This weekend I will be putting the finishing touches on my next column for France magazine En Route. If you live in the Netherlands (and can read Dutch), I hope you enjoyed my last contribution on Brillat-Savarin, a most interesting Frenchman who declared war on carbs long before Atkins ever did, and whose name was given to an unapologetically fatty cheese, known to some as the ‘foie gras’ of cheeses.
He also happened to write one of the most celebrated books on the art of eating and the effect food has on our body, the Physiologie du goût (Physiology of Taste). It was published in 1825, shortly before his death. We can thank Monsieur Brillat-Savarin for the saying “tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Oh, and that lush French dessert soaked in rum known as a Savarin? Yep. Named after him.
If you are interested in food history — and if you happen to be a French culture nerd like me — I highly recommend reading this book, even if only some parts. And yes, it has been translated into English.
For my next column, I will be writing about pruneaux d’Agen (Agen prunes), an exquisite culinary delight from southwest France. In the summer, the plum trees of the Lot-et-Garonne (where most of the production takes place) are quite a sight to behold. Bulging with fruit, they immediately make me think of prunes in Armagnac, prune ice cream, prune cake, duck and prune skewers and prune salad. Like the one I’d like to share with you today.
You can serve this autumnal salad as a light lunch or adjust the quantities and offer it as a starter to a main course of duck or chicken. Be warned though, you’re dealing with some pretty masculine flavors here. If considering dessert, I’d stick with something clean and light, perhaps a sabayon made with Monbazillac.
Salad with Bacon-Wrapped Agen Prunes
For the dressing:
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 3 ½ tbsps grapeseed oil
- ½ tsp grainy mustard
- 1 tsp honey
- salt (preferably fleur de sel) and freshly-cracked pepper
For the salad:
- 80g whole almonds
- 10 slices of bacon, halved
- 20 pruneaux d’Agen
- 12 slices of French bread
- 90g soft, fresh goat’s cheese, such as Chavroux
- 200g mixed salad leaves
- 12 slices of thin, dry-cured ham
Preheat the oven to 220°C and line a baking tray with baking paper. Roast the almonds in a dry frying pan, chop them up roughly and set aside. Wrap half a slice of bacon around each prune, secure with a toothpick and place on the baking tray. Pop in the oven for 10-12 minutes, turning the prunes half way through the cooking time. Remove from the tray and spread out the oils released by the bacon over the tray. Spread the goat’s cheese over the bread and place on the tray with the bacony oils. Return to the oven for an additional eight minutes. Keep on eye on the bread and make sure it doesn’t burn. In a large bowl, whisk all of the ingredients for the dressing. Add in the mixed salad leaves and toss to coat. Divide the salad among four plates. Top each plate with the almonds, the ham, and the cheese toasts. Place the bacon-wrapped prunes around the sides of the salad and serve immediately. I like this salad accompanied by a smooth, fruity Merlot.