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Food Flavors in the Summer is Always Better Topped With Class
What to make a small investment in taste? Top your summer foods with high quality class.
What is summer eating for you? Here on the Jersey Shore summer for our family means lighter eating, barbecuing meats and fish, picking tomatoes from the garden, preparing lots of different types of salads, and eating vegetables and fruits bought from next door’s farmers market. With this laid back way of eating and a forced emphasis on eating more raw foods comes a sense of simplicity and celebrating the real taste of basic foods. These summer foods are simple in itself, but they are always better topped with a dash of salt and a pat of butter or a swish of vinegar and oils and some herbs. But my call of action is that by investing a bit more in the quality of toppings you can class up your meals and move the simple fresh foods to wow!
From French sea salt to Italian olive oil: take your pick on high quality food flavor toppings
One thing I have learned from living in Europe is that the French and Italian have ways to dress up any meal. Just a sprinkle or pinch here, a swirl there, a pat on top, and your everyday food moves to high-class level with regards to taste and presentation. Even if you don’t live in Europe, spending a higher amount on some key staple toppings adds so much to the taste of any foods. In fact, when the additions are high quality you can spend even less on the basic foods you top these additions with.
Look for these five toppings accessible where you live, either by searching carefully at the supermarket and reading labels (sometimes you need to go to a specialty market) or buying them online. (See links below on where to buy the products online). These items will be more expensive than the base toppings you buy. My advice: invest in those toppings your budget can afford, keep them to use for toppings only and buy in small quantities. With a small investment in these items on the list, you add so much flavor. And life is too short to eat boring, ne-c’est pas?
Once you get used using these, I hope you will pick up the habit like many Europeans do, to top up your foods, all year round!
Sea salt or Fleur de Sel
This is my top of the list for must have toppings. Not only is good sea salt affordable, but it just adds so much for flavor and taste. High quality sea salt is produced from ocean waters or salty lakes. The best is hand-picked salt from a French salt called fleur de sel. Normal table salt is processed from underground salt deposits, while sea salt comes from evaporation of salty waters. While sea salt doesn’t add any real additional health value (sodium is sodium), it does add a lot of flavor because the unprocessed sea salt has minerals that are not found in regular sea salt. You can either sprinkle it on (sea salt grains are usually larger than regular salt) or put it in a special salt dispenser that grinds it up while you add it as a topping. I highly recommend this one on everything but in small quantities because a high salt diet adds to the risk of hypertension.
Organic Nut Oils: From Italian olive oil to French walnut oil and more.
Whatever country you want to buy your oils from, choose smaller bottles and look for the organic label. Organic oils often have the highest amount of oils from a known seed source that haven’t been mixed with lesser quality oils. While there have been accusations of adulterated oils (especially with some Italian brands that accused of adding lower quality olive oils to the product and marketing them as 100% extra virgin Italian olive oil) it is often hard for the consumer to really know what they are buying. Quel dommage (what a shame) that we cannot trust these big vegetable oil companies, but we cannot. Oils add so much for food taste (and health) as a topping. My advice is to buy a few kinds of specialty oils and keep them in a safe and dark place (oils get broken down with light). Then splash the oil on top of salads, pasta dishes, bruschetta, grilled, raw or steamed vegetables. The sky is your limit even if your budget isn’t. Splurge on that special oil though, whether it is olive or walnut and you won’t regret it.
Slow Processed Vinegar
The quality in vinegar depends on two things: the source and the length of aging time. Vinegar is made from any sugar, and with French vinegar, the old-fashioned process of making vinegar is known as the Orleans method whereby wine ferments with Acetobacter in wooden barrels. (The longer the better). Balsamic vinegar, known for its sweetness, is also a versatile topping, you can add it to strawberries, top it on salads, swirl it on meats. Unfortunately, like oils, the right vinegar choice is an not easy one for the consumer. Just looking at the vinegar label doesn’t hold a lot of answers, especially with the method of aging. (Most vinegar is made using a fast method of pushing air into the cells of the source and thus making a vinegar but of lesser quality). The price (sometimes more than a good bottle of wine!) is often an indicator of a good vinegar and I would recommend buying one or two favorites to use for everyday toppings. If there is any vinegar left on the plate, dip your bread into it or drink it up and don’t let this precious liquid go to waste.
Whether from your herb garden, buying from a farmer’s market or grabbing from the grocery, fresh herbs are a simple and high quality addition to many light summer dishes. The French use chopped herbs as a decoration for many dishes. That sprinkle of green adds a nice contrast to red tomatoes, or as an eye candy artistic presentation to a white or light-colored plates. The French use a lot of parsley to top with class, a herb that isn’t too expensive and is full on flavor and blends well with many dishes.
What is real butter? That is a butter with what I would call, gusto! Like the other toppings on the list, excellent butter depends on an excellent source. The best source for butter is from excellent cream made from pasture grazed cows. The most delicious butter I have ever eaten is the salty butter produced from cows grazing on grasses near salt marshes in Isigny, in Normandy, France. Great butter has the right aroma, texture and European butters tend to have less moisture, live cultures and essential fatty acids that also add its unique taste. Try some European Beurre d’Isigny (my personal favorite) from France on your morning toast with some honey, or on your just freshly picked Jersey corn or with fresh seafood. Have you ever had little neck clams from Clamtown (Tuckerton,NJ) or Maine lobster? Just steam these up and serve a little melted high quality salted butter on the side to dip in. But be careful, you might just faint on how good it is!
To top up the ending, here is what I recommend:
My top five toppings are just simple tricks to add a touch of real flavor to your simple summer foods. From using herbs and sea salt to a good grade butter, to organic oils and slow processed vinegar; taste test your toppings, experiment with different types and put some money into excellent quality sources. You may be surprised on how a little splash or sprinkle will go far to please your mouth.
And where to buy some of these special stables (click on the links):
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And Finally: some personal examples on how we use our special toppings for summer dishes:
(The bare version)
(The same salad with toppings)
Stoplight salad with Bragg’s apple cider vinegar.
Friday night pizza topped with fresh basil.
Jersey tomatoes ready to topped with olive oil and sea salt.
Move this Italian salad to amazing with herbs, oil, vinegar and salt.
Boiled Maine lobster dipped in European butter? Oh la la yes!