I’m offering another recipe that mirrors the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, this one with Provencal roots because after I published a column (http://bit.ly/YKExH5) discussing the long history and solid science behind the Mediterranean Diet on Feb. 8th, the New England Journal of Medicinedeclared it gospel on Feb. 25 (ihttp://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1200303).
I found La Chartreuse de Saumon Frais a la Provence in the 1973 gastronomical darling, “The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth,” in which the great food writer Roy Andries de Groot tires of answering his guests’ questions about the green bottle of liquor on his table after every meal, and flies to France to chase down the mysteries of the 130-herb liquor — Green Chartreuse — produced by hermits in the Chartreuse mountains. Only two monks ever know the exact recipe at one time. Once in the Chartreuse, Mr. De Groot’s senses are hijacked by the bewitchingly faultless meals and critically superb wines presented to him each day by the two women running the small hotel, “The Auberge,” where he is staying. The subject of his trip and book are no longer Carthusian Monks but Les Mesdemoiselles Artaud and Girard and their perfect seasonal cuisine of the southeastern corner of France.
This recipe is unusual — unusual to prepare, unusually simple and unusually delicious. Onions, Boston lettuce, tomatoes and lemons are layered in a sauce pan, and then covered in fish fillets. The same layers are piled on top of the fish, only in reverse, starting with lemons and ending in onions. White wine is poured over all; it’s covered tightly, and disappears into a low oven for 2 1/2 hours. All those vegetables, a bit of fresh fish and a bit of olive oil? This dish could be the poster child for the Mediterranean Diet.
The recipe recommends that you uncover the dish at the table, allowing the fragrant steam to hit your guests in their appetites. I prepared this with salmon, but Les Desmoiselles also recommend fresh tuna. The whole ends up being a stewy pile of braised fish and vegetables balmy with lemon, blushing with summer. (Yes, this would be best made in season, but I welcomed the aromatic lightness of this dinner, even made with leafy grocery store lettuces and vine-ripened tomatoes.)
Crack the baguettes, pour the dipping oil, fill your glasses with wine, and make a toast to the best diet in the world.
Casserole Chartreuse of Fresh Tuna in the Style of Provence, or La Chartreuse de Saumon Frais a la Provencale
Serves 4 to 6
2 pounds tuna or salmon
approximately 1/4 cup olive oil
6 medium onions, thinly sliced
8 medium tomatoes, peeled and sliced
2 medium heads Boston lettuce, washed, dried and shredded
4 lemons, peeled and cut into thin slices
salt and pepper
2 cups white wine
Choose a tightly lidded casserole or enameled iron pot so that it can be used for frying on top of the stove and for braising in the oven, and one that is also handsome enough to come to table as the serving dish. Set it over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and quickly brown the fish steaks on both sides, then lift them out with a slotted spatula and hold.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Now put into the pot half the slices of onion and let them just gild. Then add, in neat layers half the slices of tomato, half of the shredded lettuce and half the lemon slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay the fish steaks on this comfortable bed, then cover them with the same vegetable layers in reverse: lemon, lettuce, tomatoes, raw sliced onions, and at the end more good sprinkles of salt and pepper.
By now the various juices will have gathered at the bottom of the pot. Adjust the heat until you hear a merry bubbling from below and let it continue for about 5 to 10 minutes, to reduce the liquid and concentrate the flavors. Then, add the 2 cups of wine and bring it up quickly to the boil.
When wine is boiling, put on the lid and set the pot in the center of the oven to braise, poach and steam the contents very slowly for about 2.5 hours.
When you bring the pot to the table, do not lift the lid until your guests are assembled — the first puff of the superb bouquet will raise the appetites to a fever pitch. This dish is equally good hot or cold.
Rockport resident Heather Atwood writes the Food for Thought weekly. Questions and comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her blog at HeatherAtwood.com.