July 2017. I was working in marketing. Bringing my French back up to scratch as I prepared for a DALF exam. All with the idea of moving into the world of translation. What better way to spend a few summery days, than sipping on rosé and supping on salade niçoise?
One of my fondest memories of the city is its markets. Simply overflowing with flavourful, weird and wonky produce. Overly excited by their variety and flavour, we gorged on tomatoes and cheese. It was also here we tried a slice of pissaladière. A nice fluffy base like foccacia, topped with sweet onions, delightfully salty anchovies and punchy olives.
I may not be able to be anywhere near Nice anytime soon, but I could at least try to recreate some of those flavours in South East London. If you'd like to give it a go, most of the ingredients should be fairly easy to source these days.
As with almost every recipe I’ve investigated as part of this challenge, there seems to be countless variations and debates about the ‘proper’ way of preparing this dish. Some use pissalat, an anchovy-based paste spread on the base, while others, like my source recipe simply add anchovy fillets on top. Some use a pastry base, while others a thick pizza base.
I was short of time this week, so rushed through making the dish on the fly, without having translated the recipe beforehand. In theory, that shouldn’t be a problem. However, one thing tripped me up...
Deci, centi, milli – can’t we all just get along?
For the pizza dough, my recipe called for ‘1 dl’ of water. I thought to myself, that must stand for ‘démi-litre’ (half-litre), so 500ml – no problem. I started adding the water to the dry ingredients and soon realised something wasn’t quite right. There was far too much liquid. Thankfully I realised before adding the full 500ml!
Turns out that ‘dl’ stands for ‘déci-litre’, or 1/10 of a litre as this conversion website explains.
In other words, 1 dl = 100ml.
I’ve come across ‘centilitres’ or ‘cl’ many times before in French recipes. I always convert it to ‘millilitres’ for a British audience, as although we can of course figure it out, it would just be so unusual to see it in a recipe, the reader might double-take. But it was the first time I’d seen ‘dl’. Now I know though, it won’t throw me next time, that’s for sure!
I often wonder why we can’t just agree to use the same systems across countries.
Sure, it’s a small, pretty insignificant thing. Be it plugs, paper size, or measures of temperature or distance, there are almost as many variants as countries. And even when we do agree on using a system as sensible as the metric (albeit half-heartedly in Britain’s case), we still have different norms, leaving plenty of room for confusion. Then again, as someone who enjoys discovering and enjoying cultural, linguistic, and culinary differences, I would hardly advocate – in some sort of Esperanto-esque move – that we tried to agree on uniformity there. Maybe these tiny logistical differences also contribute to the overall cultural diversity celebrated across the globe. If we fought for uniformity on that level, where might it end?
Garniture – garnish, topping, or filling?
When I did get down to the translation, it occurred to me how versatile the French world garniture (and its verb garnir are). Looking at how I’ve translated this term across various translations (thanks, MemoQ's concordance!), I’ve used: filling, garnish, decoration, and topping. In English, as is often the case, we’re more specific.
In this case, we’re specific about the action, where it’s taking place, and the dish it relates. You ‘top’ your pizza or pissaladière, but you’d ‘fill’ your choux buns or doughnuts with crème pâtissière or jam. You might ‘garnish’ your fish with dill or parsley and lemon, while you’d perhaps ‘decorate’ or even ‘dust’ a tart or cake with icing sugar, flowers, or sprigs of holly.
Despite my misunderstanding, the dough wasn’t disastrous. I just added kept adding more flour and kneading until it looked about right. Fortunately, this is far from my first time making pizza dough. Some might say I should have realised earlier, and they’d be quite right!
I actually ended up using a bit of two different recipes – my main source recipe was peppered with influences from this alternative source.
Recipe ideas and substitutions
This BBC goodfood recipe looks pretty good.
One of the benefits of this dish is that it uses pretty simple ingredients. Of course, use whatever type of olives you can get. If you’re vegetarian or not an anchovy fan, maybe you could add capers instead, or simply double up on the olives.
Is there a good French recipe for asparagus? I have a few stems from this week’s veg box I don’t have plans for yet. So maybe they will serve as inspiration.