Risotto aux morilles

risotto morels5The morel — morille in French — is a springtime mushroom, but that doesn’t mean we need to wait until spring to enjoy it. Dried morels work wonderfully with any number of dishes, for example this risotto, in which they add a woodsy touch to the flavors of Arborio rice, parmesan, butter, onion, broth and dry white wine. The result is a sophisticated dish with enough star power to stand on its own. It can also accompany a main dish with distinction.

Risotto aux morilles / Risotto with morel mushrooms

I tried drying my own mushrooms once, with dubious results. It was after a trip to the forest with my Burgundy neighbor Isabelle, who had agreed to show me her favorite spots for gathering cèpes (porcini). The mushrooms were out in abundance, and we returned with baskets overflowing. (We calculated later that we could have made hundreds of euros had we taken those baskets to the market). After putting aside some mushrooms to use in an omelet, we strung up the rest with a thread and needle, peasant style, and hung them in front of our respective fireplaces to dry. Well, I clearly did something wrong because when I took them down in the spring they were dusty and smoky. Better to buy them, says I.

Now, for any Americans who may be reading this post, I’d like to say a word about Thanksgiving. There are a few recipes on this site that you may find useful if you care/dare to break with the traditional turkey, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce:
1) Rolled roast of duck with rosemary, Roast quail and Chicken with walnut sauce are possible substitutes for turkey.
2) Here’s the recipe of the three-star chef Georges Blanc for a fabulous Pumpkin gratin.
3) Pomegranate salad can make a nice change from cranberry sauce.

And in case you missed it, this week The New York Times ran an amusing (and controversial) list of 50 Thanksgiving recipes allegedly from the 50 states. I was delighted to see wild rice representing Wisconsin — the state where I grew up — but others were less so with recipes like Lobster Mac and Cheese (Maine) or Grape Salad (Minnesota). It’s a fun read in any event, and I actually found the list to be inspiring.

Finally, I am proud to say that my friend Astrid Volquardsen, a talented pastel artist from Germany, has written a blog post about the forthcoming Arte television broadcast in which I help Georges Blanc put a French-style Thanksgiving dinner on the table. The program, which runs this Sunday at noon in France, pairs food with a painting — in this case Norman Rockwell’s Plenty — to reflect on culture and history. I’m actually camera shy and had to conquer that fear to appear on the program. But it was worth it to enjoy the honor of preparing cranberry sauce for M. Blanc. Quite a thrill…

Happy cooking!

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Salade tiède de lentilles au saumon fumé

lentil salad1Lentils are often paired with salmon in France. In a twist on that combination, this recipe pairs warm lentils with smoked salmon in an herbal salad that takes the edge off a cold autumn day. It’s country cooking with a touch of sophistication. Served with a good wine — red or white — it can make a meal at lunchtime or a hearty starter for dinner, ideally before a cheery fire.

Salade tiède de lentilles au saumon fumé / Warm lentil salad with smoked salmon

Lentils have been grown in France for centuries, the finest — lentilles vertes du Puy — hailing from the rugged south-central region of Auvergne. They take their name from the French word for ‘lens’ — and in fact their Latin appellation is lens culinaris, or culinary lens, for the simple reason that a lentil looks like a small … lens.

One of the world’s oldest cultivated foods, lentils have been farmed since around 10,000 years ago, when agriculture was just beginning. Their popularity is linked not only to their flavor — nutty, a little smoky — but also to their wonderful nutritional qualities. They are packed with protein, vitamins and minerals, and have been ranked as one of the world’s healthiest foods.

This hasn’t stopped French chefs from elevating them to great heights of gastronomy. In kitchens boasting Michelin stars, lentils have been pounded into flour and served as blini, paired with lobster, used as stuffing for holiday fowl and blended into delicious creamy soups. (In case you missed it, one of my favorite local chefs, Rodolphe Paquin, shared his recipe for creamy lentil soup with me a couple of years ago. You can find it here.)

Known as le caviar du pauvre — ‘poor man’s caviar’ — lentils have traditionally been served most often in France in the dish known as petit salé (salted pork), in which they are paired with inexpensive cuts like ham hock, hearty sausages and slabs of bacon that are immersed in brine before cooking. This popular bistro dish is seen less often in Paris these days due to the rise of lighter cooking, and everyday chefs may prefer simpler preparations. For example, a warm herbal salad with salmon…

Happy cooking!

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Potage lyonnais

potage lyonnais1It’s pumpkin season — and as we head from Halloween to Thanksgiving, what could be better than a French pumpkin soup? Not just any kind, but pumpkin soup from Lyon, the heart of French gastronomy. The ingredients read like a catalog of Lyonnaise cuisine: pumpkin, potato, cream, grated Comté or Gruyère, a leek and, yes, some butter. Okay, it’s rich, but oh so satisfying. Set off nicely by a salad, it makes a lovely meal.

Potage lyonnais / Pumpkin soup, Lyon style

So what is it about Lyon that has created its reputation as the heartland of French cooking? I’ll give you the answer in three words: location, location, location. Lyon sits at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône, major waterways linking it to the Mediterranean in the south, the Swiss Alps in the east and the Vosges mountains of northeastern France. Back in Roman times, it was already receiving wine, olive oil and produce from Provence and beyond, transported by river. Over time, dairy products from the Alps and the Vosges, the fine poultry of the nearby Bresse region, beef from Charolais, fruit from the Ardèche, fish from the rivers and lakes, all made their way to Lyon. Local charcuteries specialized in cured meats. And so grew a culinary tradition.

As for the pumpkin, it is widely used in French cooking throughout the fall and winter. I was treated last year, as some of you may remember, to a spectacular pumpkin gratin prepared by Georges Blanc, a three-star chef at Vonnas, north of Lyon. This was his take on one of the classic foods of Thanksgiving, and he was kind enough to give me the recipe. The occasion was the filming of an episode of a French television series about food and art, the art in this case being the Norman Rockwell painting called Plenty. I’m mentioning it now only because the program is about to air in France, just in time for Thanksgiving. If you’re interested, it will be shown on Arte on Sunday, November 23 at noon.

In the meantime, happy cooking!

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Porc aux légumes d’automne

autumn pork2There’s a wintry chill in the air in Paris, and nightfall comes early these days. It’s the time of year when comfort food makes a welcome appearance on the table. In this recipe, succulent fillet of pork is surrounded by autumn vegetables and slow-roasted in the oven. The aromas will tantalize your guests as they tuck into a first course, for example a spinach salad with roquefort or a plate of briny oysters with some lemon on the side.

Porc aux légumes d’automne / Roast pork with autumn vegetables

Speaking of oysters, this is definitely the season. I bought a dozen at the market on Sunday, wrapped them in a damp tea towel, and headed for my cottage in the country. The scene that evening: a roaring fire, a plate of freshly opened oysters on the table, and three people expectantly awaiting the feast. One of those people — me — was sporting a bandaid.

Yes, I impaled myself while opening the oysters. It’s not my favorite sport, but I will do it if necessary (i.e. if no volunteers are around to help out). You need a strong sharp knife, or a special oyster knife, to get the shells open. I will post about this one of these days. But as I was struggling in the kitchen, with soul music pouring from the speakers in the other room, I have to say I started musing about how much easier it must have been to open oysters in another age — the Stone Age, to be precise.

As I may have mentioned before, I am now involved in a project about our prehistoric ancestors, and this has led me to think about how the women who preceded us managed to get dinner on the table. You can picture the scene — the kids clamoring for their evening meal, their father still out hunting with the guys. All their mother has on hand is the nuts and berries she gathered that afternoon and, if they live by the sea, perhaps some oysters. Metal tools have not been invented yet, so what does she do? She simply smashes the oysters open with a rock. Which is what I may try next time…

Whether you opt for oysters as a starter or not, you can follow this week’s roast pork with a cheese platter or just go straight to a seasonal dessert — for example, an apple tart or caramelized pears. It will make for a satisfying autumn meal, for family or friends.

Happy cooking!

P.S. If you’re interested on following my progress as I research the deep ancestry of myself and my adopted daughter in hopes of finding our most recent common mother, you can visit my new Facebook page, Footprints Through Time. It tracks recent advances in human evolutionary genetics, and raises the personal issues I’m encountering as I go back in time to find the link between my East European Jewish ancestors and the lineage of my daughter, who was born in Mali of unknown parents.

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Prunes poêlées à l’eau de vie

sauteed plums2Okay, okay, plums are no longer in season — at least, in the northern hemisphere. But when I happened upon some beautiful blue plums (imported from Spain) at the market last Sunday, I couldn’t resist … because I’d seen a dessert listed on the menu of a neighborhood bistro and wanted to try it out. The chef’s helper told me how to make it: sauté the plums in butter and sugar, add some brandy and spoon the warm fruit over vanilla ice cream.

Prunes poêlées à l’eau de vie / Plums sautéed in brandy

How did it turn out? I’ll just say it was consumed with delight at my table. The recipe hails from Le Repaire de Cartouche, which I’ve mentioned before on this site. (I even interviewed the chef, Rodolphe Paquin, a while back.) The trick is to go light on the brandy, whichever type you use. I happened to have some slivovitz on hand — East European plum brandy, which was perfect. But cognac or a local brandy or another fruit alcohol would also work very well. The ice cream gives a bit of a bite to the warm fruit: winter and summer combined, which is about where we are now in the calendar.

Happy cooking!

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Pizza saucisse fenouil maison

pizza saucisse fenouil1This is what is called in French a pizza blanche (or in Italian a pizza bianca), meaning there is no tomato sauce. Instead the pizza dough is coated with olive oil and then scattered with broccoli, smoked mozzarella and … homemade spicy fennel sausage. That’s right, you spice the sausage yourself, which is actually fun and — if my guests are any judge — ever so delicious. Succulent, smoky and a little mysterious…

Pizza saucisse fenouil maison / Pizza with homemade fennel sausage, smoked mozzarella and broccoli

It’s actually quite easy to prepare, providing you can find some high-quality sausages to work with. You then discard the casings and spice the meat with fennel seeds, dried herbs, garlic and cayenne. The smoked mozzarella — scamorza in Italian — is grated and scattered on top, along with tiny steamed broccoli flowerets.

I was inspired to make this pizza by a visit to Buona Forchetta, a fabulous pizza joint in San Diego. They had a similar item on the menu, the only difference being that the broccoli they used was rapini, a leaf broccoli that’s not available everywhere. So I substituted the flowerets and it worked out just fine. My one concern was whether I’d find the scamorza, but in fact when I checked at my local supermarket it was right there on the shelf. If you can’t find it, just use regular mozzarella instead.

I’d like to dedicate this recipe to my cousin Janice, who with her husband, Jack, took me to Buona Forchetta and many other fine places in San Diego this past summer. By the way, Janice is a writer, and here’s a link to her latest book, The Tin Horse, an award-winning mystery set in an old Jewish quarter of ’20s-’30s LA. It’s a great read, translated (or being translated) into seven languages (including French). Worth checking out.

And happy cooking!

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Moules marinière

moules marinieres3This is the best time of year for shellfish in France, and of all types one of the most beloved is the humble mussel. Moules marinière — mussels steamed in white wine — are joyously consumed throughout the country, particularly in northern regions where they rank among the most popular dishes. They are as easy to prepare as they are tasty, and make a fine lunch or a lively starter to a more ambitious meal.

Moules marinière / Mussels steamed in white wine

And why marinière? The word means mariner-style or, more loosely, prepared in the manner of seafarers and fishermen, who cook the mussels straight from the sea (and have most likely been doing so since the invention of fire in prehistoric times).

There are many variations on this theme — with or without cream added to the broth, with or without curry or saffron. Sometimes bacon is added, sometimes tomatoes or peppers. In Normandy or Brittany, you may find mussels steamed in hard cider instead of wine. But I prefer the original, in which minced onion is sautéed in butter before the mussels are added to the sizzling pot and steamed open in dry white wine. A sprinkling of parsley completes the dish. Fabulous.

Meantime, I am delighted to report that quite a few people have signed up to follow The Everyday French Chef since the launch of my autumn subscription drive last week. The reward for referrals is a personal recipe in the category of your choice. Please remember to notify me if one of your friends signs up. Just send me a note via the Contact page.

And happy cooking!

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Omelette aux broccolis et chèvre frais

omelet broccoli2It’s nearly lunchtime, the phone rings, a friend is dropping by. What is to be done? Whip up an omelet. It’s easy, it’s quick and you can pair the eggs with just about anything. I’ll never forget the time when one of the women who cooked with me at the Café Dewitt in Ithaca had me over for lunch and served me … a spaghetti omelet. And delicious it was. This omelet pairs broccoli with tender goat cheese, a lovely mix of colors and flavors.

Omelette aux broccolis et chèvre frais / Omelet with broccoli and goat cheese

One of the tricks to making a great omelet is to use the very freshest free-range eggs you can find. It makes a huge difference in terms of flavor and texture. Another trick is to use a well-seasoned omelet pan, as explained in the recipe. And here’s an astuce (a tip) I learned at the Café Dewitt: always add a little water to the eggs when you whip them. It lightens the omelet, ensuring it will be fluffy and tender.

Meantime, I’d like to announce that I’m having a new autumn subscription drive. Anyone who adds a new subscriber to the site will receive a personal recipe that has not yet appeared on The Everyday French Chef. The recipe can be in the category of your choice. Just be sure to let me know that you’ve signed somebody up. Add two subscribers and I’ll send you two recipes. Et cetera. The more the merrier, and …

Happy cooking!

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Fricassée de poulet aux figues

chicken figs1Figs, apples and pomegranates have been much on my mind lately — partly because they are at their ripest and most delicious in the autumn, and partly for other (historical, anecdotal) reasons. One consequence is the creation in my kitchen this week of a chicken fricassée enhanced with the flavors of saffron, cinnamon and cumin and sweetened with honey and fresh figs.

Fricassée de poulet aux figues / Chicken with fresh figs

Now then, about the fruit. When I was a child growing up in Wisconsin, the only figs we ever saw were the dried variety, prettily wrapped in cellophane and delivered to our home as gifts from relatives for the December holidays. It wasn’t until I reached the southern French city of Avignon at the age of 19 that I encountered a fresh fig, its sensual purple skin hiding a lush, red interior. When I bit into it, I felt like I was committing original sin.

And why not? The fig, after all, goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, who used fig leaves in the Garden of Eden to cover their nakedness after tasting the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. And what was that fruit? It is typically represented as an apple — the fruit that Jews around the world are dipping in honey this week to mark the start of the new year — but I suspect it may actually have been a pomegranate. Why? For one thing, the pomegranate is native to Persia and the Holy Land, where the earliest civilizations thrived, while the apple is believed to be native to Turkey, which was settled by early humans later. For another, the apple (pomme in French) and the pomegranate have etymological ties. Both words derive from the Latin pomum. One can easily imagine that there may have been linguistic slippage at some point along the way among the first drafters of the Bible…

Or was it a fig? My deeper interest at the moment, tied to my new book project, is in human prehistory — and here’s an interesting factlet. Archaeologists believe that cultivation of figs goes back at least 11,000 years. They have dated fossils of sterile varieties of the fruit that were found in the Jordan Valley north of Jericho. That makes the fig one of the oldest foods ever produced by the world’s first farmers as humanity segued from millennia as roaming hunter-gatherers into settled communities of cultivators.

All I have to say to those early ancestors is, ‘Thank you.’

And to you, dear readers, ‘Happy cooking!’

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Tagliatelles aux girolles

girolles2With the autumn mushroom season bursting forth in all its glorious bounty, there’s only one thing to do: go hunting. In my case, given the dearth of forests in Paris, this means heading down to the local street market. What I found this week was an irresistible haul of girolles — chanterelles. Richly golden, thickly succulent, they make a perfect match for pasta. Snip in some herbs, add a little cream and voilà! Dinner is ready.

Tagliatelles aux girolles / Tagliatelle with chanterelles

girolles1Now then, about chanterelles. They come in different shapes and sizes and, to be honest, I prefer the beautifully large and fleshy, yellow-orange variety (shown at right). According to Le Petit Robert, my favorite French dictionary, the word girolles dates back to the 16th century. It derives from girer, to turn, and indeed the little ridges beneath the caps appear to rotate slightly.

girolles at marketChanterelles sometimes come in a thinner shape, but the flavor can be just as fine. At French markets these thinner mushrooms (shown at left) are, curiously, known as chanterelles, and not girolles. They have the advantage of being less expensive. But whenever possible I’d prefer to pay more and get the heftier, golden-orange variety — with an important caveat. If you live in Europe, it’s best to ask about the provenance of the chanterelles before making a purchase. I avoid those from countries that were exposed to heavy doses of radiation from Chernobyl, even though the accident there took place 28 years ago.

Whichever variety you choose, you will find your kitchen enveloped in a delicious woodsy-fruity odor when you begin to cook your chanterelles. A perfect prelude to a fine meal. This is the third recipe with girolles on this site (after pan-seared scallops and a wild mushroom first course), and I expect it won’t be the last. Happy cooking!

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