` Joëlle Laffitte: Notes from the Farmers Market - Olive Oil Times

Joëlle Laffitte: Notes from the Farmers Market

Oct. 28, 2010
Joelle Laffitte

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By Joëlle Laffitte
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from Paris

Every Wednesday and Saturday morn­ing for the past 18 months, I have had the priv­i­lege of buy­ing most of my food at the best farm­ers’ mar­ket in France. Well, at least I think it’s the best. I may be biased because at my mar­ket, the peo­ple who sell me cheese, veg­eta­bles and meat are also the peo­ple who taught me to speak the lan­guage when I was a mere timid for­eigner in the land of the appel­la­tion d’o­rig­ine con­trôlée.

They also taught me what that sys­tem means, and how to choose my
own qual­ity ingre­di­ents, from olive oils to aged cheeses to the famous
Bresse chick­ens. I came to France a mod­est self-taught cook, but I
never before had access to the pre­mium ingre­di­ents I can eas­ily pro­cure here for an afford­able price. I can now keep fleur de sel on the table and, for just the price of a cup of cof­fee, I can buy bags and bags of hand-har­vested sea salt — an afford­able lux­ury which I like to add to my bath in the evening. I have access to free-range eggs with bright orange yolks, just gath­ered that morn­ing from free-range chick­ens, and herbs so pun­gent their fra­grances fill the kitchen with one sharp cut of the knife. Short of cook­ing with Alice Waters, I am liv­ing my dream. I’d be liv­ing my dream even more if I had unlim­ited bot­tles of Burgundy , but that’s a story for another time.

Besides the lan­guage, the French have taught me so much when it comes to choos­ing, cook­ing, and eat­ing good food. I have dis­cov­ered that good olive oilis exactly what was miss­ing from my steak tartare, and that salted but­ter is bet­ter than sweet when roast­ing a chicken.
I have learned that raw milk is a human right, not a nov­elty item, and
cer­tainly not a legal bat­tle as it is in some places that I kindly won‘t men­tion. I have even learned I can have the occa­sional glass of red wine while preg­nant — which I’m not, and don’t plan on becom­ing — but it’s a nice con­so­la­tion should things take an unex­pected turn.

One of the most impor­tant lessons I have learned in this coun­try is that when buy­ing cer­tain ingre­di­ents, there is a time to hold onto your money, and there is a time to let it go. And even if you don’t live in France or have access to the best mar­ket, like I do, the prac­tice of spend­ing a lit­tle more for a few qual­ity ingre­di­ents has its rewards. Better qual­ity when it comes to olive oil, vine­gars, and salts, for exam­ple, can make all the dif­fer­ence. I also find that when I have just a
few key ingre­di­ents, I can very sim­ply turn them into a meal with almost no effort on my part. I always keep a bot­tle of the best qual­ity olive oil I can afford on the table, a jar of good sea salt and one of fresh pep­per­corns, and a good aged parme­san cheese. If all I have to eat with them are beans, or a head of broc­coli, or just a bowl of noo­dles, I can still have a deli­cious meal.

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On a recent trip to the mar­ket I brought home a lovely piece of soft, mild farmer’s cheese. It is an inex­pen­sive, sim­ple cow’s milk cheese that is prob­a­bly the most unpre­ten­tious of all French cheeses. For an easy lunch, I bathed it in a pun­gent olive oil and sprin­kled it with red pep­per flakes, then spread it onto thin slices of baguette. I like to have small pit­ted green olives with dried herbes de provence on hand, and when I want to splurge and be extra nice to my hus­band, I bring home the anchovy stuffed olives — which, by the way, are the per­fect accom­pa­ni­ment to a glass of fino sherry at apéri­tif time.

This week, for a change, I decided to buy some every­day olive oils for infus­ing. I chose mild oils, and sim­ply ster­il­ized some glass bot­tles, poured the oil in, and added the dried herbs and spices. I love the idea of hav­ing sev­eral infused oils on hand for fin­ish­ing dishes, and olive oils are great for enhanc­ing stronger fla­vors like cin­na­mon and sage and rose­mary. They are won­der­ful to add to roasted veg­eta­bles in the Fall, and the cin­na­mon infused oil adds some­thing spe­cial to baked pump­kin bread, turn­ing the fla­vor up a notch with the pep­pery qual­ity of the oil and the spicy cin­na­mon. It also works magic when driz­zled onto a pump­kin soup or thick wedges of toasted bread, leaden with creamy goat’s milk cheese.

There are sev­eral infu­sion meth­ods, but the eas­i­est by far is to use dried herbs or spices, placed into a ster­il­ized glass bot­tle filled with the oil. Then wait a few weeks. To get a strong enough fla­vor, I gen­er­ally
add about four to five small cin­na­mon sticks to a 35 cl bot­tle of oil. If using herbs, two large sprigs of rose­mary or laven­der is a good esti­mate. I use fresh herbs and dry them in the sun at home, tied with a piece of string over the kitchen win­dow. The laven­der recalls those pur­ple open fields that stretch on for miles in the south, the fra­grance of Provence. And when the light falls in just a cer­tain way, its late after­noon golden hue danc­ing on your kitchen floor, and the flo­ral pat­tern of shad­ows on the wall, this is France, and this is the clos­est we can get to bot­tling it up and tak­ing it home with us.

Joëlle is a New Yorker now liv­ing in Paris and an ama­teur chef who will be tak­ing us along once in a while as she dis­cov­ers the local fla­vors of her new neighborhood. 

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