Burgers de canard

Duck has always been a big deal in France, culinarily speaking, and what with the popularity of a certain American import it was inevitable that the French would put their own twist on it and create the duck burger. Some recipes use confit de canard, or preserved duck, but most use the magret, or breast. In this one, a magret is chopped by hand, pan-fried or barbecued and topped with caramelized onions in a honey-mustard-thyme sauce.

Burgers de canard / Duck burgers

Hamburgers barely existed in France until 1972, when McDonald’s opened a branch outside Paris. Before then, Wimpy had a few outlets in Paris. I had the dubious pleasure of lunching at one back in 1969. Their hamburger was a barely edible thin leathery patty. But going there was still a kick because with your burger you could enjoy a glass of rosé, something unheard of at hamburger chains in the States. It wasn’t until the arrival of McDonald’s that the French took to burgers, and now they’re everywhere.

You can find the classic American (thick and juicy) beef burger in most Paris bistros these days. A popular French version tops the classic with foie gras. The gourmet chef Yannick Alléno, who boasts three Michelin stars, opened a burger joint with his son that features a veal burger with tarragon butter, parmesan, caramelized onions and basil. We have vegan burgers, bao burgers, Waygu beef burgers, crunchy salmon burgers, etc., generally served with French fries but sweet potato fries are on the rise. For my money, the best burgers in town can still be found at Joe Allen, where I’ve been enjoying them for nearly 50 years.

But getting back to the making of duck burgers, the trick is to include some of the fat from the magret — otherwise, your burger will be dry. (Not to worry, because most of the fat melts away during cooking.) The duck burgers may be pan-fried or (better) grilled over charcoal, if you’re lucky enough to have access to a barbecue. I serve the burgers on toasted buns with the caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, sliced red onion and my own spicy burger sauce. You can do the same, or be as inventive as you like.

Happy cooking.

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Chou en purée

Many years ago, when making boeuf bourguinon for a party, I discovered a sophisticated side dish with laughably humble origins — cabbage purée. How I discovered it is a mystery. I thought it might have been via Patricia Wells, but when I looked through her cookbooks it wasn’t there. Perhaps it was Julia Child? Negative. Well, whatever. I’ve been making it for years, and am always delighted when my guests can’t figure out what it is.

Chou en purée / Cabbage purée

Yes, that’s the second mystery. On the plate, people mistake if for mashed potatoes. But when they taste it — ooh là là. Not the same. As we are moving towards Thanksgiving and then Christmas, I wanted to share this recipe with you in time for you to think about perhaps innovating this year with a dish that is both simple to make and lovely to behold.

Meantime regular readers of this blog will know that I enjoy not just cooking but also word play. So while we’re on the subject of chou (cabbage), it’s one of those words in French that has evolved over the centuries to embrace many meanings. The most obvious, from a culinary perspective, is ‘cream puff’ (also chou), presumably because these puffy pastries could, if you used your imagination, look like mini heads of cabbage.

Linguistically that’s just the beginning. Say you’re a journalist. You’d like to cast aspersions on your rival’s newspaper? Quelle feuille de chou! Literally: ‘What a cabbage leaf!!’ Figuratively: ‘What a rag!’ Or if your rival writer can’t cut the mustard? Il est dans les choux. ‘He’s in the cabbage patch.’ (‘He’s floundering.’) You really want to insult him? Il est bête comme un chou. ‘He’s as stupid as a cabbage.’ (‘Quel dumb cluck.’)

But there’s sweeter side as well. Your tiny tot is amazing? Je t’aime, mon petit chou. Literally: ‘I love you, my little cabbage.’ Figuratively: ‘My little cupcake.’ Your boyfriend gives you a present? Trop chou! (‘Too cute!’) That guy’s amazing and you’re telling your friend about him? Il est chou. (‘He’s adorable.’) You’re telling him he’s amazing? T’es mon chouchou. ‘You’re my sweetiepie.’  (But be careful — chouchou is also French for scrunchy, as in the ponytail holders favored by Carrie Bradshaw in ‘Sex in the City’.)

And then there’s the childhood ditty ‘Savez-vous planter les choux?‘ As the song goes, ‘Do you know how to plant cabbages, they way we do it here?’ Well, by the time the song is finished you know that the French plant cabbages with their foot, with their knee, with their nose and with their elbow… But that’s enough silliness for today.

Chou en purée can be made either with standard white cabbage, which produces the mashed potato effect, or with curly Savoy cabbage, which produces a pale green purée with darker green flecks. It’s both quick to prepare and ultra inexpensive, and will marry happily with roast turkey, beef or chicken, with other veggies (such as roasted winter vegetables or sweet potato purée) or, well, with boeuf bourguignon.

Happy cooking.

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Tourte poulet-champignons

This savory pie of chicken, mushrooms and leeks in a creamy sauce encased in puff pastry (pâte feuilletée) makes a lovely autumn dish for lunch or a light supper. Full disclosure: I don’t make the pastry myself, but instead use a couple rolls of high-quality, all-butter store-bought puff pastry. This saves a lot of time. Then all you need to do is invite a couple of guests, make a salad, open a bottle of wine and voilà — your meal is ready.

Tourte poulet-champignons / Chicken-mushroom pie

But what exactly is a tourte? When English-speakers associate the words ‘French’ and ‘pie’, they are likely to think of the open-faced pastries that are so splendidly displayed in France’s patisseries, such as quiche or fruit tarts. The double-crusted tourte is seen less often here, yet it has a long and venerable history, having existed since Roman times.

Although versions with fruit exist, a tourte is most often savory, filled with meat, veggies, cheese or a combination. It comes in many variations across France. A common tourte in the rugged Auvergne region combines potatoes and fourme d’Ambert, the local blue cheese. A specialty of the Mediterranean port of Sète is tielle, which is filled with octopus. In eastern France, the tourte lorraine combines pork and veal (and sometimes rabbit) into a filling that resembles pâté. And the list goes on.

Across the Channel, where the British have made an art of the meat pie, the pastry of choice is a standard savory crust (pâte brisée), whereas the French prefer flaky puff pastry. I thought about it before creating today’s recipe, and opted for the latter. It makes for a lighter dish and adds, you know, that little je ne sais quoi.

Preparation involves sautéing the chicken, mushrooms and leek or onion and making a Béchamel sauce flavored with nutmeg, white wine and a little fresh thyme. When you’ve filled your pie, you can coat the top with a light egg wash to give it a pretty shine.

To allow steam to escape while the pie is baking, the French often cut a coin-shaped round out of the center of the top crust and insert a rolled piece of paper to create a chimney (cheminée). But I chose instead to cut a few slits into the top and, with leftover pâte feuilletée, added some cut-out diamonds for decoration. No sooner did the pie come out of the oven than it disappeared.

Happy cooking.

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Salade parisienne

This salad is a Paris bistro classic — tender leaves bathed in a light mustard vinaigrette and topped with cubed ham and cheese, boiled potatoes and quartered eggs. Or with other ingredients. Green beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, croutons, you name it. It’s a salad I’ve never encountered in a Parisian home, yet it is omnipresent in Paris cafés. I’ve put off posting about it for years for the simple reason that no one can agree on what it actually is.

Salade parisienne / Paris bistro salad

Looking for answers, I went to my sourcebook, the Grand Larousse gastronomique, and drew a blank. This encyclopedia of French cuisine has five pages of tiny print on the topic of salad, including 34 recipes, several by three-star chefs (Michel Guérard, Joël Robuchon, Alain Senderens, like that). There is what they call salade américaine (with pineapple, sweet corn, chicken, cucumber and egg — like, what?) and salade russe (chopped cooked veggies in mayonnaise), but nary a mention of France’s home-grown salade parisienne.

Further research indicated that the salad got its name from … mushrooms, which by the way are rarely seen in salade parisienne these days. The connection is that standard white mushrooms are known here as champignons de Paris. Introduced in France by the gardener of King Louis XIV, they were cultivated in abandoned quarries on the edges of Paris until the late 19th century, when production shifted elsewhere due to construction of the Métro. (In an odd twist to this tale, some of these mushroom-growing quarries were actually the Paris catacombs, where the bones of millions of Parisians are stored, having been there transferred long ago due to overcrowding of the city’s cemeteries.)

Back to the salad, which has evolved since I first encountered it in Paris nearly 50 years ago. In those days, the ingredients were piled onto a bed of Boston lettuce (laitue), traditionally the most popular salad leaf over here. These days, a mixture of tender leaves such as mesclun is more commonly used. When I lunched last week at a local café, Le Progrès, I took a photo of their menu to give you an idea. Their salade parisienne is composed of mesclun, potatoes, egg, ham and Emmenthal cheese.

How, you may well ask, does this salad differ from the ‘chef’s salad’ served in the States? First, it never comes with iceberg lettuce. Second, the presentation is not the same. But the most important difference is in the dressing. The mustard vinaigrette, with its slight tang of garlic, unites the ingredients and gives the salad a flavor that is sublimely French.

Today’s recipe is very close to the version served at Le Progrès. It’s a hearty salad that can stand on its own at lunchtime or as a light supper, accompanied by fresh crusty bread and, if wine is called for, perhaps a Beaujolais, such as Brouilly or Fleurie. If you’d like to vary the composition, feel free. For a vegetarian version, you could replace the ham with green beans or tomatoes, for example. Ditto for a vegan version — just also eliminate the cheese.

These variations are entirely within the range of what passes as a salade parisienne. While doing online research for this post, I found recipes calling for widely diverse ingredients, such as the one from Elle magazine’s culinary edition. It calls for potatoes, green beans, Boston lettuce, hard-boiled eggs (so far so good) but also green pepper, onions, artichoke hearts, parsley, tomatoes, tuna, anchovies and black olives! This sounds more like a salade niçoise to me. But with salade parisienne, apparently anything goes.

So go wild, use your imagination, and create the Paris bistro salad of your choosing.

Happy cooking.

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Oeufs brouillés à la truffe

For a supremely elegant brunch dish, you can’t do better than scrambled eggs with truffles. Wait! Did she say truffles? But yes, my friends. You may have heard that truffles cost as much per ounce as gold, but that turns out to be false. You may think they’re hard to find, but that’s also not true in these days of online ordering. Preserved truffles are fine in this quick and easy recipe. So go ahead — invite some guests and knock their socks off.

Oeufs brouillés à la truffe / Scrambled eggs with truffles

I’d been wanting to make scrambled eggs with truffles for a very long time, but when I went to my local farmers market recently in search of a truffle I couldn’t find one. Turns out they’re not in season. The season for the prized French black winter truffle begins only in mid-November, while the season for summer truffles ends in mid-September. But a shop in my neighborhood, Signorini Tartufi, sells the summer truffle preserved in a small jar for the remarkably affordable price of 15 euros for 25 grams. I used just one (the larger) of the jar’s two truffles, making the total cost of the dish for two about $10.

Creating the dish is child’s play. All you need is some very fresh eggs, a little cream, salt, pepper and a truffle or two. The night before you plan to cook, clean off the truffle and place it in an air-tight container with the eggs. This allows the truffle’s earthy aroma to penetrate the eggshells, creating depth of flavor.

To cook the eggs… but wait! First you need to figure out what else you’ll be serving and get it all ready ahead of time — as you’ll be making the eggs at the very last minute. For a very French brunch you could start with Champagne and parmesan apéritif chips, then serve the eggs and follow up with a green salad, cheese and a seasonal dessert — for example, in autumn, fresh figs roasted in vanilla cream. To put an American spin on things, start with Bloody Marys and serve the eggs with fresh fruit alongside. Another option, if you’re feeling ambitious, would be to start with the eggs and move on to homemade gravalax and blini. And maybe a shot of vodka to go with. Or use your imagination.

At last it’s time to make the eggs. This takes about three minutes. Slice the truffle thinly, reserve a few slices for garnish, beat the eggs with the cream, salt and pepper, and add the truffle slices. But how to cook them? The French method involves stirring the eggs into a creamy mass in a pan set over boiling water (au bain marie). But this is not strictly necessary. You can also scramble them as usual in a pan coated with melted butter.

And now for a little lore. Down in Provence, friends of mine have a country place not far from Carpentras, where a major black truffle market takes place every Friday in winter. I visited this market once, and it was quite a scene. The truffles are brought to the market by locals who find them with the help of specially trained dogs — chiens truffiers — who nose out the buried treasures but conveniently don’t eat them (as pigs tend to do, which is why they are no longer used). Various species can be trained to perform this task — beagles, spaniels, even rottweilers. One summer my friends’ neighbors got a puppy to train as a truffier, my chief memory of which is that they tied it to a tree and let it bark all night…

The main buyers at the market are professionals, for example local chefs who come to check the quality of the truffles for themselves and bargain over the price. The rate of sale varies according to — you guessed it — supply and demand. Some years are better than others in terms of quantity, while demand is consistently high. But it’s not true now, if it ever was, that truffles are worth their weight in gold. Last February, black truffles were sellling for 800 euros a kilo at the Carpentras market. That works out to 80 euros for 100 grams, or 40 euros for 50 grams. Of course, the retail price is considerably higher — at the Maison de la Truffe in Paris, fresh black truffles were selling last winter for 139.50 euros for 50 grams. Gold, meanwhile, is currently selling for about 54 euros per gram, or 2,700 euros for 50 grams. What did I tell you? Gold costs more.

Nonetheless, fresh truffles are among the world’s most expensive foods. (For an amusing take on the matter, check out this piece from 60 Minutes on CBS.) But don’t let cost considerations or the difficulty of obtaining fresh truffles stop you. As I discovered when researching this piece, preserved truffles at reasonable prices are available online all over the world. And they’re nearly as tasty as the fresh ones.

Happy cooking.

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Crème de la crème, Part I

This week marks the 10th anniversary of The Everyday French Chef. When I started the site, back in 2012, I could never have imagined that readers would check out my recipes more than a million times. Thank you!! I’d like to celebrate by sharing a personal ‘best of’ list of recipes for autumn (I will post similar ‘best of’ lists this year for winter, spring and summer as the seasons change.) And by saluting the site’s most popular recipe…

Salade verte à la française / Green salad, French style

This salad of Boston lettuce bathed in a mustard vinaigrette is a French classic. Elegant in its simplicity, it’s is an unpretentious dish that can grace any meal, from picnic to gala dinner, and that can please omnivores, vegetarians and vegans alike. Yet the traditional version is becoming increasingly hard to find in French restaurants, where what is often served is an ersatz version with iceberg lettuce and – horrors! – a creamy sauce out of a bottle. Making it all the more useful to know how to create it at home.

The recipe for green salad, French style, has been viewed 42,444 times since it was first posted in May 2013 — more than any other recipe. And it’s not just the all-time favorite. It comes top in recipe views over the past year, quarter, month and week. What accounts for this popularity? It could be longevity — like five other recipes among the all-time top 10, it was posted during the site’s first year, giving readers more time to check it out. Or it could be that it’s hard to find an authentic recipe elsewhere for this very authentic French salad.

Other French classics among the top 10 include oeufs durs mayonnaise (hard-boiled eggs with homemade mayonnaise), assiette de crudités (French raw veggie plate), foie gras, escalopes de veau à la crème (veal scallops with cream and mushrooms)  and profiteroles (cream puffs with ice cream and chocolate sauce). You can view the list of the site’s 30 most popular dishes at the bottom of this post.

But first, as we head into autumn, I’d like to share some of my favorite seasonal dishes from among the 475 recipes that have appeared on this site to date. I’ve chosen three dishes from each of the site’s categories — mix and match as you like. Many feature foods that come into season in autumn: figs, walnuts, wild mushrooms, butternut, mussels and so on. Others are end-of-summer dishes taking advantage, for example, of the last of the season’s tomatoes. And others are simply dishes I like to serve at this time of year.

Starters
Aubergines farcies aux noix / Eggplant with walnut sauce
Jambon de pays aux figues / Cured country ham with fresh figs
Poêlee de champignons des bois / Wild mushrooms with herbs

Soups
Soupe au fenouil braisé / Braised fennel soup
Soupe aux betteraves à l’ukrainienne / Ukrainian borshch, French style
Velouté de butternut / Butternut soup

Salads
Poires au parmesan en salade / Salad of pears roasted with parmesan
Salade de l’ambassadeur / Salad with bresaola and late summer fruit
Salade vigneronne / Winemaker’s salad

Eggs
Omelette à la sauge / Omelet with fresh sage
Omelette aux cèpes / Mushroom omelet with porcinis
Soufflé au potiron / Pumpkin soufflé

 

Savory tarts
Pissaladière / Pissaladière
Tarte aux champignons sauvages / Wild mushroom tart
Tarte chèvre-figues-romarin / Goat cheese tart with figs and rosemary

Fish and shellfish
Coquilles saint-jacques aux girolles / Pan-seared scallops with chanterelles
Cabillaud au chorizo / Cod with chickpeas, spinach and chorizo
Moules marinière / Mussels steamed in white wine


Poultry and game

Cailles rôties / Roast quail
Fricassée de poulet aux figues / Chicken with fresh figs
Magret de canard au cassis / Duck with black currant sauce

 

Meat dishes
Entrecôte bordelaise / Pan-seared steak with shallots
Filet de porc au romarin / Roast pork filet with rosemary
Sauté de veau / Veal stewed in white wine


Vegetables

Gratin de potiron Georges Blanc / Georges Blanc’s pumpkin gratin
Purée de céleri rave / Puréed celeriac
Tomates provençales / Roasted tomatoes, Provence style

Pasta and grains
Gnocchis à la sauge / Gnocchi with fresh sage
Penne au potiron et aux noix / Penne with pumpkin and walnuts
Risotto aux champignons sauvages / Wild mushroom risotto



Desserts

Poires au vin et cassis / Pears in red wine and cassis
Tarte aux noix / Walnut tart
Tarte Tatin / Tarte Tatin

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

For an everyday lunch, country ham with figs followed by a porcini omelet and a green salad. For a vegetarian version, butternut soup followed by wild mushroom risotto. For a vegan version, sautéd wild mushrooms with herbs followed by the winemaker’s salad (tender greens with grapes and walnuts).

For an everyday dinner, the ambassador’s salad (tender leaves, late summer fruit and bresaola) followed by mussels steamed in wine. For a vegetarian version, a salad of pears roasted with parmesan followed by penne with pumpkin and walnuts. For a vegan version, Ukrainian borshch, French style, followed by pears in red wine and cassis.

For a weekend dinner, pan-seared scallops with chanterelles followed by roast quail with celeriac purée and winemaker’s salad, and finishing up with a walnut tart. For a vegetarian version, pumpkin soufflé followed by wild mushroom tart and winemaker’s salad, and concluding with tarte Tatin (upside-down apple tart). You could add a cheese plate to either of these menus before dessert. For vegans, eggplant with walnut sauce followed by roasted Provençal tomatoes and, for dessert, pears in red wine and cassis.

And now for the nitty gritty — the top 30 all-time favorites of readers of The Everyday French Chef. The recipes most consulted over the last 10 years come from every category except savory tarts. Some, like couscous royal and coulibiac (elegant fish pie), made the list because they were tweeted by someone with a large following (when this happened with the coulibiac recipe, there were so many hits that it crashed the site). Given its bad rep in parts of the world, foie gras is surprisingly popular. One dish, roast turkey, French style, came about when I was invited to contribute to a Thanksgiving lunch prepared by Georges Blanc, one of France’s most celebrated chefs (he made the turkey). Here’s the list:

1 Salade verte à la française / Green salad, French style
2 Porc grillé aux herbes de Provence / Grilled pork chops with rosemary and thyme
3 Foie gras / Foie gras
4 Rôti de boeuf / Roast beef, French style
5 Escalopes de veau à la crème / Veal scallops with cream and mushrooms
6 Oeufs durs mayonnaise / Hard-boiled eggs with French mayonnaise
7 Assiette de crudités / French vegetable plate
8 Aubergines au four / Oven-roasted eggplant, Mediterranean style
9 Couscous Royal / Couscous with lamb, chicken and merguez
10 Profiteroles / Profiteroles

11 Coulibiac / Coulibiac
12 Julienne de champignons / Mushrooms julienne
13 Pavé de cabillaud tout simple / Pan-seared cod with thyme
14 Soupe de légumes / French vegetable soup
15 Gratin de courgettes / Zucchini gratin
16 Cerises à l’eau de vie / Cherries in brandy
17 Oeufs mimosa / Eggs ‘Mimosa’
18 Sole meunière / Sole meunière
19 Coq au vin / Chicken stewed in red wine
20 Cailles rôtis / Roast quail

21 Artichauts vinaigrette / Artichokes with mustard vinaigrette
22 Poule au pot / Poule au pot
23 Omelette à la sauge / Omelet with fresh sage
24 Steak au poivre / Steak au poivre
25 Omelette au saumon fumé et épinards / Smoked salmon omelet with spinach
26 Sauce vinaigrette à la moutarde / Mustard vinaigrette
27 Soupe paysanne / French peasant soup
28 Turbot au four beurre blanc / Baked turbot with creamy butter sauce
29 Steak maître d’hotel / Pan-seared steak with parsley butter
30 Dinde à la française / Roast turkey, French style

Happy cooking!

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Soupe glacée aux courgettes

What could be better when the temperature soars than a zingy cold soup? This one combines zucchini with tiny lentils, Indian flavorings and mint, and can be topped with coconut milk and/or any number of embellishments. The idea for it popped into my head as yet another heatwave loomed in Paris. With the mercury due to hit 100 degrees – that’s around 40 Celsius – I wanted to make something cool ahead of time…

Soupe glacée aux courgettes / Cold zucchini-lentil soup

As I like Asian food when the weather is hot, I turned to Madhur Jaffrey, my favorite Indian cookbook author. But I didn’t find the kind of soup I had in mind. So I improvised. First I cooked some Indian red lentils with ginger and turmeric, turning them yellow. Then I briefly sautéd zucchini rounds with onion, garlic and ginger, adding ground cumin, coriander seeds, turmeric and cayenne before covering it all with water. I let it simmer for 15 minutes, then puréed it, stirring in the lentils and finely cut fresh mint at the end.

The soup had chilled for just over an hour when my daughter came in from the sweltering heat and found it in the fridge. She helped herself to a bowlful, swirled on some coconut milk, added a couple of cucumber slices and sat down with it in front of the fan. I couldn’t have been more delighted when she pronounced it a success. She was happy, I was happy, and that’s one of the reasons I love to cook – it gives pleasure to other people. But even a dedicated everyday chef needs a break from time to time.

On that note, dear readers, here’s wishing you a lovely conclusion to your summer. The Everyday French Chef will be on vacation until until September, when I plan to mark the 10th anniversary of this site with a special ‘best of’ post. In the meantime, bonnes vacances and…

Happy cooking!

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Confiture de groseilles

When summer strikes, it’s time to head to the market for red currants — or, if you’re lucky enough to have them in your garden, to go on a picking spree. These jewel-like berries make a fabulous jam that is remarkably easy to prepare. Unlike cherries, plums or apricots, red currants do not need pitting. And unlike red currant jelly, the jam does not require the tricky step of squeezing the cooked berries through a cheesecloth (étamine).

Confiture de groseilles / Red currant jam

I’ve been making jam for many, many years, and red currant is one of my favorites. It’s not just the ease of preparation. It’s also the delightfully tangy flavor. Beyond the obvious uses for red currant jam — on toast, buttered bread or croissants — it also marries well with roast beef or chicken, much like cranberry sauce as a condiment with roast turkey.

And here’s another thing. You can use the same recipe with black currants (cassis), which make perhaps my all-time favorite jam. I would have included it today but black currants haven’t come on the market yet. We should start seeing them around mid-July.

In the good old days, when I still had my country cottage in Burgundy, I had both red and black currants growing in the garden in profusion. Every year there was a tense moment in early summer when the berries started to ripen. I could only get down to the cottage on weekends. Who would get the ripe berries first, me or the birds? Sometimes the birds won, but I usually managed to pick enough for a batch or two of jam. And once the jam is in the jars, you can keep it for months or years.

Which brings me to another thing. How much jam is enough for a batch? If you set out to make a dozen jars, the process can seem overwhelming. Well, dear readers, sometimes I only make a jar or two at a time. So far this year I’ve made three pots of strawberry jam and two of red currant. Still to come are apricot jam, plum jam, blackberry jam and fig jam, and maybe some others as well. Preparing a batch of 2-4 jars takes less than an hour. By making small batches, you won’t get exhausted — and by the end of summer, you’ll have a lovely collection of jams in your cupboard.

Now for the good news. Making jam used to be a tedious process that involved melting paraffin to seal jam jars with special lids. I remember my mother, a great jam maker, standing heroically for hours over boiling pots of fruit and wax in the steamy heat of a Wisconsin summer. No more. As I learned upon arriving in France, paraffin is not needed to seal the jars, and no special jars are needed. Here’s how it works.

During the winter months, as you finish a jar of jam — store bought or homemade — you can remove the label and wash it. By the time jam-making season rolls around, you should have a collection of jars ready to go. On jam-making day, you sterilize the necessary number of jars and their lids for ten minutes in boiling water, then set them upside down to dry on a clean dish towel. When the jam is ready, you ladle it into the jars and screw on the lids. A vacuum will form as the hot jam cools, and this will preserve it perfectly.

Finally, I’d like to address the relative merits of jam vs. jelly. Fruits with a high pectin content, like red currants of quince, are often used to make jelly. But while jelly has its charms, making it at home can prove challenging. I learned this the hard way one year when a friend with a quince tree in his garden brought me a huge bagful. Fine, I thought, I’ll make quince jelly. I boiled them up with sugar, as the recipe specified, then attempted to squeeze the fruit through a cheesecloth to obtain the juice. Next thing I knew there was quince all over the ceiling and walls of my kitchen. Never tried that again…

Jam is a different matter — easy to make, and so rewarding in the bleak midwinter when you open a jar and dip in a spoon. The intense burst of flavor as you taste the fruit will transport you back to blissful summer days. And you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you did it yourself. With just fruit and sugar.

Happy cooking.

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Tomates farcies

Stuffed tomatoes are one of the glories of French country cooking. This is peasant food at its finest, and fillings differ considerably. The traditional recipe, which hails from Provence, uses sausage meat, often in combination with beef or veal, and flavored with onion, garlic, herbes de Provence and fresh parsley or basil. In a lighter, vegetarian/vegan version, the tomatoes are stuffed with a filling similar to ratatouille, with a little bulghur added for heft.

Tomates farcies / Stuffed tomatoes

It’s not known who first had the brilliant idea of stuffing veggies with meat, rice or another filling, but the practice goes back a long way, at least to the ancient Greeks. Related dishes include stuffed vine leaves, stuffed zucchini, stuffed eggplant, stuffed cabbage leaves (coming soon), stuffed sweet peppers and even stuffed zucchini flowers.

Fillings for tomatoes have evolved over the years in France. In the old days, leftover meat from boiled dishes such as pot au feu was often chopped to create the filling. Roast beef or chicken were also used. These days recipes generally call for ground meat. For the pork, use a high-quality sausage, such as Italian sausage or saucisse de Toulouse, simply removing the meat from its casing.

For the veggie filling, you can follow the recipe given here — with eggplant, zucchini, onions and garlic — or use your imagination. I’ve seen recipes that use combinations including potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, corn, pine nuts, raisins, goat cheese or olives. In all of these, the tomato pulp is also incorporated.

Both the meat and the veggie fillings presented here are flavored with herbes de Provence — a comination of dried thyme, rosemary and other herbs, for example marjoram, savory or basil. Snipped fresh herbs such as parsley or basil are generally added. If you like a bit of bite, you can also include cayenne.

There are many other French versions of stuffed tomatoes. In one, tomatoes au nid (‘tomatoes in the nest’), the tomatoes are hollowed out and an egg cracked into the center before being roasted. In another, tomates farcies à la reine, the tomatoes are stuffed with poached chicken, mushrooms — and sometimes truffles — in a cream sauce. In cold versions, the tomatoes may be stuffed with tuna or with crème fraîche and fresh herbs.

In other words, you can create the stuffed tomatoes of your choice. And with summer looming, this is a great time to try your hand at this classic French dish.

Happy cooking.

Posted in 8. Vegetables | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Soufflés aux framboises

If you’ve never experienced a raspberry soufflé, it’s like tasting warm, fluffy, raspberry-flavored air. Sweet, light and ephemeral. And the good news is that this elegant dessert is remarkably easy to make. I’m not an expert on dessert soufflés, but when I saw Michel Guérard, one of France’s most venerated chefs, whip up a couple of small raspberry soufflés during a television feature, I knew I had to try to make them myself. Instant success!

Soufflés aux framboises / Raspberry soufflés

Michel Guérard is one of the fathers of nouvelle cuisine, the lighter, fresher version of French cooking that became a sensation in the 1970s. He’s had three stars in the Michelin restaurant guide for more than 40 years, a rare distinction. He’s a genial man — in the France 2 broadcast, he held a freshly picked raspberry in his hand and said it felt like caressing a woman. Back at his kitchen, he showed viewers drawings he’d made in cocoa for Queen Elizabeth when she visited Versailles on her first trip to France.

But Michel Guérard was careful in the broadcast not to give away all of his secrets. For example, he didn’t say how much sugar to add to the soufflé batter and how much to use for coating the cups. I had to wing it. He also omitted to say how to make the sugar adhere to the cups. With butter? With egg white? I asked around — it’s butter.

Another thing. The soufflés go into the oven for just 4-5 minutes — so that the inside stays creamy, he said. I found that astoundingly brief, but guess what? The recipe works. I’ve made it three times now, to resounding applause. And it takes no more than 10 minutes to prepare. You purée the raspberries and push the purée through a sieve to remove the seeds, you add sugar and an egg yolk, you butter and sugar your soufflé cups, you beat three egg whites, you fold the whites and the raspberry mixture together and — here’s the master coup — when you pile the mixture into the cups you even it off with the edge of a spatula. In the oven, they pop up ever so nicely. And they are a treat to eat.

Happy cooking.

Posted in Desserts | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments