Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sundays in Paris

Sundays in Paris are spent leisurely, with family and friends. Almost all large stores, le grand magasins, and the small stores are closed. Surprisingly, even some restaurants are also not open. Families, tourists, and locals flock to the streets and parks. Being a warm sunny day, it was even more special in the Luxembourg Gardens. The late afternoon glow slowed down the gait and made the garden chairs more appealing to "sit a spell" and ponder where to have dinner. After deciding on a nearby restaurant that my friend Debbie and I knew was open on Sundays, we slowly made our way over towards the Pantheon. Being in a touristy area, a favorite store selling reasonably priced scarves beckoned us in. There is nothing like a little shopping to rev up the appetite. We arrived at the restaurant, le Petite Prince, hungry and thirsty. An unusual first course was offered that my friend had to try. She ordered the Tomato Tart with Basil Sorbet. It was a delight to the taste buds. The tomatoes were sunny and caramelized. The basil sorbet was a balance of contradictions between the spiciness of basil and the delicate sweetness of sorbet. It was the South of France all dressed up. I had to come home and try to duplicate it. After some trial and error, I came up with my own version that I think comes pretty close.

Tomato Tart with Basil Sorbet

24 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
4 yellow pear tomatoes, sliced in half
6 plum tomatoes, quartered
2 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves removed
1 TBSP olive oil
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
½ sheet of puff pastry
2-5 inch round pans or oven proof dishes
Basil sprigs for garnish

1. Toss all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Take out the yellow pear tomatoes and arrange on the bottom of the two, 5 inch round pans in a flower like formation. Make sure the uncut sides are face down. Fill in the spaces with the cherry tomatoes and top with the plum tomatoes.

2. Place in a cold oven and turn the oven to 375 degrees and bake for 1 hour or until caramelized.

3. Unroll puff pastry and cut out 2 5 inch round pieces pressing the pan down on the pastry, to use as a cutter. Place on top of the tomatoes and continue baking for 10-15 minutes or until the pastry puffs up and is golden brown.

4. Take out of the oven and cool to just slightly warm, about 20 minutes. Invert onto 2 serving dishes and place a scoop of Basil Lemon Sorbet on top. Garnish with a basil sprig and serve.

Makes 2 tarts

Basil Lemon Sorbet

1 pint Hagen Dazs lemon sorbet
8-10 large basil leaves

1.Take one generous scoop of lemon sorbet and put in a blender with 8-10 basil leaves. Process until the basil is the size of ground pepper.
2.Gently fold processed sorbet into remaining lemon sorbet. Return to container and refreeze until firm.

Written and photographed by Diane

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend, A Salty Tale

I think I first became interested in salt when I was a child. The round box of Morton salt with the saucy little girl in the bright yellow dress, intrigued me. I wanted to be friends and walk beside her in the rain, sharing her umbrella, leaving a trail of salt. OK, things were simpler then. As life progressed, salty tastes came in the form of the consoling taste of babies tears and the drip of a hard days work. Now as I open a bag of sel gris, French sea salt, the moist grains reveal the subtle scent of a sunny day at the beach. My neighbor, Kate uses this sea salt on the table and in the bath. She says it softens her skin in a radiant, if not extravagant way. Some of the best salt in the world is said to come from the salt marshes of the Guerande area of France. Here the salt is harvested by hand. The creme de la creme is the Fleur de Sel de Guerande from these marshes. As the sun evaporates the upper layer of the foam, a tender crust
forms. The crust is then raked by specialists called paludiers.The hand harvesting is such a delicate job, that it was at one time only entrusted to women. This crust is the prized fleur de sel. The color is not a pristine white, but a grayish brown, from the minerals on the bottom of the marshes. Fleur de sel is full of many minerals and trace minerals. Said to have a faint aroma of violets, it is a finishing salt and loses it's fine taste if doused mercilessly into a pot of bubbling stew. My favorite way to use fleur de sel is to sprinkle it on potatoes or meats straight from the heat or on sliced fresh tomatoes.

A salty new treasure caught my eye on a recent stop into the tiny
exotic food and spice shop, Izrael, in the Marais area of Paris. At
first glance I wasn't sure what it was. Gorgeous chunky, pinkish
crystals packaged with a small grater hung from a post. The label read, "Diamond de sel et sa rape"....."Diamond salt with its grater". The label went further to read, "They are fossilised crystals of sea salt, formed more than 260 million years ago and unpolluted. They are carefully extracted by hand from the Khewra mines deep in the heart of the Himalayas. In about 350 B.C. Alexander the Great had this precious salt brought to Europe. Subsequently it was used exclusively by church dignitaries and emperors." At one point in history salt was used as currency. The 12 euro price indeed said diamonds, but I had to have it. After shelling out my ransom, we went on our way towards the rue de Rivoli. As we passed the department store BHV, we made a pit stop to check out the bathrooms. Right by the up escalator, my friend Debbie spotted that beautiful Diamond salt at less than half the price. Nothing like salt on the ol' proverbial wound. We grabbed a few more packages to even out the price. Pam found the ultimate two mispriced packages for 2 euro each. There was an air of a Filene's Basement sale right there in Paris.

he many different salts may be found in specialty food stores and online. The price varies by source and can be dear. Since most of these salts are finishing salts, they can last for some time........just don't put on your yellow dress and walk in the rain leaving a trail of salt behind you.

Written and photographed by Diane