Dinde à la française

Roast turkey1It’s the time of year when roast turkey appears on many holiday menus, including in France, where a meat stuffing is often used. Two years ago, I had the pleasure of traveling to Vonnas, north of Lyon, to attend a French version of a Thanksgiving dinner prepared by the three-star chef Georges Blanc. He stuffed his turkey with a mixture of ground pork and veal studded with walnuts and seasoned with thyme. It was fantastic.

Dinde à la française / Roast turkey, French style

Monsieur Blanc is not only a fabulous chef, he’s an amiable fellow who gladly shared some tips for how to prepare a turkey his way. One of the notable differences from the typical American turkey is that the French birds are generally younger and smaller, hence more tender. Georges Blanc used a dinde de Bresse, a turkey raised in the Bresse region east of Macon. Poultry from this area is the most highly regarded by French gastronomes. The birds are fed with corn and have an unmatchable flavor. While they are available in Paris, they are out of the price range of most mortals. I used a less expensive free-range bird when I made the turkey in the photo above, and it was nearly just as delicious.

If you’d like to try doing it the French way this year, for Thanksgiving, Christmas or another occasion, be forewarned — the stuffing is practically a meal in itself. Georges Blanc served his turkey and stuffing with roasted figs, pan-seared porcini mushrooms and a pumpkin gratin to die for. The recipe for the gratin is here, and tips for roasting the figs are included in this week’s recipe.

Here’s wishing you a joyful and peaceful holiday season. And…

Happy cooking.

Posted in 6. Poultry | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gnocchi au four sauce tomate

gnocchi2What could be more satisfying on a cool autumn evening than gnocchi enveloped in a rustic homemade tomato sauce, topped with mozzarella and baked in the oven? For an everyday chef, the beauty of this dish lies also in the ease of preparation: 15 minutes of cooking time, then pop it in the oven, and in 10 minutes more you’re done. A warming dish turned into a meal with the addition of a crisp green salad and a bottle of hearty red. Voilà.

Gnocchis au four sauce tomate / Baked gnocchi with rustic tomato sauce

Now here’s the question: are gnocchi French? The answer: no, and yes. The written history of these little dumplings made of potato and flour dates back to the 15th century, when the Florentine statesman Laurent de Médicis (Lorenzo il Magnifico) praised gnocchi in poems he wrote for the pre-Lenten carnival. Around that time, today’s French city of Nice was part of the House of Savoy, and thus part of Italy. The gnocchi served in Nice were called niocki (same sound, different spelling). In 1880, Emile Zola wrote about ‘nioky with parmesan’ in his novel Nana. It’s a dish with historic roots in both countries.

These days the French serve a dish called gnocchis à la parisienne in which the dumplings are made of cream-puff dough (pâte à choux) and baked in a béchamel sauce. But the French also serve potato gnocchi, and in fact this recipe is inspired by a former little bistro down the street from me in Paris where the baked gnocchi were out of this world.

Meantime, Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming and, in honor of these occasions, I plan to post a French recipe for roast turkey next week. The recipe is inspired by my visit two years ago to the restaurant of the three-star chef Georges Blanc, who created his version of an American Thanksgiving. The turkey is stuffed with ground veal and pork, with walnuts and thyme instead of chestnuts and sage. Watch this space…

And happy cooking!

Posted in 9. Pasta, Rice, Grains | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Salade de betteraves aux noix

beet walnut salad3Behold the humble beet. Part of our culinary heritage since the time of the ancient Greeks, it is an inexpensive, low-calorie and nutrition-packed food. These days it’s getting a makeover in Paris, where it is served in chic restaurants in new varieties — from pale yellow to pink-and-white striped — sliced thin and added raw to salads. The familiar deep red beet has been around since the Middle Ages, when a salad such as this one may have been served.

Salade de betteraves aux noix / Beet salad with walnuts and herbs

The salad combines grated beets with garlic, walnuts and cilantro — a great combination, with echoes of Georgia, the land by the Black Sea where the legendary Jason and his argonauts sought the golden fleece. The French touch comes from the addition of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If you’ve never tried this combination, prepare to be surprised.

Georgia is in traditional beet territory, which covered a wide swath of Europe from Germany to Russia. When the beet came to France, it got a boost from Napoleon, who responded to a British blockade of French ports by imposing a ban on sugar imported from British colonies in the Caribbean — and initiated cultivation of the sugar beet.

When I was a child in the States, beets were served warm as a side dish, without any particular sauce. They were far from my favorite food. The revelation came when I arrived in France, where beets bathed in mustardy vinaigrette are a star of assiette de crudités, the starter in which heaps of different veggies appear side by side on an inviting plate.

The return of beets to food fashion was signaled some years back by the appearance of beet chips in packets of root vegetable chips far tastier than the standard potato chip. I expect I may well see beets in one form or another tonight, when I’m being taken to a reputedly fabulous Paris restaurant called KGB (no connection to the former Soviet Union). Will let you know all about it next week. In the meantime, my friend Ann Mah’s latest entry on her food and travel blog describes three hot new Paris restaurants that you may want to put on your to-try list for the next time you’re in town. They may well serve beets too.

Happy cooking!

Posted in 3. Salads | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Travers de porc au miel

bbq ribs1Barbecued ribs in France? When I first arrived in Paris, I spent a long time with The Joy of Cooking trying to create American-style barbecue sauce from scratch. It wasn’t easy. Just tracking down the Worcestershire sauce could take an entire afternoon. In the end, I mastered the recipe (which proved useful when I moved to Moscow in the ’80s). But I also discovered French-style ribs with a marinade of honey, balsamic vinegar, garlic and rosemary.

Travers de porc au miel / Barbecued ribs, French style

These ribs are oven roasted, meaning you can make them year round and don’t need to have outdoor cooking facilities. They are slow cooked (relatively) so that they remain succulent even as they crisp. If you want to add some heat to the sauce, you can add a little cayenne pepper. The result is very French, with zingy accents from Provence.

Meantime, American barbecue is at last having it’s day in Paris. David Lebovitz, the father of all food bloggers, recently wrote about a Texas barbecue joint called The Beast that’s not far from where I live. And Alexander Lobrano wrote a wrap-up of several barbecue places for The New York Times, all of which sound great. I’m looking forward to trying them.

For my money, though, the best barbecue sauce in the world comes from Oakland, California. Spicy and smoky, it’s sold by a restaurant called Everett and Jones that also features live blues on Saturday night. I discovered this thanks to my brother, a longtime Oakland resident and authority on fine food. Every now and then he sends me a jar of that dynamite sauce. But in between times, barbecued ribs, French style, are mighty fine.

Happy cooking.

Posted in 7. Meat Dishes | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Oeufs brouillés au Roquefort

eggs roquefort1Making scrambled eggs with Roquefort may sound like a no-brainer, but in fact it’s trickier than you may think. If you scramble in the cheese too soon, your eggs will turn green — as I discovered when I first tried to make this dish. The inspiration was a small cookbook by the French author Marguerite Duras, whose work I studied in graduate school many years ago. But I tested her method and, well, it wasn’t pretty…

Oeufs brouillés au Roquefort / Scrambled eggs with Roquefort

I found the recipe in La Cuisine de Marguerite, a charming book with photos from Duras’s country home in Neauphle-le-Château, outside Paris, and facsimiles of her handwritten culinary notes. The book was actually brought out in 1999, three years after her death, with the cooperation of her son, Jean Mascolo (Editions Benoît Jacob). Her instructions can be bafflingly brief, as in the recipe I tested. Here’s a translation:

‘1 — In a saucepan melt bleu d’Auvergne (or Roquefort if you’re rich) with milk, without any butter.
‘2 — Melt butter in a skillet without burning it and stir, mixing the milk and roquefort with the eggs.’

That’s the whole thing. No quantities mentioned. And the result was unfortunately green. Well, gray-green.

And by the way, you don’t have to be rich to buy Roquefort these days, at least not in Paris, where a nice-sized chunk (150 grams, or about 5 ounces) costs around 2 euros. So I tried a few different methods and came up with one that works. It takes about five minutes from beginning to end, requires no fancy equipment and is pleasing to both eyes and palate.

You may be wondering why I’m including such a simple recipe on this site. A friend of mine scoffed when I told her about it. But there are a few good reasons. First, it’s quintessentially French, what with the Roquefort. Second, it’s a wonderful lunch or brunch dish that goes equally well with coffee, wine or Champagne. And finally, it’s a perfect dish for everyday French chefs — inexpensive, very quick and oh so elegant.

Happy cooking!

Posted in 4. Omelets, Soufflés, Quiche | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Truite de mer à la crème balsamique

sea trout1What makes this recipe really special is the balsamic cream, inspired by a recent visit to the Daniel Rose restaurant Spring. He served it with a poached pear dessert, but I so enjoyed the flavor that I thought it might also marry well with savory foods. For example, sea trout. The fish fillets are pan fried on one side only — à l’unilatérale, as we say over here in Paris — and served with balsamic-vinegar-flavored whipped cream alongside.

Truite de mer à la crème balsamique / Sea trout with balsamic cream

My father having been an enthusiastic river fisherman, I thought I knew quite a lot about trout until I began researching this post. We always had a freezerful of trout of one sort or another, which my mother served dusted with flour and fried whole. What I’ve now learned is that sea trout, also known as salmon trout, are actually the same species as brown trout, the difference being that brown trout remain in the river throughout their lives, while the sea trout head out to sea and then come back to the river to spawn. Making matters still more confusing, sea trout are not to be confused with spotted seatrout, also known as speckled trout — and from an entirely different family. Sea trout are of the same genus as Atlantic salmon, while the spotted variety are not…

If, like mine, your interest in trout is primarily culinary, then the merits of sea trout are in their delicate flavor and substantial size. One fish will easily feed two people. Serve the sea trout with a seasonal purée — of potatoes, cabbage or celeriac, in autumn, for example — and perhaps some wild rice. Other possibilities include braised finocchio and Belgian endive, lightly steamed spinach or French-style green beans. Or use your imagination.

Meanwhile, for those of you who may be interested, I’d like to draw your attention to an exchange about foie gras prompted by my post two weeks ago describing my recent visit to Spring. A reader objected most strenuously to the idea of a chef including foie gras on the menu. I replied with a French point of view. (The exchange is at the bottom of the post.) While many people object to the force feeding of ducks and geese to produce foie gras, not everyone shares that opinion. California chefs celebrated wildly in January when a state ban on selling foie gras was lifted. Here in France, foie gras is widely accepted, but other countries discourage or ban it. An opinion? Your thoughts would be welcome.

And happy cooking.

Posted in 5. Fish and Shellfish | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tarte aux champignons sauvages

wild mushroom tart1It’s mushroom hunting season in France, rather a dangerous sport as the hunting season for wild game is on as well. In my corner of Burgundy, men with guns have been out since September 21 hunting for pheasant, partridge, wild hare, deer and wild boar. Okay, maybe some women too, but it’s mainly men. That makes a trek into the forest to hunt for porcinis, which are abundant in the region, an outing that I, for one, prefer to avoid.

Tarte aux champignons sauvages / Wild mushroom tart

cepesThankfully, as I love wild mushrooms, they’re also abundantly available at French farmers’ markets at this time of year. Not just elegant porcinis (cèpes, at right), but also succulent golden chanterelles (girolles, below left) and oyster mushrooms (pleurotes). I’m not terribly familiar with the latter variety, but porcinis and chanterelles — don’t get me started.

In this recipe, those two varieties are sautéed in olive oil with a sprinkling of parsley and placed in a savory tart shell over a bed of lightly browned onions or shallots. They are covered with a mixture of cream and egg yolk, and the tart is baked until golden.

girolles at marketThe aromas emanating from your kitchen may drive you mad, along with everyone else in the house, so one solution is to serve the tart straight out of the oven. But the tart may also be reheated and served later — as a main dish at lunchtime or a starter for a larger meal. In any event, it is a noble dish, deserving of a noble wine. Choose a dry red with enough body to stand up to the wild earthy flavor of the mushrooms.

Happy cooking!

Posted in 4a. Savory Tarts and Tartines | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Soupe aux épinards crème à l’aïl

Spinach soup2This summer I met a man on a beach named Popeye. Did he eat his spinach? I didn’t stick around long enough to find out — but if he did, he might have enjoyed this spinach soup topped with garlic cream and croutons. Fresh, healthy, with a zingy flavor, the soup is bound to send your energy soaring. Serve it by the fireside as the evenings grow cool, followed by a simple main dish or just cheese and crusty bread. And a bottle of hearty red, of course.

Soupe aux épinards crème à l’aïl / Spinach soup with garlic cream

I’ve served this soup in many iterations, to generally enthusiastic reviews. For a more exotic flavor, you can grate in a little raw ginger or add a dash of ground cumin. For more bite, squeeze in some lemon juice. Or chop in some fresh herbs — for example, tarragon and chervil. For a richer soup, add more cream. For a more intense soup, add less.

Spinach was one of the few ingredients that did not figure on the menu when I had the pleasure last weekend of being invited to Spring, the restaurant of the Chicago-born Paris chef Daniel Rose. I’ve known Daniel since he was just starting out in the French capital with a smaller version of Spring hidden away in the 9th district. Now he has two places — the larger Spring near the Louvre where we dined, and a new bistro called La Bourse et La Vie that is located, not surprisingly, near La Bourse, the French stock exchange.

The new place is winning rave reviews. I have not yet been, but here is a sampling of the food on offer at Spring these days. It’s a five-course menu in which you not only have no choice, but are not even told what will be served before it arrives. (This can make choosing the wine rather difficult. More on that later.) So: Our first course was foie gras set on shredded apples and celery and topped with roasted hazelnuts and with a drizzle of something that tasted like raspberry (but I’m not sure, since we never saw a written course list). It made a great start to the meal.

Then came a salad of beets, both cooked and raw, with grapefruit pieces, a tiny bit of crab and a citrus vinaigrette. Next was monk fish in a lemongrass-flavored foam with a thin tiny square of crispy dried beef and a tiny purée of white beans. The meat course was a small piece of medium-rare veal with a porcini mushroom slice — yes, one slice — and a veggie which I’ve now forgotten, and then, to share, a dish of succulent porcinis (cèpes) and crisped veal sweetbreads for those who dared (I didn’t, but I heard they were good).

The dessert course was actually three desserts. We were told in which order to eat them: first the poached pear with balsamic whipped cream; then the plum tart; and finally — and this was my favorite dish of the evening — an intense mint granita set on a cookie base and topped with a very thin piece of very bitter chocolate. Wow!

There were downsides, and the first was the wine list. When we found the red bordeaux, my favorite wine, we had to look twice — there were only half a dozen, ranging from 400 to 900 euros a bottle. Don’t ask me the names. I was so taken aback that I simply turned the page. We asked the young sommelier about this, and he replied that he thought no bordeaux wines under that price were worth drinking so he didn’t stock them. My friends and I were put off by that snobby reply, especially given that Spring built its reputation on serving fabulous and creative food in a modest setting. Then, when we finally ordered some less pretentious wine, it arrived more than five minutes after the first course was set before us — definitely a no-no in any French restaurant.

But this did not dampen our enthusiasm for the food, which was superb if expensive (yes, Spring has raised its prices). The new bistro is reportedly more affordable, and perhaps a bit more congenial. I hope to try it soon.

Happy cooking.

Posted in 2. Soups | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Tarte Tatin

Tatin3This classic French apple tart is said to have been invented about 130 years ago by two sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin, at the country inn they ran about 100 miles south of Paris. It’s an upside-down tart in which apples caramelized in butter and sugar are covered with dough. When the tart comes out of the oven, it is inverted, with the apples standing regally atop a tender crust. The dessert, allegedly created by accident, is one of France’s favorites.

Tarte Tatin / Tarte Tatin

According to the legend, Stéphanie (Fanny) was in a rush in the kitchen one day, possibly flustered by the attentions of a suitor (the inn was popular with hunters), and put a pan of apples, butter and sugar in the oven without a tart shell. When she realized her mistake, she quickly covered the apples with dough. She inverted the tart before serving it, and her creation proved a huge success. The rest, as they say, is history. Well, maybe.

As it happens, the Hotel Tatin is located in a small town south of Orléans in the Sologne region — where a dessert known as tarte solognote was popular at the time for miles around. It, too, was an upside-down apple tart. So who knows? Were the Tatin sisters geniuses of public relations, or did they really create something new?

Back to the legend: Word of the Tatin sisters’ dessert spread throughout the region and beyond, eventually reaching the owner of Maxim’s in Paris, Louis Vaudable, who came down and had a taste. According to one version, he was so smitten by the tart that he tried to get the secret recipe by getting himself hired by the Tatin sisters to do some gardening, but was found out. Nonetheless he put the dessert on the Maxim’s menu as Tarte des demoiselles Tatin. The problem with this story is that Louis Vaudable, born in 1902, was just four years old when the sisters closed their restaurant in 1906, and his family didn’t purchase Maxim’s until 1932. Never mind. Another famous French gourmet, Curnonsky, known as Le Prince des Gastronomes, popularized the tart when he included a recipe for it in a multivolume book on French cuisine. And the rest is truly history.

As for preparation of the tart, it’s a two-stage process that requires first caramelizing the apples and then baking them with the dough on top. The key is choosing apples that will hold together while cooking, and not turn into applesauce. I have included some apple varieties to choose from in the recipe.

Happy cooking.

Posted in Desserts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Salade de l’ambassadeur

ambassador salad1Late summer, when fruit is bountiful and ripely delicious, is the best time to make this salad of tender greens topped by fresh figs, pears, mushrooms, pine nuts and bresaola (Italian dried beef). The unusual combination is the brainchild of a friend of mine who happens to be a French ambassador, hence the salad’s name. A man not only extremely well traveled but also an excellent chef, he used his talent create this salad for guests recently.

Salade de l’ambassadeur / Salad of bresaola and late summer fruit

The ambassador is Pierre Buhler, currently France’s top envoy to Poland. He previously served as ambassador to Singapore and has also held diplomatic positions in Washington, New York and Moscow (where we met many years ago), as well as serving as a senior analyst of strategic affairs at the Quai d’Orsay, the French Foreign Ministry here in Paris.

Pierre served this salad as the first course of a dinner for eight in Paris. The next courses, which he also prepared, were an Asian-inspired recipe for duck breast marinated in spices and a mirabelle tart emanating from his native Alsace. Fabulous!

The salad is significant enough to stand alone as the main course at lunchtime, followed by cheese and perhaps a dessert. Like all such creations, you can play with it, substituting Parma ham for the bresaola, for example, or using different types of late summer fruit. Pair the salad with a good bottle of wine — dare I suggest a fruity red? — and some crusty bread. You won’t go wrong.

Meantime I’d like to ask you, dear readers, for a little advice. I’ve been invited to speak on a panel in November at a gathering of luminaries from the French world of food. The topic: cultural differences in the art of entertaining. But it’s not about the food! Rather, the different forms hospitality takes in different countries. If you have ideas about this, and specifically what sets American hospitality apart, please let me know via a comment on this post or by writing to me using the site’s Contact form.

Thanks, and happy cooking!

Posted in 3. Salads | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments