Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cultural Exchanges and Care Packages

With the winds on the seas around the Greek Isles behind me, a few words and pictures are being put together to share some of the wonder and beauty of being in some of the lesser-known spots around the islands. Of course, food would be a part of the picture for La Fourchette from the first moments of the we'll start there.

The organizer of the adventure, a former resident of Aix en Provence, had asked for a few herbs de provence to bring some provençal zing to her Ukrainian cuisine.

The promise of a stash of herbs and a stroll through the marché turned into an inspiration for a little care package from the old ‘hood that included small jars of pesto, tapenade and artichoke spread, a bag of sun-dried tomatoes, a bit of lavender honey, cans of tuna in olive oil (which actually never made it into the collection as I packed it up - those are on the way, Charlotte!)and the originally requested herbs de provence. I was looking forward to bringing a bit of Mediterranean sunshine to someone who is finding Ukraine to be a bit soggy.

Mindful of the not-so-new airline security regulations for the amounts of liquid allowed for carry-on bags, I carefully transferred my soaps and such into smaller containers, then into plastic bags...and finally ended up packing it all into my check-on bag after just seemed easier that way with fewer chances for any glitches along the way. Not factored into the equation: my care package!

As I went through security in Marseille, I was stopped abruptly and my backpack was opened as the security official searched for the “liquid” that was showing up on his screen. He shook his head and clicked his tongue at me as he reached in and retrieved my collection of jars one by one. “Oh! J’ai oublié! Mais, non...c’est un cadeau!!” I exclaimed. (I forgot! But no, it’s a gift!) I was in the process of internally berating myself for missing something so simple. Mumbling as I anticipated watching the entire package being tossed in the nearby trash that was already filled with quite a collection of bottles and other items that never made it past this efficient official, I was resigned to the inevitable.

Feeling a bit deflated, my murmur of “C’est pas possible...” (It’s not possible) tumbled out over the backpack that so clearly displayed my oversight. But to my surprise, there was a pause...and then with a wink and a smile the security official responded reassuringly, in that very French manner, “Tout est possible!” (All is one of my favorite expressions in these parts...even if it doesn’t always apply when it would otherwise be quite helpful.) He re-wrapped my stash and stuffed it into my backpack. I guess I looked like a safe bet and this story has a happy ending: the care package was delivered and has already been tucked into as a little bit of life in Aix is shared with a temporary Ukrainian resident. With all due respect to airline security in this day and age: How cool was that?!?

I shared the story with Charlotte as we sat under the sails sharing some shade one afternoon...which led to a discussion of food and recipes...which resulted in a suggestion for an old favorite of mine that combines the sun-dried tomatoes from my ‘hood and an ingredient that is apparently very plentiful in her corner of the world: vodka!

There we were: Two Americans...navigating their new cultures with food...while sailing in the Greek Islands...sweeeet!

Bon Appétit!

p.s. More tales to follow with recipes sporting a Greek and Mexican (!) twist!

Sun-Dried Tomato Vodka Cream Pasta (Adapted from a recipe that was attached with a rubber band to my first jar of sun-dried tomatoes many years ago...and some recipe in my files that has no it looks familiar and you want credit...changes can be made..."Tout est possible"!)

1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 T. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 cup vodka
1 cup chicken stock (preferably home-made)
1 cup sun dried tomatoes
sea salt and pepper to taste
16 oz. pasta (your choice here: rigatoni holds and sops the sauce nicely...but linguine works nicely, too.)
3/4 cup heavy cream*
Chiffonade a handful of fresh basil leaves for garnish

Bring chicken stock to a simmer and pour over sun-dried tomatoes in a medium bowl. Allow to “steep” to rehydrate for 15 minutes (or longer as determined by your own taste for softening the tomatoes.)

Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over moderate heat. Add shallots and garlic. Gently sauté until soft and translucent. (About 5 minutes.) Add vodka to the pan and allow it to reduce by one half. (About 5 minutes.)

Add tomatoes and stock and bring sauce to bubbling, reducing to a simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Check for seasonings and season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

While sauce simmers, cook pasta in boiling water, al dente.

In the final moments, stir cream into the sauce and return to a gentle bubble to heat through. Remove from heat and toss with pasta. Top with basil and serve immediately.

Serves 4

* I use a soy cream available here that is really tasty with none of the consequences of “the real deal” Julia Child was fond of admonishing: You don’t eat like this every day!

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