Tuesday, May 31, 2011

June: Slow Food International

The focus of this column has been, and will continue to be, Slow Food as a local movement, centred on the Niagara Region and the Pelham area in particular. However, it is interesting once in awhile to step back and realize that Slow Food Pelham is a tiny part of a global phenomenon. From its modest start as a counter-Fast Food movement in Italy in 1986, Slow Food International has grown to well over 100,000 members in 132 countries, and Slow Food Pelham is one of 800 “convivia” or chapters of the organization.

Among the aims of Slow Food is the preservation of local culinary traditions, plant and animal varieties, and food products; encouraging and supporting small scale and family farming and production, while educating consumers about the dangers of monoculture, factory farms, and commercial agribusiness; encouraging the buying and consumption of food that is ethically produced, local, organic, and sustainable; and, always, promoting the virtues of good food, carefully prepared, consumed at leisure in a convivial setting.

A quick survey of some of Slow Food International’s projects helps to provide a sense of how these principles are being put into practice.

Currently, a project called “A Thousand Gardens in Africa” has been launched to create exactly that: 1000 gardens in school yards, villages, and the outskirts of cities across the continent. Food gardens will be cultivated using traditional and sustainable methods, including composting, rational water use, planting local varieties, and intercropping of fruit trees, vegetables, and medicinal herbs. The objective is to help farmers and communities to recover local crops, rather than just handing out seeds and fertilizer.

In Italy, the production of a traditional cheese from the mountains near Milan has been saved by the intervention of Slow Food. Historic Bitto cheese is made by hand in the remote Orbie Alps by herders who follow the seasons with their herds. Slow Food has stepped in to provide a distribution system for the cheese to connect consumers and producers, so that the farmers get fair payment and consumers get a unique, traditional product at a fair price.

In Morocco, Slow Food has recognized and promoted the preservation of the traditional Berber delicacy, argan oil. Pressed from the kernels of the argan tree, this oil has been a fundamental part of Berber culture since time immemorial.

In Southeast India, the traditional foods of the Dalit people, 329 species of plants, many of which are designated as weeds by the scientific community, have been recognized and catalogued.

In Ireland, the Slow Food convivia are recognizing Grandmother’s Day, a day to celebrate the traditional foods and recipes of older generations. This year it was on April 16th… and maybe it is an idea that will catch on world wide.

In the U.S., a campaign called “What’s Killing Our Buzz” has been launched by Slow Food, with the aim of pressuring governments and agencies to investigate and reverse the devastating loss of honey bees over the past few years.

And so on. Around the world, the Slow Food Movement continues to work with partners and other like-minded organizations to preserve the biodiversity of our planet and the food traditions that have evolved over millennia. These examples merely brush the surface of a very active and dedicated organization, from whose efforts we all will benefit. We in Pelham “think globally and act locally” in our own small way as part of this worldwide movement. To learn more, go to slowfood.com or contact the Pelham convivium through Renée Girard at reneegirardb@hotmail.com

Monday, May 2, 2011

May: Fish On!

With apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson, “In spring a young man’s fancy turns lightly to thoughts of … trout.” Yes, the opening of trout season in Ontario is the fourth Saturday of April, and from then until closing at the end of September, trout are never far from my mind. As an avid (some might say obsessive) fly fisher, I love this time of year. During the winter I satisfy my addiction by tying flies that I imagine might tempt trout, and take a couple of trips south to play with other species like bonefish and redfish and snook… but my heart belongs to Ontario’s trout.

Although I am a devoted catch and release fisher, feeling that trout are much more valuable in the water than in the pan (and if I want to eat trout, I can buy farmed trout at any fishmonger), I do on occasion eat my catch, especially when I am on an extended canoe trip. When Valerie and I first met, she didn’t care for the taste of fish… until our first canoe trip into Algonquin Park. There, I caught a beautiful Brook Trout (actually, Brook Char, since, like Lake Trout, it is a member of the char family) and had it in the pan frying in butter within moments of taking it from the water. The taste of fresh -- really fresh -- trout meunière instantly turned her into a fan of fish, and she now prefers it to any other meat.

Trout meunière is the simplest of preparations, and enhances rather than overpowers the delicate, delicious flavour of fresh trout. Simply coat the fish fillets (or whole fish if it’s small enough) lightly in seasoned flour, and sauté them in a generous quantity of butter. When the fish is opaque (about 3 minutes each side -- don’t overdo it and dry it out!) put the fillets on a plate and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan before pouring the hot liquid over the fish. A squirt of fresh lemon adds a nice touch.

A more complex version (though still quite easy) makes the dish a little more special for company. It comes from the southern U.S., where the trout they use is not trout at all. The famous Gulf Speckled Trout is a type of saltwater drum and shares not a shred of trout heritage. However, this recipe, which has become a New Orleans tradition, does work with our “real” trout, especially the farmed rainbow trout found in most markets.

Trout Meunière Almondine

4 trout fillets, skin on
Milk (about a cup)
Seasoned flour (about a cup)
½ C plus 3 Tbsp butter
¾ C sliced almonds
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp lemon juice
4 green onions, chopped
Tabasco sauce

Heat 3 Tbsp of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Dip the fillets in the milk and then dredge in the seasoned flour, and gently put them into the hot butter. Sauté about 3 to 4 minutes on each side, remove from the pan and keep warm. Add ½ C of butter to the pan and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom. Add the almonds and cook until they are golden. Stir in the Worcestershire, lemon juice, and a squirt or two of Tabasco. Remove from the heat, and stir in the green onions. Serve the fillets with the sauce liberally poured over them.