Monday, July 2, 2007

Canada Day

I've lived in France for so long that I rarely get sentimental about Canada, to the universal bafflement of the French who can't understand why I gave up the comfort and natural beauty of my homeland to live in cramped medieval conditions.
It so happens that I like hanging up my laundry on the vertiginous clothesline outside and trying to imagine who lived in my apartment 400 years ago (monks, apparently), and I've even adapted quite nicely to the 12 months of sunshine in Nice.
Every year, though, I like to indulge any lingering nostalgia with a Canada Day picnic. America has the 4th of July, France has Bastille Day and Canada celebrates its independence on July 1st, the one day when you'll see Canadians waving flags, saying "eh" even more often than usual and getting almost teary-eyed with patriotism.
Since living in Nice I've met an unprecedented number of Canadians - refugees from the cold, perhaps - and yesterday's picnic to mark our country's 140th birthday was the biggest ever.

(I'm the one looking at the camera.)
I sang along to Canadian music on CBC Radio as I prepared a red-and-white (well, pink and white) dish for the occasion. Having had my fill of carrot cake lately, I also made a banana and chocolate loaf from the Rose Bakery cookbook, whose recipes remind me of my favorite Canadian cafés even if Rose Carrarini is English.
Though Canada doesn't exactly have its own cuisine, it does have some lovely ingredients: Pacific salmon, great big steaks from my home province of Alberta, maple syrup, morel mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, Yukon gold potatoes and wild berries with names like mossberry and saskatoon. Immigrants have held onto their culinary traditions, which means that while no dish may be considered truly Canadian, no dish may be considered truly not Canadian either. With this in mind I prepared an Italian-influenced salmon dish, adapted from Chez Panisse Cooking by Paul Bertolli and Alice Waters.
My starting point was some beautiful pink-and-white beans from Pierre's farm. He refers to them as coco beans but they are known in English by their Italian name, borlotti. I know they lose their pink pattern when cooked, turning a creamy and even slightly gray color, but still couldn't resist them. If you can't find fresh beans, you can of course use dried beans soaked overnight.
To complete the dish I found some good quality Scottish farmed salmon - I would have preferred wild Pacific salmon, but it's not so easy to come by here - red and orange cherry tomatoes from organic producer Jean-Louis, little purple spring onions and a big bunch of potent basil. Beans are more commonly paired with tuna in Italian cooking, but I had my heart set on salmon for this occasion.
A real Canadian would have barbecued the salmon, even in one of those unexpected July snowstorms, but I settled for grilling the thin slices in my oven, which worked quite nicely. It was just one of many tempting dishes in our beach potluck, which also included a Lebanese tabouleh and an Asian noodle salad in true Canadian fashion.
I almost wept when Gary from Calgary, who had attended my cooking class on Saturday, presented me with a pair of Proud to be a Canadian oven mitts.
After all, who but a Canadian would pack those in his suitcase just in case?

Salmon with tomato-basil dressing and white beans
Serves 6

For the beans:
2 lbs fresh white beans or borlotti beans in their shells (about 1 kg)
1 sprig rosemary
4 garlic cloves
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 spring onions, preferably purple, with their stems
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp best-quality olive oil
A handful flat (Italian) parsley

For the tomatoes:
1 1/2 lbs cherry tomatoes, preferably different colors (700 g)
2 small shallots
1 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large sprigs basil, leaves only

1 1/2 lbs salmon fillet, skinned (700 g)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil

Shell the beans and place in a large pot of water with the rosemary and peeled garlic cloves. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a gentle bubble and cook for 15 mins, then add about 1 tsp salt. Cook for another 15 minutes or until soft. Drain, discarding the rosemary and setting aside the garlic cloves in a small bowl.

Mash the garlic cloves with a fork and add the lemon juice, a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Whisk in the olive oil. Peel one layer off the spring onions, rinse and slice thinly, using most of the stems as well as the white part. Chop the parsley. Stir the spring onions, parsley and garlic dressing into the cooled beans.

Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters and place in a bowl. Finely dice the shallots and add to the bowl with the red wine vinegar and olive oil. Just before serving, add the salt, pepper and finely chopped basil.

Holding your knife at slight angle, cut the salmon fillet into slices about 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick. Line a large roasting tin with aluminum foil and place it in the oven, at the highest possible heat. Season the salmon with salt and pepper on both sides and brush with olive oil.

After 30 minutes, switch the oven to the broil (grill) setting. Remove the pan from the oven and arrange the salmon on the hot pan. Place as close as possible to the heat and cook for about 3 mins, until just cooked through. Carefully arrange the salmon on the serving dish.

Serve the salmon with the tomatoes as a dressing and the beans on the side.


Lydia said...

Happy Canada Day! My Canadian husband celebrates by eating something with maple syrup!

Wendy said...

This sounds perfect for a July lunch. Those beans look wonderful. It's unfortunately very difficult to find fresh beans here. Perhaps I should try growing them next year.

Rosa said...

Welcome Lydia! I always have maple syrup in my pantry and use it often, so in a way every day is Canada Day at my house.

Growing beans is a good idea, Wendy. I think they are quite easy to grow, and it's so rewarding to grow things that you can't find in the markets.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rosa! We celebrated Canada day in a park with a ton of little kids and their parents, and I made salmon, too! Mine was delicious sockeye roasted in the oven with butter and then served with some basil and thyme. We had that, some lukewarm pesto pasta (surprisingly good) and some chickpeas with feta and herbs - such a great way to enjoy the bounty of Winnipeg in July (and it was really hot!).

Rosa said...

Ah, sockeye salmon - there's something we can't buy in France! Your picnic sounds wonderful.

Adrian said...

Happy belated Canada Day!

Rosa said...

Hi Adrian, welcome to my blog and thanks for the Canada Day wishes!