I’ve been wanting to post this recipe for ages but put it off, daunted by what I expect could be the reaction of many. What’s so special about green salad, I hear you saying. Ah yes, mes amis, but this is not just any green salad. This is the quintessential French salad that used to be available in any bistro, on any family table. That was before the advent of the dreaded sauce blanche, the bottled dressing used by so many French cafés and restaurants these days. No, a classic French green salad is made with mustard vinaigrette over lettuce — with perhaps a little shallot, garlic or parsley — and that’s it.
Salade verte à la française / Green salad, French style
It’s so easy, and so quick, that I wanted to include it, all the more so because it is served so often during French meals, usually after the main course and before or with the cheese. The vinaigrette can be made in two minutes. If you haven’t yet explored the videos on this site, now’s your chance — click on How To, either here or on the black bar above, and then click on the top video, where you’ll see me demonstrating how to make this most classic of French dressings. Meantime, if you’re looking to do some cooking over the weekend, check out the Menus section, which has just been updated with separate new pages for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores and the latest spring recipes from the blog.
Is rhubarb a fruit or a vegetable? I’ve always considered it a fruit, as it’s used in tarts, cakes and compotes, never served as a veggie to my knowledge (and please correct me if I’m wrong). But I just checked on Wikipedia and guess what? It’s a vegetable in botanical terms — even though a court in the United States ruled in 1947 that it was a fruit! That was for international trade purposes, as fruits had lower import tariffs. Whatever it is, rhubarb poking up in my garden is one of the first and most welcome signs of spring. I use it a lot, and usually in the form of a dessert so quick to assemble that my daughter has been making it since the age of 10. Of course I am referring to rhubarb crumble.
Crumble à la rhubarbe / Rhubarb crumble
This is also the dessert with which I inaugurate my collaboration with foodette.fr, a Paris site that allows clients to buy a basket of goodies and recipes for making a dinner without having to shop for the ingredients. Their menu this week consists of dishes that may look familiar to regular followers of The Everyday French Chef: spinach salad with strawberries and pine nuts, poultry breasts with honey and thyme, braised asparagus and this rhubarb crumble. I’m very happy about this development. It’s the kind of initiative — smart, easy and fun — that wouldn’t have been possible in the pre-Internet age. If anyone among you buys the Foodette basket and makes the dishes, please let the rest of us know how it turns out. And in the meantime, happy cooking!
This is a salad I dreamt up the other day after meeting two cool French guys in a Paris café. It combines baby spinach, red onion, pine nuts and strawberries, dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette, for a light starter with a bit of a bite. The guys, the founders of a start-up called Foodette, were looking for a bright salad for spring that they could use in their next basket of goodies and recipes for would-be everyday French chefs…
Salade d’épinards aux fraises et pignons de pin / Spinach salad with strawberries and pine nuts
As it happens, their initiative and mine make a perfect couple. Foodette, based in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, was launched in November for people who want to cook without having to shop or think too hard about what to make for dinner. Clients may order online and stop by later to collect the ingredients and recipes for a full seasonal meal. An Everyday French Chef kind of meal. This project was the brainchild of Olivier Tangopoulos and Thibaut Lagorce, the two cool guys mentioned above. They get their recipes from a handful of bloggeuses (food bloggers who all happen to be women). I’m proud to be joining forces with them as of next week. If you’d like a sneak preview of their site, go to foodette.fr. And in the meantime, happy cooking!
At last it’s barbecue season. The time of year when sunsplashed afternoons segue seamlessly into rosé-splashed evenings, when lighting the coals becomes a ritual that harks back to a previous era when families gathered around a fire to prepare their evening meal. Thankfully we no longer have to hunt for food, at least not in the same way. A quick trip to the supermarket or butcher to buy some meat, a foray into the garden to gather some herbs, and voilà. A simple and succulent dinner is on the way.
Porc grillé aux herbes de Provence / Grilled pork chops with rosemary and thyme
You don’t have a barbecue? You don’t have a garden? Not to worry. You can pan-sear the chops and use dried herbs to almost the same effect. It’s a summer dish for spring, a way to welcome the onset of magical evenings with friends. There’s a change in the quality of the air, a buzz to the fading light that can turn even the simplest conversation into an epic rendering of past triumphs or failures. When I first moved to Paris I was surprised at how long the sun lingers in the spring. By midsummer’s eve, it waits until 11 to drop below the horizon. Then I realized that we’re at the same latitude as Montreal, never mind the warmer climate. As we say in French, tout s’explique (translation: ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’). So gather up your herbs, fresh or store-bought — and happy cooking.
The blush of red, the burst of sweetness: with strawberries in season, it’s tempting to make them part of every dessert. And why not? They add that little je-ne-sais-quoi to whatever you may be serving, for example a simple but elegant walnut cake flavored with lemon and cinnamon. This dessert is one I have been making for 30 years, and not just because it’s delicious. It’s one of those cakes you can mix up in 10 minutes, pop into the oven and voilà — in less than an hour, a perfect sweet for spring.
Gateau aux noix et aux fraises / Walnut cake with strawberries
And now to the blogosphere. I received a message this week from someone wanting me to help spread the word about a list she’s put together called 100 Magnificent Sites for Chefs. I took a look, and while the people on the list are far from everyday chefs — they’re stars like Anthony Bourdain, Wolfgang Puck and Jamie Oliver — it can be fun to see what the cream of the culinary profession is up to. Meantime I will soon be joining forces with two web initiatives I admire. I’m not saying which for the moment — this is just a teaser. Call it an appetizer. Happy cooking!
Let me tell you about the time I had lunch with Roman Polanski. It was many years ago, shortly before the Cannes Film Festival, and I was working for The Hollywood Reporter. He agreed to an interview and we met for lunch near his place in Paris. On the menu was asparagus with mousseline sauce, a version of hollandaise. Polanski ate his spears in the French style, with his fingers, holding them by the root and dipping the tip into the creamy sauce. I followed suit. Need I say that this was one of the most erotic moments with food I’d ever experienced? But nothing happened. We just did the interview.
Asperges à la sauce hollandaise / Asparagus with hollandaise sauce
Well, actually there are a couple things to add. First, I admire Polanski and felt honored to be in his presence. Second, my editors at The Hollywood Reporter changed my article. The piece that was published embarrassed me, and I haven’t seen Polanski again. I could go on, but as this is a cooking column, let me just say that sauce hollandaise is one of the crowning glories of French cuisine — and truly not difficult to make. Served warm with fresh asparagus in springtime, it cannot fail to arouse the senses. As for sauce mousseline, it’s hollandaise with whipped cream added. Does that make it lighter or richer? Whichever, it’s divine.
The guinea fowl is a pretty bird, known as pintade in French because of its polka-dot plumage, which looks like it could have been painted by a pointillist like Seurat (pintade deriving from the Portuguese pintado, meaning painted). The guinea fowl is also a delicious bird, frequently seen on the French table. Although it is farmed, it retains a slightly gamey taste — a throwback to its days in the wilds of Africa. The flavors of honey, garlic and thyme enhance this wildness with aromas of the African (or Provençal) brush.
Suprêmes de pintade au miel et au thym / Breast of guinea fowl with honey and thyme
The fact that guinea fowl are not available everywhere is not really a problem, for this recipe may be prepared using chicken or duck as well. You simply need to adjust the cooking time. But if you can get guinea fowl, I would suggest trying it. Why this bird is not widely farmed in the States and elsewhere in the English-speaking world is a mystery. It’s been around in Europe since it was brought over from African in Greek and Roman times, and has been farmed in France since the 15th century. It’s a free-range bird, meaning it receives none of the hormones or antibiotics used in intensive farming. Maybe maybe that helps explain why it is so delicious on the plate.
Went down to the country this weekend and planted some peas. It’s finally warm enough. If I’m lucky they’ll be ready by July. Thankfully the Paris markets are already bursting with fresh peas — flown up from Morocco or Spain. They’re not as good as the homegrown variety, but still a herald of spring. Every year around this time I find myself hankering for dishes with fresh peas. And what tastier dish can you imagine than this succulent French combination of peas with bacon, spring onions, lettuce and basil?
Petits pois à la française / Fresh peas with bacon and basil
In fact I like fresh peas so much that I’m planning to give you another recipe in the days ahead. That would be peas, Moroccan style — a fantastic dish I tasted for the first time the other evening at a neighborhood restaurant. They came in a tagine platter, bathed in cinnamon and other spices I have yet to identify. But I’m hopeful that the chef, a Moroccan woman, will share her recipe. It’s not surprising that Moroccans would know a thing or two about peas. According to archeologists, peas have been part of the human diet for about 7,000 years, since not long after the dawn of agriculture. They were first cultivated in the Middle East and Georgia, the lands settled by the first modern humans out of Africa, and spread east from there to India and west around the Mediterranean. I don’t know much about peas in Middle Eastern cuisine, having never lived in that region. But if you have recipes, please share them. This is the season.
At last it’s strawberry season! The Paris markets are overflowing with red ripe berries. First came the large and rather flavorless strawberries trucked up from Spain, and now the homegrown gariguettes, a highly prized French variety that’s bursting with sweet taste. Raspberries are here, too — they’re Spanish, but hey! They’re delicious. Why not combine the two into a succulent, simple dessert? Add a touch of fresh basil and it becomes really special, a creation to write home about.
Fraises et framboises à la crème / Strawberries and raspberries with cream
When I first came to France I was surprised to see simple desserts like strawberries with sugar or cream (or both) on the menus of elegant restaurants. But who can resist? It’s light, seasonal and oh so refreshing. The berries come piled up in high glass cups or artfully scattered on plates, accompanied by a big bowlful of crème fraîche and a jar of sugar. At home you can bring the fruit to the table and let diners compile their own creations, or do it for them in the kitchen. Doesn’t matter. This is a dessert that can be prepared any day of the week in less than five minutes, and will surely be greeted with applause.
Friends were stopping by en route home to England. A birthday lunch was called for. And the guest of honor, having seen the fish on display at my local market, made a special request: Could we please have turbot for lunch? I rose to the challenge — the main challenge having been to find a baking pan large enough to accommodate the formidable fish. I set it on a bed of thyme branches, popped it into a very hot oven — and voilà. Twenty minutes later it was all set to go. All it needed was the beurre blanc…
Turbot au four au beurre blanc / Baked turbot with creamy butter sauce
Ah, the beurre blanc. For those of you who may be wondering, beurre blanc is an emulsion of butter, vinegar and shallots that by some sort of culinary magic transmogrifies into one of the most sublime of French sauces. It is typically served with fish — and usually in restaurants, as it has a reputation of being difficult to make. That’s poppycock. It’s no more tricky than mayonnaise — all you need is a little practice. When I first tried making it about 35 years ago, I got it right on the second try (much to the astonishment of my French boyfriend). And I’ve been making it ever since. As for the turbot, it is a large diamond-shaped flatfish somewhat akin to flounder — which may be substituted if turbot is hard to find in your region. I guarantee your guests will love it. Happy cooking!
Site news: I have added a spring update to the Everyday Menus section and will update the Weekend Menus in the coming days. These include menus for omnivores, vegetarians and vegans. In the process of updating, I noticed I’ve been including a lot of dishes that an everyday French chef wouldn’t make every day, but only on special occasions — for example, turbot with beurre blanc. In the weeks ahead I plan to rectify that by including more dishes that can be whipped up on a moment’s notice for the enjoyment of you and your partner, your family, your friends or just for yourself, any day of the week.