Friends, it's been too long. The last few months have been hectic and surreal. I won't bore you with the uninteresting details, but January feels like a long time ago. I’ve been writing other things, which you can dig into and read, assuming surrealist/imagist poetry is your thing.
And I was out of the country. I traveled around France for a few weeks, which rewired my thinking in a fantastic way. Europe is home, and I miss it most when I'm actually there. I visited family in Nantes, absorbed the loveliness of a damp but green spring in the Pays de la Loire, and then I spent a glorious week in Paris, where the weather was equally rainy.
But Paris glows for me--in vintage beauty and grace and silence. The color green predominates—in the waters of the Canal Saint-Martin, the park benches, the ornate historic doors of the Marais. The city meets a traveler’s expectations but then blooms and saturates beyond that, defying any attempts to document or photograph or write about it. But we all do, even though we should be content with just existing in its complex system of architectural magic, romance and nostalgia--and occasional ugliness. It’s hard to overlook the city’s mementos of tension and brutality, like the black-and-white “Je Suis Charlie” posters peeling and fraying on the Place de la Republique. And, for women, street harassment levels seem to be high.
Even so, the streets, wide boulevards or narrow cobblestone passageways, are meant to be walked in solitude or with company, and always, there is the scent of perfume from some unknown source trailing you, or you are trailing it. Twilight sinks between the low buildings and the sky, pink and gray, sort of expands over you.
One of the things that struck me about France is how much better the food is--I know it's beyond basic to say that but stay with me. It wasn't just the obvious notes we all expect of France--macarons, bread, galettes/crêpes, pastry, chocolate, wine, dairy--it was more the subtle, unexpected elements that came in at a slant but really solidified my desire to quit life and move to France immediately.
I’m talking about lettuce. Salads. Mâche. Endive. Mushrooms. I ate absurd amounts of salad in France because it tasted the way salad should. Even the avocados were better there--buttery green and ripe. I checked off most of the restaurants I wanted to see, but more often than not, I shopped the local markets near my apartment in the Marais and brought salad greens, fresh eggs, and vegetables home. It seemed perfectly fine to eat salad and buttered bread (with wine, of course) for days.
Another pleasant revelation: the growing availability of gluten-free food. Counterintuitive, for sure, but sans gluten has spread to even France. Although I didn't do this the entire time (there were too many interesting “glutenous” things to sample), there seemed to be GF options almost everywhere I went, from galettes at Breizh Cafe (buckwheat crêpes are naturally GF) to macarons (again GF). When in doubt, French chocolate and salted butter caramels are always GF. While I was still in Nantes, we traveled along the Brittany coast, and paused in Guérande, a small medieval village near the coast. This charming town is home to the famous salt marshes that produce the iconic gray sel de Guérande. I bought the salt, and I also bought some outrageous salted butter caramels made with that salt. In Pornique, also on the coast, I devoured the best (GF) galette with leeks, tomatoes, and local goat cheese. (I regret not also trying the grilled sardines while there.). And everywhere I went, the French GF breads were shockingly good. The French have figured something out. Basic grocery store shelf-stable GF bread, with the same frightening and opaque ingredients as American breads (I checked the label) was somehow glorious.
I was tempted to stay, but I eventually simmered down and realized I had responsibilities and a life back in New York, so I flew back, suitcase packed with chocolate, Amora mustard, and salt.
After this long monologue, you'd expect a French recipe, right? And you would be wrong. I'm serving up a cultural mash-up today. Neither of the countries involved is France. Inspired by my laid-back market salad and bread meals at home in Paris, here is a Middle Eastern fattoush salad with rosemary farinata, the Italian chickpea flour pancake.
This salad takes its inspiration from a recipe in David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. David is a great and witty writer, his recipes are smart and careful, he loves chocolate, and he lives the expat life in Paris, all of which makes him my Francophile hero. (I mean, he recently picnicked at Versailles. How was your weekend?).
A fattoush salad consists of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, bright sumac-tinged vinaigrette, and some crumbled toasted pita bread to soak up that vinaigrette. Instead of adding pita bread, though, I decided to make farinata, a close cousin of the French socca, but more tender with a custard-like texture. Typically, the pita bread is crumbled and folded into the salad and you can certainly do that here, or you can serve the salad with a whole slice of farinata and eat it on the side. It's your salad.
Late Spring Fattoush Salad w/Farinata (v/gf)
Adapted from My Paris Kitchen
These salad ingredients are optional. Experiment with the seasons and with what you have. Fava beans or fresh shelling peas would have been a delight in here. If you don't want to go to the trouble of preparing the farinata, toast some good pita bread and crumble it into the salad. Wine is also a delight with this meal. Good flaked sea salt is not optional.
Sumac is a scarlet-colored, coarsely ground spice with a transient citrusy flavor. It’s a common spice in Middle Eastern dishes and familiar to anyone who Insta-stalks Ottolenghi and the Bon Appetit editorial staff (no apologies). It sort of “makes” the flavor of the fattoush salad. Though it used to be difficult to find, I have seen it in regular grocery stores. As with all spices, especially the ground variety, the most reliable source is a spice shop or ethnic food store like Kalustyan’s in New York.
4 cups lettuce greens (romaine, butter lettuce, etc.)
1 cucumber, diced
2 medium tomatoes, sliced or 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup radishes, thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
1 cup tender herbs (parsley, mint, basil, cilantro), chopped
1 cup other add-ins (sprouts, micro greens, radish flowers)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground sumac
to serve: toasted pita bread or Rosemary Farinata (recipe below), flaky sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the farinata (see recipe below) and allow it to cool, or toast pita bread in a 350 F degree oven for about 8 to 10 minutes.
Whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, and olive oil. Season with salt, and adjust acidity to taste.
In a large bowl, toss together the lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions, radishes, herbs, sprouts, flowers, and micro greens. Toss with the vinaigrette, the sumac, and additional sea salt and black pepper.
Divide the salad into two bowls, and sprinkle with additional sumac or lemon juice and black pepper. Serve each salad with a slice of rosemary farinata (or shards of toasted pita bread).
Rosemary Farinata (v/gf)
The standard formula for farinata is a 3:1 ratio (by weight) of water to chickpea flour. For me, with time and practice, this has evolved into roughly 3 cups water for every 1 1/2 cups chickpea flour. Expect a thin and watery batter, approximating the consistency of crêpe batter or heavy cream. It will look rather undone and soft when you first pull it out of the oven, but it firms as it cools. The farinata holds up well in the fridge and is delicious the next day as well.
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups chickpea flour
3 tbsp olive oil, plus more for baking/serving
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced (optional)
freshly ground black pepper, flaky sea salt
Add chickpea flour and salt to a bowl. Slowly whisk in the water until a smooth, thin batter forms, and no clumps remain. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Cover and let the batter sit for at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.
Preheat the oven to 450 F. Slide a 10-inch cast-iron skillet into the oven for a few minutes to warm up. Remove the skillet from the oven and add enough oil to fully coat the bottom, swirling the skillet so that the oil coats the sides as well.
Stir the batter (chickpea flour tends to settle on the bottom), and add the minced rosemary, if using, and some freshly ground black pepper. Carefully pour the batter into the skillet and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the pancake no longer jiggles in the middle. It will appear soft and undone, however. Allow it to cool until set.
Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with flaky sea salt and additional black pepper. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.