Bestselling author Mireille Guiliano offers up a delectable recipe concocted from her favorite seasonal fruits
Now is the season of summer produce markets and local fruits and vegetables. They are tastier than supermarket or out-of-season varieties, so you can eat less and enjoy more — surely good for one’s health! Additionally, they are good for the local economy and environment (less transportation by-products).
I was shopping recently at an organic or “bio” market in the South of France and was taken aback by avocados from South Africa alongside local melons – no Manhattan Union Square Market, for sure – and it made me wonder whether the notion of organic-at-all-costs or the reality of globalization is doing more to take taste out of our mouths. Just eat seasonal is nature’s first rule.
For many of us, food often evokes a memory of our mother making something special, probably seasonal, concocted with love and linked to our culture and values. And cooking and shopping for food is and/or can be a pleasant experience in time travel, pleasure and nutrition.
For most of my girlfriends growing up in Eastern France, the summer treat par excellence was without a doubt ice cream because, in those not-too-distant days, it was only available July/August, made at the local patisserie and a treat that many had to deserve. Have things changed?
But for me the seasonal treat was a luscious red fruit: la tomate, something not exactly characteristic of the cool area and somewhat warm sun-deprived area where I grew up. But I would visit my cousin Andrée in Aix-en-Provence and she served the freshest, tastiest tomatoes daily in the summer, whether in a gazpacho, a ratatouille, a terrine, a stuffed tomato, a pasta sauce or pizza topping as well as all sorts of creative salads.
My taste buds would suddenly expand to heightened awareness and refinement of my senses in conflict, in harmony and in combination and celebration with one another — not only from the variety of dishes, but the variety of tomatoes. A visit to the local market always brings back memories of my cousin at the different stands looking at the fruit like a precious object – its color, size, ripeness, asking all sorts of questions, getting carried away in conversation and sharing a recipe or two with the farmer or another customer and then deciding what she was going to cook.
Of course, ultimately cooking is education, and over the years I developed my own tomato recipes (probably enough for a tomato cookbook or two!). Over the last 20 years, creative chefs have experimented a whole meal with tomatoes, and Arpège in Paris is known for his tomato dessert. But the most famous place in France is in Provence, where chef Christian Etienne in Avignon makes an entire tomato menu — something many people will make a detour to taste summer after summer. And Christian gave me more ideas, like creating a quick, easy and delicious dessert with my midsummer fruit and adding it to my other red favorite fruit: la fraise, the luscious strawberry, at its best early to midsummer. I serve it for lunch under the shady terrace. I wonder whether cousin Andrée would have liked it. I do, and so do my guests. The mix of the reds and the pepper always make for a conversation piece.
Cooking is pleasure. Expand. Experience. Enjoy!
Strawberry Salad with Tomatoes
2 lbs. strawberries
3/4 lb. ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons honey
Freshly ground pepper
Wash and hull the strawberries and slice them. Place in a bowl and add the tomato pieces.
Cut four slices of lemon from one lemon, and press the juice from the other. Add the honey to the lemon juice and stir till well mixed. Add the lemon slices.
Pour the lemon/honey mixture over the strawberry/tomato mixture. Serve immediately or refrigerate for an hour before serving. Season with pepper at the last minute.
N.B. You can play a lot with this recipe. If you serve it as a salad you can add basil and a splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. As dessert, you may want to add a bit of mascarpone or some fresh ricotta and/or add other red fruit like raspberries and/or red currants and make a sweet-sour salad. Of course, if my good friend Chloë from Brittany serves tomato, it would be on toasted seven-grain bread covered with copeaux (slivers) of the best salted butter, another tasting experience altogether. A chacun son gout.
The former CEO of Champagne Veuve Cliquot, Mireille Guiliano is the bestselling author of French Women Don’t Get Fat. Her latest book is The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook. Visit her at mireilleguiliano.com.