Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Writers and editors on food 15: Lucy Sussex
Lucy Sussex is a writer, academic and reviewer. Her fiction has spanned a wide range of genres, including science fiction, fantasy, and detective fiction, and she's written for adults, children, and young adults. Her non-fiction work is in literary criticism and journalism, and she is a reviewer for several major newspapers, as well as being an academic at the University of Melbourne. Today, she writes about a magical childhood time spent in Provence, and offers a delicious recipe from that time.
When I was five, my family spent a year in Provence. I attended my first school, where despite we being the only Protestants (‘I’m afraid we’re heretics,’ my mother Marian told the head nun), my older sister Polly played the Virgin Mary in the school play. There are a few mementoes of that time, photos, Provençal folk costumes, and a recipe book, carefully bound in plastic: Louis Giniès’ Cusine Provencal. Its bookmark is a postcard of the Basilique de Saint-Benoit.
My mother attended Provencal cooking classes in Aix, and loved to recall how, trying to be helpful, she opened a paper parcel only to find it contained live small crabs, who proceeded to scuttle all over the kitchen. She ended up with a signature dish, very useful for the wife of an academic specializing in French language: Tendrons de Veau a la Giardiane. It was exotic, but not too pungent for bland Anglo tastes.
Something which does not fit that description, and which she made, to judge from the pencil marks, is this potent tapenade. To test my French, I made it from the book, but a rough translation is:
Take equal quantities of capers in vinegar and stoned black olives. Add half the quantity of tuna in oil, and anchovies depending upon preference, with a small amount of English mustard and a pinch of the quatre-épices (four spices): cinnamon, cloves, pepper and nutmeg. Blend, and add olive oil for consistency, and a small glass of brandy.
I see underlined in the book is the words: préalablement rincés, with reference to the ‘anchoies au sel’. Indeed, this is a pretty salty dish without the anchovies. The brandy makes it grown up, and it rolls around the tongue like a French R.
Giniès comments that; ‘Au point de vue historique, notons que presque toutes ces preparations étaient connues dans l’Antiquité.’ I like to think of the Ancient Romans relishing this dish.