Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Europe and Food. Not So Holy Crap.

Yesterday I was exchanging emails with another member of World Wide Recipes who is planning a trip to Munich, Switzerland and Rome some time this year (lucky woman). She asked for input on her trip to Rome where I have never been, but I have spent a fair amount of time in Southern Italy in Calabria (the toe) and St. Maria de Leuca in Puglia (the heel). As I said today, from my experiences in Italy then (a long time ago) pizza and pasta were definitely not the main items on the menu. It is always one of my gripes that Italy has some of the best food in the world and that pizza or pasta are all some people know about their food. They have so many things to offer the culinary world - in fact when Catherine de Medicis married Henry II of France, she apparently found the food in France to be appalling and imported Italian chefs to improve the situation. Some of the classic dishes of France actually originated in Italy. Subsequently the fame of French food surpassed the fame of that produced by Italians, but Italy still has a wonderful and varied cuisine. Many of the dishes of villages or regions don't get any further and never ende up on the tables of the rich and famous but nevertheless they deserve to be there. However, in some areas, what is done in one village to prepare food is frowned upon in the next village. This was very much emphasised during Jamie Oliver's touring visit in Tuscany as shown on TV in the last couple of years.
As I said, my new friend is also going to Munich and Switzerland. Once again, I am very familiar with the coastal towns of Germany, Switzerland has no ports so I have never been there although Matt went long before I met him. One of my warnings to anyone going to Germany is to watch the quantities - there again, assuming nothing has changed. When we were in Germany and Holland too, anything we ordered for two was often more than enough for four. I have never fogotten as a youngster going to one of the German Friesian islands (don't recall which one any more) and having to take a train from the port into the town. When we got there, we found a restaurant and ended up pointing and saying we would have the same as someone else was eating. There were actually 6 in our party and the meal, which turned out to be Schnitzel Holstein, began to arrive. A huge serving platter with all kinds of meat and vegetables on it together with a soup tureen of French fries. We were staggered and though what a mountain of food and we would never manage it. My mother started to serve it to us and realised there were only three schnitzels on the serving platter, just about when this had occurred to us, another huge platter and another tureen of fries was delivered to our table. We couldn't believe it. Someone even dropped a load of food on the floor and there was still way too much. Actually, Matt had similar food quantity stories to tell of his trip to Switzerland.
I wonder if somewhere along the way my perceptions have changed, because I certainly find the majority of restaurants in North America serve way too much as well, although these days we have doggy bags which one had never heard of in those days. I assume they too have started providing those for customers. Maybe I would not find their servings so large in this day and age, I am unlikely to be able to go back and check I'm afraid. Talking about sizes of food servings reminded me of a time in France with my parents and maybe one or two others in our party. We ordered a meal which was delicious and then we saw one man come in and order the same thing. His one serving was almost as big as we had been given for several of us. As I was the main French speaker, my father insisted I complained to Madame the owner. I always remember her response - in French of course - "not just gourmets but gourmands too". I am not certain I knew exactly what gourmands meant at the time, but I certainly found out later. I remember I was somewhat embarassed so I must have had some idea.
Last night, I was lying in bed thinking about the Gulf oil leak and the pictures of Sam Champion and Philippe Cousteau diving in the waters and it occurred to me that if you were from certain parts of Europe, the UK included, you may well remember waters, particularly rivers, that looked a bit like that when you swam in them. I know the River Medway where I swam regularly, was christened the River Mudway, and Gawd only knows what was in it. I am pleased to say it is much better these days. However, then I expanded my thoughts somewhat and thought about all the pollution which gets into the world's waterways. After all, Polar Bears don't have toilets and Penguins don't use latrines yet these animals are considered to live in pristine parts of the world. I know locally that wherever you get Canada Goose, you get goose faeces to go with them, lots and lots of it. This too will eventually get washed into the local lakes and rivers along with waste from every life form that exists. Not to mention the fish and mammals themselves. In fact when you think about it, the world is a pretty dirty place and its not all caused by us humans although we probably do as much damage as everything else put together.
For a while, fondues were all the rage and everyone had a fondue pot. I personally still have three which I haven't used in a long time. For most of the oil based fondues I used to spread an old plastic shower curtain on the table to protect it. I don't know why I don't still do them as we always enjoyed it. I served two pots with hot oil and one pot with a Swiss cheese fondue. Its a fun way to eat. Here is a somewhat different one using asparagus.
Asparagus and Bacon Fondue
4 tablespoons of butter.
4 tablespoons of all-purpose flour.
2 cups of milk.
16 ounces of asparagus spears, drained and chopped.
2 slices of bacon, crisp cooked and crumbled.
French bread, diced into one-inch cubes.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
In a fondue pot, melt the butter. Add the flour, mix thoroughly and cook while stirring for 90 seconds. Gently stir in the two cups of milk. Heat, while stirring, until mixture becomes thick. Stir in the bacon and the asparagus. Season with salt and black pepper. Serve with diced bread.
Have a great day


  1. I think it's a nice idea to incorporate some veggies in our fondue recipe. (So, as not to feel too guilty with the cheesy ones, lol) I also have quite a few fondue pots. The electric ones I reserve for broth and oil fondue, while the much smaller ceramic ones I used for chocolate and cheese fondue. Thanks for sharing this recipe by the way. :)

  2. Nice to hear from you. I don't have any electric pots just three with burners, stainless steel, not even any ceramic ones. Thought about getting one once, but fondues seem to have 'gone out of fashion' a bit. Never have made a chocolate fondue, considering my liking for chocolate, cannot imagine why not.