Pan bagnat

If you’ve ever been to Nice, you will have encountered the pan bagnat, that city’s trademark sandwich: a large roll stuffed with tuna, tomatoes, black olives, hard-boiled egg, anchovies, green pepper, green onion, radishes and basil. It’s like a salade niçoise in a bun. The city is so proud of the sandwich that citizens have formed an association to defend and promote it, with a web page entitled, no less, The Official Site of the Free State of Pan Bagnat.

Pan bagnat / Pan bagnat sandwich from Nice

On that site they’ve posted what they call the official recipe, which would be just like mine except that it has no green pepper and notes that baby broad beans and/or little artichokes may be added in season. But beware. The site adds a warning: ‘In no case may any other ingredient be added to the authentic Pan Bagnat of Nice under penalty of creating a vulgar vegetable sandwich.’ A vulgar veggie sandwich? Really? How do you say oy vey in French?

So let’s talk about authenticity. According to food historians, the original pan bagnat contained no tuna, which at the time — the 19th century — was considered a food for the rich. The pan bagnat was a poor man’s meal, often made with stale bread (‘pan’ in Provençal) that was bathed (‘bagnat’) with a little water to soften it. These days, the rolls ‘bathe’ in drizzled olive oil and juice from the tomatoes. And while the so-called official recipe may not include green pepper, it is hard to find another recipe without it.

I first encountered the pan bagnat when, as a 19-year-old student, I found myself digging for pre-Neanderthal man in a cave outside Nice for the last three weeks of a summer study program. In the evening after work, the other student diggers and I would walk into town along the corniche, the beautiful coastal road overlooking the Mediterranean. Often as not, we’d pick up a pan bagnat for supper. The sandwich is big enough to be a meal in itself.

Now that spring is finally turning sunny and warm in Paris, it felt like the right time to try to make a pan bagnat at home. Problem No. 1: Where to find the bread? Pan bagnat rolls measure 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) in diameter, i.e. as big as or bigger than a jumbo hamburger bun. They’re crusty outside, tender inside, with an olive oil tang. I had never seen one at a Paris bakery, but a quick online search revealed that at least one Paris baker makes them, and by luck the shop — Tout Autour du Pain — is a short walk from my place.

Happily I phoned ahead, as the pan bagnat rolls had to be made to order. The next day I collected four beautiful crusty rolls. The rest was easy. I made a sauce of olive oil, garlic and basil, boiled an egg, sliced the veggies, sliced the roll and layered on the ingredients, drizzing with olive oil from time to time. In a very short while the venerable sandwich was ready.

What to do if there is no such baker in your vicinity? Improvise! You can make your pan bagnat on a Kaiser roll, a pita, a chunk of a crusty French loaf. If you don’t broadcast your deviation from authenticity, the defense committee will never hear about it…

For the record, concerning sandwiches in a bun, the venerable pan bagnat predates the venerable hamburger by at least a century, although the origin of neither is totally clear. When I told an Italian friend I’d be posting the pan bagnat recipe on my French cooking site, she bristled: ‘But that’s an Italian sandwich!’ Since Nice used to be part of Italy, she may have a point. But who cares? The real point is that the sandwich is a treat.

Part of the magic of the pan bagnat is that its taste changes according to the weather. It’s best outdoors on a hot sunny day — at the beach, on a boat, at a picnic. Bring along a bottle of chilled rosé and plenty of napkins to catch the olive oil. The other part of the magic is that, wherever you are when you bite in, the Mediterranean will not be far away.

Happy cooking.

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Rouleaux de printemps

What better time than spring to make fresh spring rolls? In this Vietnamese-inspired recipe, a very thin rice-flour crepe is rolled up around lettuce, mint and the zesty filling of your choice: shrimp, chicken or mango, mixed with Asian flavorings, peanuts and cilantro. The rolls — not to be confused with fried spring rolls (called nems in France) — are served with a tangy sauce. They’re light, fun to make and a great way to exercise your creativity.

Rouleaux de printemps / Fresh spring rolls

These spring rolls differ from the original in that rouleaux de printemps, as served in both Vietnam and France, are mainly filled with rice vermicelli, bean sprouts and/or grated carrots, with a just tiny bit of chicken or pork tucked inside. By expermenting at home, I’ve found that leaving out the noodles and sprouts delivers a more intense burst of flavor.

The fillings presented here are my own creation. In the first version, chopped shrimp are marinated in lime juice, fish sauce (nuoc mam), sugar and hot sauce. In the second, shredded chicken is marinated in soy sauce, hoisin or oyster sauce, sesame oil and hot sauce. In the third, diced mango is mixed with lime juice, hot sauce and spring onion (scallions). Crushed peanuts and chopped cilantro are added just before rolling.

When you’re ready to roll, the rice-flour wrapper is dampened in hot water, then placed on a board. Lettuce and mint are placed on the bottom third and topped with a couple spoonfuls of filling. Shrimp halves are then placed on the middle of the wrapper. You fold in the sides and wrap up tightly, bottom to top. If making the vegetarian/vegan mango version, you can skip the shrimp and instead use cilantro leaves for decoration.

The rolling stage is a bit delicate — it may take you a few tries to get proficient. But once you get the hang of it, you can fill the rolls with anything you like. Spring rolls with leftover Peking duck are fantastic. You could fry up ground pork or ground beef with ginger and garlic, add some fresh cilanto and voilà. Or use your imagination. Sea scallops might be delicious. Quail? Smoked salmon? Why not? And if you like noodles, include them in.

As for the sauce, you can buy it ready-made at Asian groceries or make it yourself. According to my favorite Vietnamese cooking blog, Miss Tam Kitchenette, two different sauces are served with spring rolls in Vietnam. In the south of the country the rolls are accompanied by hoisin sauce, and in the north by a sauce made of nuoc mam, rice vinegar, lime juice, sugar, garlic, hot water and bird’s eye pepper. This is the kind served in France.

Miss Tam says that spring rolls are often served in southern Vietnam during the Tet festival, which celebrates the arrival of spring. In France they are served year round, generally as a starter, although they could also be part of a buffet spread. Dishes that would marry well include Thai duck salad, Vietnamese noodle salad, cockles in satay sauce, tuna tartare on black rice, Vietnamese beef-noodle soup (soupe pho) or chicken with lemongrass. And don’t forget a chilled bottle of dry rosé!

Happy cooking.

Posted in 1. Starters | 2 Comments


Is there such a thing as a new recipe? This zesty salad of watercress topped with anchovy fillets and croutons may fit the bill. I created it one day when I’d been to the market and had a bunch of fresh watercress in the fridge. How was I inspired to add the anchovies and croutons, along with a drizzle of olive oil and a few drops of lemon juice? Don’t know, but when I surfed the web afterwards in search of a similar salad, I found none.

Cresson-anchois-croûtons / Watercress with anchovies and croutons

Recipes have been developed and shared since early humans began using fire for cooking, hundreds of thousands of years ago, or possibly well before — think mixed berries or oysters on the half shell. If you look into ancient history, opinions vary widely on what may have been the first food shared in common by our ancestors. Bread is mentioned, but its invention came long after anatomically modern humans began farming. Honey is a candidate for the first shared food, but it would have been gathered, not cooked.

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, in her fascinating book The Old Way, describes the virtues of the ostrich egg: ‘This useful item is first a meal and then a water bottle’. It would have taken many millennia for people to go from eating a raw ostrich egg to making an omelet, but when somebody finally was inspired to scramble the egg and cook it, or more likely did so by accident, this discovery would have been communicated and passed along.

Almost every dish we prepare these days is derivative in one way or another. When I write about French onion soup, for example, I’m drawing on recipes developed over the centuries that I have adapted by trial and error to make the dish my own. Ditto beef bourguinon or cheese soufflé. Every now and then a new recipe comes along, for instance Caesar salad, which was invented in 1924 by an Italian-American chef at his restaurant in Tijuana and is now popular on both sides of the Atlantic.

But it is rare to find a truly original recipe. Which is why I was all the more delighted to (apparently) invent the watercress-anchovy-crouton combination. It makes a lovely lunch, accompanied by crusty bread and a full-bodied red. You could follow up with cheese and a light dessert — mixed berries, for example — to make a balanced meal perfect for spring.

Happy cooking.

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Macédoine de légumes

A swirl of lightened mayo over gently steamed carrots, asparagus, peas, spring onions and turnips creates a thoroughly modern version of a very traditional French dish — macédoine. In this update, the veggies may be served either chopped or whole, with homemade mayonnaise on top, on the side or as a sauce. Add some fresh herbs for garnish, and you have a flavor-packed starter, salad or side dish that highlights the beauty of spring.

Macédoine de légumes / Spring vegetables with mayonnaise

It’s been decades since I’ve seen macédoine on a Paris restaurant menu, probably because it was seriously in need of revision. Although it was once seen as a supremely elegant dish, by the time I arrived in France nearly 50 years ago it had taken a turn towards the stodgy. Macédoine then consisted of overcooked diced veggies slathered in thick mayonnaise, often served stuffed in a tomato or rolled in a slice of ham. But tastes have evolved…

So I have taken liberties with the traditional recipe, which typically combined diced carrots, green beans, turnips, peas and flageolets, or small, pale green, kidney-shaped beans that are popular in France but may be hard to find elsewhere. This version dispenses with the beans in favor of asparagus and spring onions, which are bountiful in farmers markets here at the moment.

It may be argued that serving the veggies whole, as shown just above, is too much of a stretch, given the origins of the dish. Amusingly, macédoine takes its name from the multiethnic Balkan region of Macedonia. The multicolored chopped vegetables were seen as resembling ethnographic maps of Macedonia in previous centuries, such as the one at left.

Just as amusingly, macédoine is also known as salade russe (Russian salad) in France, Italy, Serbia and Bulgaria, while it is known as salade française (French salad) in the Balkans and salade orientale (Middle Eastern salad) in Romania and Moldova. Meanwhile salade russe is known in Russia and elsewhere as salat Olivier, after Lucien Olivier, the Franco-Belgian chef who created it in Moscow in the mid-18oos. His creation was derived from a similar dish, salat stolichny, or ‘capital city salad’, with sour cream instead of mayo. The Russian salads generally include potatoes, and sometimes chicken or seafood.

Getting back to French traditions, it should be noted that there is also a fruit version of macédoine, with chopped bits of apples, cherries, pineapple, strawberries, kiwi, whatever, typically served in a sugar syrup. It is generally quite bland, which is most likely why it, too, has disappeared from bistro menus.

As for the veggie version, macédoine-style chopped vegetables may also be served warm with butter or cold in aspic, according to the Larousse Gastronomique. But personally I think the mayo version is by far the tastiest. If you’d like to go traditional, you can served your modernized macédoine bathed in homemade mayonnaise lightened with lemon juice, as shown at right. Or you can decompose and recompose as you prefer.

Happy cooking.

Posted in 8. Vegetables | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Crème de la crème, Part III

Spring has sprung with a vengeance in Paris — chestnuts in blossom, demonstrators in the streets — meaning it’s time once again for Crème de la crème, with ‘best of’ seasonal recipes from the first ten years of The Everyday French Chef. This time I’d like to highlight oeufs durs mayonnaise, a classic bistro dish. And, you may well ask, what’s so special about hard-boiled eggs? Well, homemade mayo boosts this simple dish into the stratosphere.

Oeufs durs mayonnaise / Hard-boiled eggs with French mayonnaise

Homemade mayonnaise is worlds apart from the kind of mayo you get out of a jar. And despite its reputation, it’s very easy to make — preparation takes less than five minutes. You simply mix egg yolks with Dijon mustard, lemon juice and salt, then add oil little by little to create one of France’s most versatile and elegant sauces. (For a demonstration, check out this video). Homemade mayo also marries perfectly with the eggs. And by the way, there’s a trick to ensuring that the yolks will be a beautiful bright orange-yellow, and not have the grayish hue of over-boiled eggs. It’s all in the timing (see recipe for details).

The recipe for oeufs durs mayonnaise is one of this site’s most popular, having been viewed more than 13,000 times since it was posted back in November 2012. Its simplicity is what makes this dish so appealing. At Paris bistros and brasseries, you’ll find oeufs durs mayonnaise served as a starter, either on its own or as part of a crudités vegetable plate. At home, it can be served as a first course or part of a lunch buffet, perhaps with shrimp with homemade mayo, anchovy-garlic dip, tapenade olive dip, herbal tomato salad and/or eggplant caviar. If you’re looking for something special to serve at Easter, look no further…

And now to my spring favorites. I’ve listed three dishes from each of the site’s categories — mix and match as you like. Many feature foods that come into season in spring: artichokes, asparagus, dandelion leaves, peas, raspberries, rhubarb, sorrel, strawberries. Beneath the list you’ll find menu suggestions for everyday and special meals for spring.

Artichauts vinaigrette / Artichokes with mustard vinaigrette
Asperges blanches / White asparagus
Oeufs mimosa / Eggs ‘Mimosa’

Soupe à l’oseille / Fresh sorrel soup
Soupe aux asperges / Asparagus soup
Soupe de petits pois à la menthe / Fresh pea soup with mint


Petits pois et haricots verts en salade / Early summer salad with fresh peas and green beans
Salade de cresson / Watercress salad
Salade de pissenlits aux lardons / Dandelion salad with bacon

Omelette aux asperges et parmesan / Asparagus-parmesan omelet
Omelette aux petits pois / Spring omelet with fresh peas
Petits soufflés au chèvre / Goat cheese soufflés with dill

Savory tarts

Quiche au saumon fumé / Smoked salmon quiche
Quiche aux asperges et pleurotes / Asparagus quiche with oyster mushrooms
Tourte épinards-féta / Mediterranean spinach-feta pie

Coques au satay / Cockles in satay sauce
Saumon à l’oseille / Thick-cut salmon with sorrel sauce
Tartare de thon au riz noir / Tuna tartare on black rice


Coquelet à la géorgienne / Chicken with walnut sauce
Pigeon rôti / Roast pigeon
Poulet au miel et au thym / Chicken with honey and thyme

Assiette anglaise / Cold roast meat platter, French style
Navarin d’agneau printanier / Lamb with spring vegetables
Tagine de veau aux petits pois et citron / Veal tagine with fresh peas and lemon


Artichauts poivrade grilles / Pan-seared baby artichokes
Jardinière de légumes printaniers / Spring vegetable medley
Petits pois à la française / Fresh peas with bacon and basil

Pasta and grains
Orecchiette aux petits pois et jambon de pays / Pasta with peas and country ham
Risotto aux épinards / Spinach risotto
Salade aux grains, sauce sésame / Mixed-grain salad with sesame sauce

Soufflés aux framboises / Raspberry soufflés
Soupe de rhubarbe aux fraises / Rhubarb soup with strawberries and mint
Tarte aux fraises / Strawberry tart

As an everyday French chef, how would I combine these dishes? Here are some examples:

For an everyday lunch, omnivores might enjoy a dandelion salad with bacon followed by pasta with peas and country ham. For vegetarians, fresh sorrel soup followed by a spring omelet with fresh peas. For vegans, white asparagus followed by a salad with fresh peas and green beans. And maybe some seasonal fruit.

For an everyday dinner, white asparagus with a lemony cream sauce followed by salmon with sorrel sauce and a watercress salad. For vegetarians, pan-seared baby artichokes followed by spinach risotto. For vegans, artichokes with mustard vinaigrette followed by a mixed-grain salad with sesame sauce. If you’d like to add a dessert to any of these menus, go for fresh strawberries and rasperries, with or without cream.

For a weekend dinner, individual goat cheese soufflés, lamb ‘navarin’ with spring vegetables, a watercress salad and strawberry tart. For vegetarians, eggs ‘Mimosa’ to start, then white asparagus with hollandaise, Mediterranean spinach-feta pie and raspberry soufflé. For vegans, fresh pea soup with mint, pan-seared baby artichokes, watercress salad and rhubarb soup with strawberries and mint.

I’ll be back in two weeks with a new dish for spring. Part IV of Crème de la crème, in June, will conclude this special series of ‘best of’ recipes in celebration of the 10th anniversary of The Everyday French Chef.

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Gâteau noix-amandes-orange

Here’s a cake that’s both Moorish and ‘more-ish’. Moorish because its ground walnuts and almonds, orange zest, cinnamon and rose water are evocative of North African cuisine. More-ish because, as I discovered when I served it this week, one serving was not enough for the guests around my table. This cake is also unusual because it contains no flour. That makes it both gluten-free and ideal for serving during the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Gâteau noix-amandes-orange / Walnut-almond-orange cake

Passover and Easter are both coming up soon (April 5 and April 9). I’ve posted various Easter recipes on this site, and this year I decided to post one for Passover (aka Pesach), the holiday commemorating the exodus of the Jews from ancient Egypt. It is a time when Jews are meant to consume no flour except in matzo — unleavened bread. In the Ashkenazi world, cakes served during the eight days of Passover are typically made with matzo meal and can be, well, a bit stodgy. But when I moved to Paris, where many Jews with North African roots have settled, the world of Sephardic cooking opened up to me.

Sephardic Passover cakes generally use ground almonds or walnuts instead of matzo meal, and are leavened with beaten egg whites. They are often flavored with orange or lemon, redolent of Spain, while rose water evokes the cuisine of North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. I’d made such cakes before, but couldn’t remember the recipe. Looking for inspiration, I turned to Claudia Roden’s wonderful Book of Jewish Food, which features many Passover cakes. I combined three of her recipes to create today’s offering.

At a Seder, the traditional meal on the first (and sometimes also the second) of the eight nights of Passover, the dessert is highly anticipated after several hours of reading, eating and drinking as it signals the approaching end of the festivities, which generally conclude with song.  The meal begins with the reading of the Haggadah, which tells the story of Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt via the Red Sea after God appears to him in a burning bush. Once he gets the message, the story goes, Moses tells everyone they have to leave at once. The women object that their bread hasn’t had time to rise. But they must go quickly, so they bring the unleavened bread along for the journey — hence matzo.

The Seder is hardly a solemn affair. Each participant will drink four glasses of wine during the reading of the Haggadah. Before the Seder begins, the door of the home is opened and an extra glass of wine is set on the table in hopes that the prophet Elijah will appear. Although no one ever sees Elijah, that glass of wine is always empty by the time the Seder concludes. Perhaps (she said knowingly) it is surreptitiously consumed while the children are searching for the Hafikomen, another high point of the evening.

And what is the Hafikomen? A Seder table is always set with various items that symbolize the ordeal of the Jews when they were slaves in Egypt. In the center of the table are three matzos, generally covered by a napkin. Toward the start of the meal, the middle matzo is broken in two, and one of the halves is hidden. As the children sit through the reading of the Haggadah, they never lose sight of the fact that by the end of the evening they will hunt for the Hafikomen, and the one who finds it will get a present.

Also on the table are parsley or celery, symbolizing the arrival of spring, to be dipped in salt water, representing the tears of the enslaved Jews. Bitter herbs, generally horseradish, also represent the bitterness of slavery in Egypt. The bitter herbs are eaten between two small pieces of matzo with haroset, a mixture of fruit and nuts representing the mortar used by Jewish slaves to build the pyramids. In the Ashkenazi tradition, haroset is often made of apples, walnuts, cinnamon and a splash of red wine, and is quite delicious. (I considered putting that recipe on the site today, but instead opted for the cake.) Claudia Roden gives five Sephardic recipes for haroset — from Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Italy and the Piedmont region of northern Italy. They use dates or raisins or chestnuts rather than apples, but the concept is the same. The final two symbolic items on the table are a boiled egg that has been roasted and a roasted lamb bone. These are merely observed, not eaten.

All this is just a prelude to the festive Seder dinner, which can vary widely. In the Ashkenazi tradition, the meal may begin with matzo ball soup — chicken broth with fluffy dumplings made of matzo meal. My grandmother, not necessarily the world’s greatest cook, was a real pro at matzo ball soup, so the first time I made it I thought it would be easy. As I proudly brought the steaming bowls of soup to the table, a guest dipped in her spoon, tried a dumpling and exclaimed, ‘These aren’t matzo balls — these are cannonballs!’ Oops. The next year I tried again, using Claudia Roden’s recipe. Success.

Another first course that is often served in Ashkenazi families is gefilte fish, known in French as carpe farci (stuffed carp). When I was a child, gefilte fish came in the form of small, largely tasteless lumps from a jar. Well, they don’t serve gefilte fish out of a jar in France. To make it, I was told, and this was back in the ’70s, one needed to go to the fish monger and buy a live carp that was to be brought home and kept alive in the bathtub until one was ready to cook it, at which time one first had to kill it. I decided to pass on that. Instead, my boyfriend’s mother — who had been born in Poland, fled to Paris in the ’30s and survived the Nazi occupation of France — gave me her recipe. She mixed fillets of cod, or any white fish, with eggs, matzo meal, onion, carrots, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar, and formed little oval loaves that she simmered in fish stock. Truly delicious.

The main dish at a Seder is frequently chicken or lamb, dishes that are also often served on Easter. The two holidays are linked, of course, because, according to the Gospel, when Jesus gathered with his apostles for what became known as The Last Supper, the meal was a Seder. The dates of both holidays are determined by the lunar calendar, although they rarely coincide, because Easter is always celebrated on a Sunday while Passover moves around. Did the concept of the Easter egg evolve from the Passover egg? Perhaps…

In any event, given all the wine that is consumed before and during the Passover meal, not to mention the arguing over the fine points of the text and the telling of funny stories, the conversation tends to be lively by the time dessert appears. If you happen to be celebrating Passover and decide to make the walnut-almond-orange cake, I have no doubt it will be appreciated. Inevitably, shortly after it’s served, the participants will break into song.

But this cake can be served any time of the year, at lunchtime, teatime or dinnertime. If you’d like to go with a Mediterranean theme, you could start with Moroccan carrot salad and eggplant caviar, serve a chicken tagine as the main course with couscous and a salad, and conclude with the cake. Your guests just might start to sing…

Happy cooking.

Posted in Desserts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Poisson à la bordelaise

This fish dish with a crusty topping is extremely popular in France and a breeze to make. The topping ‘à la bordelaise‘ — literally Bordeaux style — combines breadcrumbs, shallots, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon and a splash of white wine. Cod or hake are often used, but in fact any white-fleshed fish is fine. The upshot is a sophisticated French take on breaded fish. But does this family friendly dish actually hail from Bordeaux?

Poisson à la bordelaise / Crusted fish ‘bordelaise’

The amusing answer, mes amis, is not at all. According to Papilles & Pupilles, a well-regarded French cooking site, the dish was the invention of an employee working in the kitchens of the Findus frozen food company at Boulogne-sur-Mer, which lies on the northern coast of France just south of Calais, about 500 miles from Bordeaux. This was back in 1966. The company was seeking to expand its line of fish dishes and named it ‘à la bordelaise‘ for marketing purposes, to make it sound like authentic country cooking.

So France first discovered poisson à la bordelaise in the frozen food aisles of its supermarkets. Soon children across the country were being served poisson à la bordelaise in their school cafeterias. This history was provided to Papilles & Pupilles by a reader named Renaud who said that the dish evoked such strong culinary memories for him that it was almost like Proust’s madeleine. It wasn’t long before home cooks started making the dish, with results distinctly superior to the premade frozen variety.

The name is not too much of a stretch since ‘bordelaise‘ is applied to a wide range of dishes that have in common the use of shallots and wine. One such is entrecôte bordelaise, or pan-seared steak with shallots. The most classic fish dish prepared à la bordelaise is — wait for it — lamprey, in which the once popular eel-like fish is cooked in red wine and its own blood. You will not be finding that recipe on this site…

Meantime here in Paris I’ve been dealing with more cauchemars en cuisine (nightmares in the kitchen). First my stove imploded just before nightfall while I was busy preparing dinner for six. What turned out to be a fault in the wiring shorted out the electricity in half of the house, including the kitchen. It’s a gas stove — only the spark that lights the burners was electric — so I got out the matches and finished cooking the dinner. By candlelight…

As the stove was kaput I had to buy a new one — and discovered to my dismay that no stoves with gas burners and a gas oven were available in Paris due to supply chain issues linked to the war in Ukraine. The new stove (gas burners, electric oven) is less than ideal. Among other issues the grates over the burners have spaces so wide that my little Italian coffee pot falls through the gap. Cauchemar!

Then I discovered thanks to ‘pingbacks’ that my site was being pirated. It wasn’t the first time this has happened, but after I posted my last recipe, for basil hummus, there were two such pingbacks, one of which led to a site that had translated my post into German (see screenshot at right).

The second one led to a site in English,, which had published a version that must have been translated into some other language and then back into English because it cited ‘The On a Regular Basis French Chef’ (!), changed ‘the first time’ to ‘the primary time’, et cetera. (Unfortunately I neglected to take a screenshot, and they have now taken down the post.) In each case I wrote to the site to complain. I got a reply only from road2france, which said that all the news on their site was ‘automatically uploaded from Google’. I wrote back to ask what that meant, but they didn’t reply.

This is the kind of thing that can drive a blogger crazy. I enjoy writing this blog, but many hours of work go into each post — choosing a recipe, shopping for the ingredients, cooking the dish (sometimes more than once), taking the photo, researching the history of the dish, writing up the recipe and writing the post that goes with it.

Meantime the people who pirate my site are publishing ads, which I decided from the outset not to do in order to keep the site reader friendly — although I am solicited several times each week by people wanting to advertise or publish sponsored content on my site. Thus the pirates are not just committing theft of intellectual property but also making money from my work, and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it. If anyone has a recipe for putting an end to this situation, please let me know. Nonetheless…

Happy cooking.

Posted in 5. Fish and Shellfish | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Hoummous au basilic

Basil hummus? Why not? I discovered this recipe thanks to my friend Yana, a Ukrainian artist who’s lived in Paris for the last 30 years. What she makes is idiosyncratic, often with an artist’s touch. Her anchovy dip is fantastic, but when I discovered that it involved nothing but anchovies and pure butter, I gasped at how much I’d consumed. The basil hummus is lighter. She served it on a summer’s evening, with basil plucked from her garden.

Hoummous au basilic / Basil hummus

The addition of puréed basil leaves is the only thing that differentiates this hummus from standard hummus, but that difference adds depth of flavor and zest. The other ingredients are chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper, and if you’d like extra bite, a crushed cayenne pepper. Sounds easy, right? Well, yes and no.

The first time I made basil hummus I followed Yana’s instructions to the letter. This led to a cauchemar en cuisine — or ‘Nightmare in the Kitchen’, the name of a popular series over here in which a well-known chef, Philippe Etchebest, comes to the rescue of struggling restaurants. In their kitchens, if it can go wrong, it will. So what did I do wrong?

The first thing was to start with dry chickpeas, which need to be soaked overnight before being boiled for a couple of hours until totally tender. I set the chickpeas to boil and then forgot about them, having neglected to set a timer. I remembered when the smell of burning invaded my apartment. The chickpeas were wrecked. I had to chuck them.

So I started again, this time with canned chickpeas. Yana had assured me that the result would be much the same. However, she said, it was advisable to slip the skins off the chickpeas before puréeing them. This would make for a smoother and more digestible dip. Well, dear readers, I did it, but will never do it again. It took about half an hour to remove the skins from 301 chickpeas — I counted them. Boring…

In any event, once your chickpeas are ready, it’s a simple matter to puréé them with the rest of the ingredients. The basil is puréed separately with a little olive oil, much as you’d do when making pesto. This works better than trying to purée the basil leaves directly into the chickpea mixture — I tried that first, with less success.

I have now simplified the recipe to make it both easy and quick. And the result was satisfactory, judging from the reaction of my guest, who lapped it all up. You can serve basil hummus during cocktail hour with veggie sticks or pita triangles, or as a starter as part of a mezze spread. Yana says it is also delicious over grilled vegetables.

Meantime I have updated The Everyday French Chef’s menus for winter — a good thing, as we’re heading towards spring at last — and have also refreshed two winter favorites that needed new photos, sauté de veau and Normandy apple tart.

Happy cooking.

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Chaudrée de palourdes

I tried this clam chowder at the Hog Island Oyster Co. in Napa, California, and when I finished it I knew I needed the recipe. What I didn’t know is that chowder, an American dish, has French roots — or that the word ‘chowder’ derives from the French chaudrée, meaning cauldron. This I discovered upon my return to Paris. I quickly went out and bought the ingredients — clams, potatoes, leek, celery, carrot, bacon and heavy cream.

Chaudrée de palourdes / Clam chowder

The recipe is easy and takes about half an hour to prepare. The key to success is to use the small, sweet clams known as palourdes in French, Manila clams or steamers in English, and vongole in Italian. The clams should be as fresh as possible — at Hog Island Oyster Co., where I lunched with my cousin Paul on a cold, wet January afternoon, we were told that the clams had been fished out of a nearby bay that very morning.

That was one reason our lunch was so memorable. The other was the oysters we had as a starter. As reluctant as I may be to say so, those oysters were better than any I’ve had in France — or anywhere else for that matter. They were small but deep, succulent and nutty. A crisp Chardonnay grown on the surrounding vines in Napa completed the picture.

I spent three weeks in California over the new year, mainly in the Bay Area, and from a foodie point of view the trip held other surprises. The most startling thing was the prices. On the night I arrived, I went out with a friend to a laid-back joint in Oakland where two bacon cheeseburgers, two glasses of red and a glass of sparkling water cost … $80. About double what it would cost in Paris. Likewise, at a bakery in San Diego, three cups of soup, a turkey sandwich and a plate of potato chips set my cousin Janice back $80. But that was nothing compared to my bill of $150 for lunch for two at a Greek place in San Francisco.

Or the eye-popping $700 bill for dinner for four at a high-end Chinese, where the creative five-course fixed-price menu ($90 per person not counting drinks, dessert, tax or tip) included a starter of ‘Winter Perigord Truffle Puff’, ‘Chilled Fresh Lily Bulb’ and ‘Scallop and Caviar Roll’ (at left). Okay, the view was fantastic and the ambiance refined, and the cost wasn’t an issue for me as I was generously treated by my brother and sister-in-law. But it made me realize that, although Paris is reputedly one of the world’s most expensive cities, one can dine out, well, for far less.

Getting back to chowder, it is said to have originated on the Atlantic coast of France, where la chaudrée is a soup of fish and shellfish cooked with veggies, bacon, white wine and cream. According to lore, French immigrants enjoyed what was to become known as chowder while sailing to the United States and Canada in the 17th century. It put down roots first as New England clam chowder, similar to today’s recipe, and later as Manhattan clam chowder, made with a tomato broth and no cream.

Despite its French roots, clam chowder is not served in restaurants in Paris — at least, in my nearly 50 years here, I’ve never encountered it. Which means that in order to enjoy this warming, ultraflavorful soup, you need to go hunting for clams. This I did at my local farmers market, where various types of clams — including two sorts of palourdes, small and large — were on sale on a recent Sunday. If fresh clams aren’t available where you live, you can buy them online in the States or in the UK.

Happy cooking.

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Risotto aux épinards

I discovered spinach risotto many years ago at a dinner party in Venice. Our host, a genial fellow named Giorgio, was chatting me up, so I followed him into the kitchen and watched as he chopped and sautéd and ladled and stirred. Distracted by his charm, I didn’t know what he was making until he brought the dish to the table. ‘Risotto agli spinaci’, he announced with a flourish. One earthy, creamy, tangy mouthful and I was in heaven. Pure bliss.

Risotto aux épinards / Spinach risotto

Was it the ambience that made that evening so special? This was back in 1981 during the Carnevale, a magical time what with mist rising off the canals and masked Venetians saluting each other in the town’s bars and squares. When the faces weren’t masked, they looked straight out of the 16th century portraits in the Accademia. You could turn a corner and hear someone singing an aria through an open window. Nureyev was performing at La Fenice, and with luck you could run into him at a corner cafe. All senses were heightened. So tasting Giorgio’s spectacular risotto only added to my mood of intoxication.

The next morning I phoned him up to ask for the recipe. What was the secret? The ingredients were simple — onion, spinach, rice, wine, broth, butter and parmesan — and yet they combined to produce a sublimely subtle dish. Giorgio said he’d get back to me, but it took him a couple of months to oblige. By that time I was back in Paris and had almost forgotten about risotto. Then a letter arrived in the post.

The letter was divided into sections. Between Part I (‘Political’) and Part IV (‘Personal’) came Part III (‘Recipe for the risotto’). It called for well-cleaned spinach, rice (‘two handfuls per person’) and noted that the risotto must be thick — ‘it’s not a soup, one must be able to eat it with a fork’. I bought the ingredients, came home and made it. Success.

Shortly after receiving Giorgio’s letter, I learned that I have family roots in 16th century Venice, which could help explain why I took such a liking to risotto. It is a signature dish of Venice and comes in many other varieties, one of the best of which is made with the ink of a squid. On this site you can find recipes for risotto with radicchio, asparagus and peas, saffron, morel mushrooms, pumpkin and thyme, lobster and wild mushrooms.

I owe this all to Giorgio. I never saw him again, yet I’ve saved his letter all these years. His closing words were very touching. ‘Needless to say, I’d like to see you,’ he wrote, ‘and wish it could be soon. Who knows? Take care of yourself. Be kissed. Giorgio.’

Happy cooking.

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