In honour of our upcoming World Pasta Day, and subsequent week of gastronomic getaways, we’ve taken the opportunity to dive into the culinary pasts of each of our chosen cuisines to bring you a cultural banquet of these rich histories.
A whistle-stop tour of the history of French food
During the Middle Ages in France, cooking was the quickest way to symbolise status, yet it is those dishes created by the poor which tended to stand the test of time. For example, since hunting was an exclusive privilege of the nobility, and poachers met with grisly end, the poorer of the French population had to be creative, which is where dishes such as escargot (snails) and cuisse de grenouille (frog legs) originated. Even butter and vegetables were associated more with the poorer members of the population until the Italian noblewoman, Catherine Medici married King Henry II of France in 1547 and revolutionised attitudes towards these ingredients.
At the end of the 17th century and throughout the 18th century was when ‘cuisine bourgeoise’ really took off. This consisted of rich, buttery dishes we know and love with plenty of slow-cooked meat such as the delicious coq au vin, sumptuous boeuf bourguignon or other indulgent recipes such as gratin dauphinois. It was also around this time when important ‘mother sauces’ made from roux were developed such as béchamel and hollandaise. When discussing the art of French cuisine, it is impossible to exclude the spectacular array of desserts, still widely enjoyed today, ranging from tantalising tarts and brioches to jams, flaky pastries, and irresistible macarons. During this period, these sweet treats were a particular favourite of Marie Antoinette, wife to King Louis XVI, and led to her infamous remark regarding the populations lack of basic food such as bread: “Let them eat cake!”.
All these iconic recipes are what put France on the culinary map and ultimately paved the way for French chefs to make their mark not only in the making of dishes themselves, but also etiquette and systems of efficiency within the kitchen. For example, chef Auguste Escoffier published Le Guide Culinaire in 1903, which became, and remains, incredibly influential to chefs across the globe in terms of cooking techniques and kitchen management. The late 19th early 20th century also saw the creation of establishments like Le Cordon Bleu, which, to this day, remains one of the most famous culinary schools in the world.
Another quintessential cornerstone in French cooking is confit duck, or confit de canard, originating in Gascony in the southwest corner of France near Toulouse. The confit process dates back to the era of pre-refrigeration where raw meat would be seasoned with aromatics such as garlic and thyme, then rubbed with salt for both flavour and to help as a preservation technique. The meat is then slowly roasted at a low temperature until it falls off the bone and the rendered fat is collected to be poured over, submerging the cooked meat once cooled. One solidified, the fat encasing the meat acts as a barrier to oxygen which preserves the tender meat for weeks or even months (depending on how long you can resist!).
This World Pasta Day special pays homage to this gourmet French classic, with rich confit duck meat encased in our freshly made tortelloni. Again, in respect of French deference to the herb, we pair our pasta with burro di timo, or thyme butter, which also happens to be a fantastic choice alongside duck. Bon Appetit!
La France: Confit Duck Tortelloni with Thyme Butter
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