Strange that my first newsletter in ages is actually inspired by an event which until ten days ago left me totally cold: the COUPE DU MONDE DE FOOTBALL.
I had decided once and for all, years ago when my son was seven and started spending all his free time playing or watching and trading images, that football did not and never would interest me, and that everything it involved was… unattractive… including the players themselves. And I did not change my mind when France became world champion in 1998, and European champion in 2000.
So what happened? An irresistibly contagious movement, which started when this team qualified for the 8ème de finale (the final 8). As a whole, the group had been mocked from the beginning. Too old, most well over 30, some dangerously close to 35, all stars with big careers and salaries, probably burnt out, and playing badly during the elimination matches against countries little renowned for their football; but once they passed and won against Spain, not a small team, and were therefore going to meet Brazil for the quart de finale (the final four!) all of a sudden, France became what it usually is not: patriotic, united, optimistic.
Touchy subject, but the fact is that as a nation, we have been for quite a few years now terribly self-critical, dissatisfied, frustrated. As a journalist put it on the radio this morning, we suffer from collective pessimism while capable of individual optimism. Recently, the rejection of the European constitution, the choice of London for the 2012 Olympic games, the suburban riots in the fall and the protests in February and March were symptoms of a general malaise.
So along comes a reason to rejoice and to unite behind that brave old team. Why fight it? It started last Wednesday when, for the first time in my life, I watched un match de foot, France against Brazil, and sat in front of the TV for an hour and a half, plus half time, plus overtime, catching up on the rules and the tricks of the trade with the help of five young men, all friends of my friends’ son. Of course I knew “Zizou” and had heard the names of most others many times, but never paid attention. Too bad! These men run, the footwork is amazing, the suspense is total until the last second, and I could feel my adrenaline going up!
I shared my country’s infatuation with the team, this feeling of “all together now,” and was not in the least embarrassed to talk about it with all kinds of people—not only family and friends, but also the man who sold me my monthly métro pass the day of France-Portugal, asking him where he would be pendant le match. These 11 guys, their coach and the people around them (substitute players, etc…) had suddenly become heroes, unexpectedly giving us, les français, reasons to be proud and to rejoice.
So when I saw my buddy Pierre, who has been baking at Poilâne for 30 years now and is a real artist, open a spherical bronze cast the size of a small football and pull out a ballon made of bread, I thought, “I have to share this technical performance celebrating our victories with francophiles abroad.” The cast was created for the 1998 World Cup and I only wish I could have told my late friend Lionel Poilâne how dear I found this work of craftsmanship. So I will tell his daughter Apollonia instead.
The finale did not end the way we wanted; not only did we lose, but our great hero Zidane did not finish the last match of his career the way we expected. Never mind. Most of us think that he is a great human being, perhaps even more human than ever. The last two weeks were the most exciting and happy ones for France in quite a while. I am emotionally worn out. Cruel was the final score as well as the headline in Liberation, the morning newspaper. “Merci,” said Chirac. I like that.
And since we are into summer and into Poilâne bread, here are two of Poilâne’s recipes,* both tartines (a slice of bread on which we add either a savory or a sweet food, which can be ham, jam or any other food that’s easy to spread). Great for football parties!
This tartine is made from the bits and pieces you can find in a virtually empty refrigerator on a bad day. Put all the ingredients through the food processor just long enough to mix them, making sure they retain a certain consistency. Spread this mix on the toast or, depending on how rich you feel, top the mixture with any raw salad vegetables that come to hand, such as tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, etc.
In honor of the winners, here is:
Lightly toast the bread slices, butter them and spread a thin layer of bottarga (or Salmon caviar) with a squeeze of lemon juice. If the preparation seems on the thick side, you can thin it by adding half a teaspoon of crème fraîche.
This one will not be easy to reproduce. Bottarga, also called Italian caviar, is dried mullet roe, sometimes tuna roe. As written on Bottarga.net, “originating in countries surrounding the Mediterranean. Using sea salt, the roe is cured and dried to perfection, then waxed to prevent further drying and exposure to light. Waxing also prevents contact with foreign matter. For the novice, Bottarga appears quite unique, odorless, and may look like a flat waxed sausage. But once the wax is removed, your taste buds will discover one of the most flavorful marine products. Colors naturally vary from golden yellow to darker shades of reddish brown.”
I was first exposed to bottarga through Mr. Naouri, my vendor of mediterranean products at the market. Max, one of my French students who like Jules Naouri is of Jewish Tunisian origin, gave me some made by one of his uncles, which was less salty and fishy in flavor. The wax protecting Max’s version was white, and the poutargue was thinner and lighter in color. It is also found in Southern Italy, and in France it is a specialty of the town of Martigues, near Marseille. In any case, it is an acquired taste and you can substitute with Salmon caviar from Alaska, indigeneous to North America.
Wishing you a great summer…
* from Lionel Poilâne’s Favourite Savory Tartines, published by Grancher