The Best Thing I Ate in Corsica

12 06 2013

You might expect me to wax rhapsodic about the array of sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses, or gush about the intensely flavorful charcuterie, or rave about the freshness of the just-caught fish, but no. I’m here to extol a pastry. (And if you think about it, is that really so surprising after all?)

Almond " matchsticks"

Upon entering Ajaccio’s Boulangerie Galéani (for no discernible reason the only bakery there mentioned in any of the guide books I read) on the first morning of my weekend there in late May, I was met with the sight of these tempting allumettes aux amandes. Sure, we picked up some of the supposedly great canistrelli (like a smallish scone or thick shortbread cookie, but barely sweet and extremely dry), and some awesome cheese tarts made with the local brocciu (fresh sheep’s cheese, similar in texture to ricotta), but the allumette was the star of the show.

Imagine a thick twist of  puff pastry, probably made with salted butter, dunked in sweet meringue and sprinkled with salted almonds, then baked until crisp and caramelized. Alternately flaky, tender, crunchy, sweet and salty, it was truly one of the most surprising things I’ve eaten in quite a while. We visited other bakeries during our stay, and sampled many delicious things – mostly on the savory end of the spectrum, now that I think about it: turnovers filled with cheese, onions, and Swiss chard, sausages wrapped in croissant dough – but never saw another allumette aux amandes. So my recommendation, if you’re ever in Ajaccio, is to visit the Boulangerie Galéani, skip the canistrelli (which were pretty unimpressive) and the bread (I didn’t see a single good baguette the whole time I was there), and load up on these sweet-and-salty delights.

Of course, the setting in which we ate this pastry could have something to do with it. After hiking up and around a gorgeous peninsula…

Up

…we sat down to a picnic lunch high on a cliff overlooking the Iles Sanguinaires…

sunshine and sea air...

 

…which probably made everything taste better.

On this day in 2008: Nick’s Provençal Eggplant – a delicious ragoût, which I’m excited to make once eggplant comes back into season…hopefully only a few more weeks now.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Balbuzard Café

30 09 2009

All summer I had my eyes peeled for Corsican restaurants in Paris.  (July was the originally-planned Corsica month, but then the spur-of-the-moment trip to Rouen happened.  Fortunately, it turns out that Fall is the best time of year for Corsican charcuterie, so I lucked out.)  I spotted one on a bike ride near the Place de la République, did some research in my Pudlo guide, and decided that Balbuzard was the place to go.

Saturday night we finally went.  Nick and I were joined by another couple, and the four of us walked there together after apéros chez nous.  We were greeted immediately upon entering the colorful (red and yellow tiled floor, lime green and magenta velvet wallpaper winding up the stairs) café.  We were seated at a table near the bar with a good view of the rest of the room, including the small Corsican épicerie (jams, honeys, and charcuterie available for purchase) in the corner.  A bottle of Corsican wine was ordered – we went with the one suggested by the waiter to compliment the cured meats – and our meals chosen, and we chatted with our friends during the brief wait for our first courses.

Salade d'avocats avec gamba et noix de st-jacques

I had chosen the avocado salad with prawn and scallops.  The prawn was great, but there wasn’t enough of him.  The avocados were perfectly ripe, and the salad was served with a cold tomato compote and a wedge of fresh cheese.  Only the scallops disappointed.  Like the rest of the salad, they were cold, and I had really been expecting freshly seared, rare-but-warm specimens.  I didn’t notice much of a difference in flavor or texture between the scallop meat and the other part (roe?  liver?  other mysterious organs?), which I thought was odd.

Terrine de sanglier

Nick had the terrine de sanglier, a delicious wild boar pâté.  Corsican wild boar live their days running around in the forest, eating chestnuts, and you can tell when you taste their extremely flavorful, slightly nutty meat.  The terrine was served with an onion jam that really put it over the top.  Table positioning made taking photos of our companions’ plates awkward, but our vegetarian friend ordered the terrine de chèvre (cheese, that is), and ate every bit.

For the main course, I opted for the figatellu.  It’s a classic Corsican sausage made from the liver and heart of wild pigs. 

Figatellu aux lentilles

The flavor is strong, but I really enjoy it.  Served on a bed of warm lentils with an oven-dried tomato and a breath-freshening sprig of parsley, the sausage really hit the spot.  I couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy, though, when I looked over at Nick’s plate…

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Miel de Corse

24 09 2009

One of Corsica’s largest crops is the chestnut.  As such, they feature prominently in dishes both sweet (cakes, candied chestnuts) and savory (various breads, a type of “polenta”), as well as in the local liqueurs.  Much of the chestnut harvest is dried and ground into flour, which has been granted a.o.c. status.  Another Corsican chestnut-based treat with the privileged status is honey.

Organic chestnut honey from Corsica

The stuff is, quite frankly, wonderful.  It has a rich, nutty aroma with floral undertones, all of which carry through on the palate.  I’ve been using it to sweeten my green tea, but I’m trying to come up with a recipe that will feature it more prominently.  (My first meeting with chestnut honey was years ago, when I used it in an orange pâte de fruits – a sort of jelly candy – for the restaurant where I worked.  It was one of my (and the chef’s) favorite flavors of jelly, so I made a lot of them, though now that I think about it, I haven’t laid so much as a taste bud on it since then.  But the reunion is going well, like when you run into an old friend and discover that nothing has changed – you can still talk for hours with no awkward silences.)

I also love the artwork on the jar.  The bee is dwarfed by the gigantic, hairy chestnut, and it looks as though he is going to have to battle it in order to get to the sweet flower.  A battle that is well worth it, in my book.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Fromages de Brebis Corses

14 09 2009

Friday afternoon, I went on a cheese hunt.  It took me deep into the 20th arrondissement, to Place Gambetta.  The area is full of neat regional specialty shops, and the rue des Pyrénées, in particular, is a great place to do some food shopping.  Within two minutes’ walk from the bus stop, I found two excellent fromageries that carried Corsican cheeses.  At the first, François Priet, I picked up a wedge of tomme Corse – a firm cheese with small holes and a gnarly-looking rind.

Tomme Corse

I’m pretty sure that kind of rind is caused by cheese mites.  So I cut it off, and the cheese underneath is outstanding.  It has the distinct tang of sheep’s milk (Corsica being essentially a mountain, sheep and goats are more suited to the terrain than cattle, and all Corsican cheese is made from sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, or a blend of the two) with an earthy, mushroomy, savory richness to back it up.  Thank you, cheese mites!

A little further up the hill, I came to  La Cave aux Fromages.  This tiny, odoriferous shop has an impressive selection of Corsican and other lesser-known French cheeses.  I honed in on the A Filetta, another sheep’s cheese, but completely different from the first.  I was attracted to it by the fern leaf atop the pale orange washed rind, and by the way it looked like it would ooze all over if you let it come up to room temperature.

A Filetta

Upon unwrapping it, Nick exclaimed, “That cheese smells.  Like a cab driver.”  It did have a whiff of B.O. and gasoline, I suppose, but I’ve come to find many otherwise offensive smells don’t bother me when they’re coming from a cheese.  When I tasted it, the first words out of my mouth were, “It tastes like it smells.  But in a good way.”  Definitely strong, definitely one of the more pungent cheeses I’ve had in some time.  Nick was less impressed.  So I probably won’t be running out to buy another half-wheel of A Filetta anytime soon, though I certainly wouldn’t turn it down.  That tomme Corse, on the other hand, may just end up in the regular rotation.

After a few months of vacation, Chez Loulou’s Fête du Fromage event is back!  I’m sending this post her way, so be sure to check out the International cheese roundup over there on the 15th (that’s Tuesday).

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Corsican Summer and a Birth Announcement

9 09 2009

In an attempt to prolong the summer – I’ve been getting some great little poires Williams (Bartlett pears) in the CSA panier for the last couple of weeks, and their appearance has made me wistful – this month we will be visiting the cuisine of Corsica.  This Mediterranean island has changed hands many times over the years, belonging at various times to the Romans, Goths, and Berbers, just to name a few, but has belonged to France since the reign of Louis XV in the mid-eighteenth century.  Strangely, Corsica, despite its being situated in the middle of the sea, doesn’t have much of a seafood tradition.  No, the Corsicans embrace the mountain on which they live, and instead of fishing, grow grapevines along the coast.

Corsican red wines are made from a few different grapes: Nielluccio (alias Sangiovese in Italy), Vermentino,  and the unique Sciacarello, which makes wines that are light in color but bold in flavor.  They also produce some very flavorful and refreshing rosés, perfect for the last few of summer’s sultry evenings.

It's all Mediterranean Food

This red prompted Nick to ask, “Why isn’t Corsica part of Italy?”  Mainly because its juicy character was distinctly reminiscent of Chianti (and it could well be the same grape).  So I whipped up a quick pasta sauce featuring tomatoes and zucchini from the panier – they haven’t started sending us winter squash just yet – and we enjoyed a Mediterranean island-inspired dinner.

Speaking of the panier, and seasonal produce and menus, it’s time for the birth announcement!  Croque-Camille has spawned a mini-blog dedicated to the weekly bounty of the CSA, along with ideas about how to use it.  True, I’m located in Paris, but the seasonal availability should be pretty similar across the Northern Hemisphere (those of you in the Southern hemisphere will just have to wait about six months).  So hop on over to Seasonal Market Menus: A Dispatch from Croque-Camille’s Kitchen, and get inspired!  I’m also putting an RSS widget for the new baby blog in my sidebar, so you can keep up to date on both blogs at once.  Enjoy!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.
Sciacarello Grapes on Foodista








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