted the recipe for frozen sole filets. Finally we see the earth in a supporting cast of pommes de terre sarladaises and poireaux en gratin. I finish with poached pears in spiced red wine. The spices are again Asian, while the pears and wine are local. I present this as a study of tradition and the changing effects of the discovery of new worlds. Land and rivers connecting communities, later on at a greater scope by the sea, and today by air and internet. Information is so readily available, but we must respect whence it comes. It is an exercise of rediscovery. For music too, I would not go to Italy. In keeping with the spirit of the rediscovery of traditions, I will be listening to Bach’s The Well Tempered Clavier, “for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning.”
This is a large dinner and it will take some time to prepare. The leeks and pears can be prepared first. The mussels are first served, and a discussion on Umberto Eco can bridge the time needed to prepare the fish. The potatoes can be started at the same time as the fish stock. Proportions are for four persons.
|Filet de sole aux nouilles Fernand Point||Poireaux en gratin||Pommes de terre sarladaises|
|– 4 to 8 filets of sole, or other firm white fish
– 1 tomato
– 3 shallots
– 8 medium dried anchovies
– 4 medium white mushrooms
– 200 ml white wine
– 4 spools of tagliatelle
– 1 egg yolk
– 100 g clarified butter
– some whipped cream
– salt and pepper
|– 400 g of the white part of the leek
– 1 cup of milk
– 1 or 2 teaspoon of starch
– 1 tablespoon of cream
– handful of herbes de Provence
– a bit of butter
– salt and pepper
|– 400 g potatoes
– 4 tablespoons of duck fat
– 4 cloves of garlic
– handful of chopped parsley
– salt and pepper
|Moules marinières||Poached pears in spiced red wine|
|– 30 or so mussels
– a glass of white wine
– small piece of ginger
– one lemongrass
– one lime leaf
– one shallot
– 1 tablespoon of butter
– one cup of heavy cream
– egg yolk
|– 4 Bosc pears from British Columbia
– Red wine from British Columbia
– Star anise, ginger, cinnamon, peppercorns
– 1 tablespoon of sugar or more
To clarify butter is to separate it from the solids and water. It consists of melting the butter, the solids and water will sink while the fat floats. At this point is can be decanted. Or it can be refrigerated until the butter hardens, then a hole is poked on the surface and the solids and liquids drained out. Clarified butter is used for emulsion sauces. A tub of ghee works too.
Firstly the ingredients are prepared. The tomato is peeled, cored, and diced. The shallots are chopped finely. The garlic cloves are sliced. The mushrooms are peeled and separated from the stems. The stems are trimmed and set aside. The heads are sliced radially. The anchovies are beheaded and gutted completely. The pears are peeled, cored, and sliced in four quarters. Mussels are scrubbed clean under running water, the barbs removed, and left to rest in some cold salted water. The leeks sliced radially in four, but with the root attached. They are rinsed in a large amount of water to make sure there is no dirt. The potatoes are peeled and washed, then sliced in thick 1 cm slices, toweled and left to dry a little bit. The lemongrass is sliced. The ginger for the pears is sliced, and julienned for the mussels. Some cream can be whipped now and saved in the fridge. The rest of the ingredients should be measured as well. The wine used for cooking in the mussels and fish stock is a Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine, it is typically light and fruity, with some carbonic sharpness. It’s lovely with fish and just wonderful with mussels.
Add the pears to a narrow pot that will fit the pear snuggly. I use Bosc pears, but Anjou is good too. Sprinkle on sugar and spices. Cover with wine, and simmer gently for 15 minutes. The pears can sit patiently at the corner of the kitchen until dessert. They can be removed from the liquid, and the liquid reduced to be served as syrup.
The sabayon for the fish can be prepared in advance as well; a small but heavy saucepan and a small whisk are recommended. A warm kitchen helps too. The butter is fluid and at warm room temperature. On a small saucepan, add the yolk and 12.5ml of water (or roughly a tablespoon), whisk. Gently heat it over a simmering pot of water, still while whisking constantly. The egg yolk must not cook fully, but thicken slightly. It should not surpass 65C. This takes some practice and precision. There are many ways to fail this, and failure is a good teacher. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter gradually with vigour. This sauce is covered and kept warm. Next we prepare the leeks.
Sabayon monté avec du beurre, an emulsion
Preheat the oven to 230C/450F. The leeks are cooked in large amount of salted gently boiling water for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile boil the milk. Dilute the starch in some cold water, and whisk into the gently boiling milk. Cook for a minute or so. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the cream and herbes de Provence. Season this with salt, pepper and nutmeg. When the leeks are done, drain well and remove as much moisture as possible. Arrange on baking dish, pour over the milk mixture, and place pieces of butter on top. This is what will give the brown colour. Bake 20 minutes.
The pears are ready, the base for our sauce is ready, and the leeks will soon be ready. It is time to start the mussels, fish, and potatoes.
In large pot with a glass lid, sweat the shallots, ginger, and lemongrass in the butter over medium heat for a few minutes. Drain the mussels, and dump them in the pot with a lime leaf. Pour over the white wine. Cover and cook on high heat. Monitor carefully, shaking the pot laterally, when the mussels are just opened they are ready. This smells really wonderful. Bring the pot to a working area. Scoop out the mussels and keep them on a serving bowl covered. Discard any that have not opened. Return the pot to the stove and continue to cook adding the cream. It should reduce a little bit, but give yourself time to start the fish stock and potatoes. Someone can toast the bread now.
To start the fish stock, bring together in a pot, the mushroom stems, the shallots, and the anchovies. Fill with water until all is submerged, add the wine, and cook simmering for 20 minutes. This is my version of fumet. If a fresh sole is available, the bones, skin and head would be used instead of anchovies.
Fumet the DearJungYVR way
At the same time, heat the duck fat in a heavy non-sticking pan. When the fat is hot, but not smoking, place the potatoes. Sprinkle on salt, and place a heavy lid over them. Cook at low heat for 30 minutes.
A lot fat goes to make sarladaise potatoes
Return your attention to the mussels. Once the wine, cream, and mussel juices have reduced a bit, remove the pot from the heat, and whisk in the egg yolk. Pour over the mussels. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately with bread. A cold glass of Muscadet is perfect with this. Usually the dish is made with fennel, then with curry, but it’s widely accepted now that ginger and lemongrass are the ideal companions – the changing effects of the discovery of new worlds. I have tried this with a lime leaf for the first time. It is too floral, and it is not recommended. Really, lemongrass and ginger are perfect.
While your dinner friends are enjoying the mussels and discussing Umberto Eco, the leeks should soon be done. Remove from the oven, and they can join the pears until they are served. It is time to finish the fish.
After 20 minutes, drain the fumet. Place the fish on a large pan, with mushrooms and tomatoes over them. Pour over the fumet and cook gently until boiling point. Reserve the fish on a plate, drain the rest, and collect the tomatoes and mushrooms. The guests are very curious at this point.
Fish, with tomatoes and mushrooms, cooking in the fumet
Return the fumet to the pan and reduce significantly, until a tablespoon remains. The whipped cream is removed from the fridge. Also start a pot of boiling salted water for the pasta. When the fumet has reduced, scrape it into the sabayon, whipping, and then a big heaping tablespoon of whipped cream, always whipping. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside. Turn the broiler on to high.
Uncover the pan with the potatoes. Carefully with a spoon, turn over the potatoes, they are very soft at this point. Add more duck fat if needed. Add the sliced garlic, and cover and continue to cook covered another few minutes.
The water for the pasta should be boiling now. Cook the tagliatelle per instructions.
Uncover the potatoes, and now cook over high heat, stirring gently but constantly. When they are brown and crispy, remove from heat.
A bed of tagliatelle, mushroom and tomatoes, covered with sole filets, ready for the sauce
Drain the tagliatelle when they are done. Place a nest of tagliatelle on each plate. Divide the tomatoes and mushrooms over them. Then place the filet of sole over them. Pour over the sauce, and pass under the broiler, 1 or 2 minutes, monitor closely. This is served immediately, but obviously the plate it hot!
Lovely colour under the broiler
For the potatoes, pepper slightly, and add a generous amount of parsley, transfer to a serving plate. Bring this over to the table along with the leeks.
Sarladaise potatoes and leek gratin
A white Rhone would be perfect with this, par défaut, I am serving a white Rhone style wine from British Columbia. Ava 2013. Beviam!
A Rhone style white from British Columbia from a good producer.
At last serve poached pears with some home-made vanilla ice cream! I made an Italian soda with the syrup, but what an unappetizing coulour!