What’s up with French food these days? Find out
by buying Patricia Wells's new cookbook The French Kitchen
Cookbook, Recipes and Lessons form Paris to Provence. It’s a
beautiful heavyweight book not just by size but also by content.
Patricia Wells is an American who has lived in Paris since
1980. She is the only woman and only foreigner to serve as
restaurant critic of a major French publication, the newsweekly
L’Express. She was also the restaurant critic for the
International Herald Tribune. Previously, she was a writer and
editor for The Washington Post and The New York Times. She
conducts week-long cooking classes both in her cooking studio in
Paris and at her farmhouse in Provence.
You know that her
credentials qualify her; not only does she have a dozen or so
cookbooks to her credit but the experience of eating, cooking
and writing about such things. In the first few pages there are
many references and photographs of Julia Child, which is a nice
thing. I'm proud to say that I also knew Julia and her late
husband Paul. I enjoyed her company at Boston University, at
AIWF meetings, at her home and at her favorite market, Savenor's
in Cambridge. I'm sure that if Julia was still with us that she
would be equally impressed by this book!
Published by William
Morrow NY, NY the 312 pages are packed with a new view of what
is being cooked in French households these days. Speak about
globalization and one must also think about how cooking has been
influenced. Maybe not the Food Network style, but think about
some classic French recipes being prepared in a simpler way and
some not so French foods being French foods?
Steamed Yuzu Scallops on a Bed of Sesame Sea Greens and Tofu
Soup with Bok Choy, Mint and Scallions definitely go in an Asian
direction, while Rabbit with Mustard and Tarragon, and Fricassee
of Chicken with Fennel, Capers, Artichokes, and Tomatoes stick
to the roots of French cuisine.
Patricia shares her
thoughts in the Introduction section of the book, explaining
some basic premises of cooking. Read the recipe, use the right
knives for the task, taste-taste-taste, mis en place, hot food
served hot and cold food cold and wine in cooking and at the
table. There is no doubt here, it’s all true and is a must read
section as it will set the stage for cooking her recipes
Now to the recipes. I chose to make the Asian
inspired Spicy Thai Pumpkin Soup with Crab and Cilantro, Feta
and Watermelon Salad with Mint and Baby Greens and Fricassee of
Chicken with Fennel, Capers, Artichokes, and Tomatoes that was
mentioned above. Since I'm a professional chef, they all were fairly easy
for me to make, but
they might be challenging for the average cook. But don't let
that stop you---go for it and have fun! The flavors were right
on and they all tasted very good. From this experience, I deem
this cookbook to be inspiring and a must have for your cookbook
library. I'm sure it will be well used and referred to often.
sample of some of the
recipes in the book:
Ingredients for Pan Bagnat
The Finished Sandwich
• 4 servings •
When we acquired our
farmhouse in Provence in 1984, our visits were generally
limited to brief weekend getaways from Paris. The
high-speed train got us there in under three hours, and
for our Sunday night return to the city, a snack was
essential. Pan bagnat, or “bathed bread,” the
traditional Provençal sandwich that can be found at
every bakery and market in the region, became our
standby. It’s inexpensive, includes many of the local
Provençal ingredients, travels well, and is a meal all
on its own. I’d prepare the sandwiches on Saturday after
going to the market, letting the pan bagnat “mature,”
tightly wrapped and weighted down in the refrigerator,
until departure time the next day. Since I generally
find sandwiches too dry, with too much bread in
proportion to the filling, pan bagnat solves the
problem. When properly made, this layered affair is
moist, crunchy, and substantial. Think of it as a salade
niçoise between slices of baguette, a healthy, filling
sandwich that traditionally includes fresh tomato
slices, canned tuna, hard-cooked eggs, fresh peppers,
scallions, anchovies, and black olives. When preparing
the sandwich, some of the crumb is scooped out of the
bread, reducing the proportion of bread and making for a
satisfying moist pan bagnat.
The original pan
bagnat was popularized in Nice in the nineteenth
century, when fishermen carried the sandwiches as
late-morning snacks. At that time the sandwich contained
inexpensive cured anchovies, but later it was “enriched”
with more expensive preserved tuna.
is even a committee (Association pour la Défense et la
Promotion de l’Appellation Pan Bagnat) to fight against
versions of the sandwich that veer off course.
The city of Nice has an official website
(www.panbagnat.com) that lists the ingredients essential
to an authentic pan bagnat: bread, tomatoes, local green
peppers, baby fava beans, black Niçoise olives,
anchovies or tuna, basil, salt, and pepper. The site
also suggests ingredients that are not included in the
official repertoire but are tolerated: hard-cooked eggs,
vinaigrette, artichoke hearts from Nice, radishes,
onions, and garlic for rubbing on the bread.
While the traditional sandwich is made with round, hard
rolls (not soft hamburger buns), today it’s generally
prepared with a classic baguette. The best versions are
overloaded with a filling that must be moist, bathing
the bread to soften it. A quality pan bagnat is a messy
affair, and the filling should fall out as you eat it,
so make sure to supply plenty of napkins. No matter how
it is made, pan bagnat serves as perfect picnic fare,
made for traveling. To this day, the sandwich remains
our favorite train snack, washed down with a few sips of
our own red Côtes-du-Rhône, Clos Chanteduc.
equipment: A serrated grapefruit spoon.
ripe heirloom tomatoes (each about 4 ounces; 125 g),
peeled, cored, and thinly sliced Fine sea salt 1
baguette (about 8 ounces; 250 g) A 7-ounce (200 g)
can of best-quality tuna packed in olive oil (no need to
drain) 1 red bell pepper, trimmed and cut into thin
strips 2 scallions, white and green parts trimmed and
cut into thin rings 2 large eggs, preferably organic
and free-range, hard-cooked, peeled, and cut into thin
crosswise slices 6 oil-cured anchovy fillets 10
best-quality brine-cured black olives, pitted and halved
lengthwise Coarse, freshly ground black pepper
1. Layer the tomatoes, slightly overlapping, on
paper towels. Season them with salt and set aside to
drain for at least 10 minutes.
2. Halve the
baguette lengthwise. With the serrated grapefruit spoon,
remove some of the crumb, being careful not to break
through to the crust. (I place the reserved crumbs on a
baking sheet, spray them with olive oil, and toast them
to use as croutons in a salad.)
3. In a bowl,
crumble the tuna to reincorporate the oil. Add the bell
pepper and scallions, and toss to blend.
the ingredients on the bottom half of the baguette in
this order: tomatoes, tuna mixture, eggs, anchovies, and
olives. Season with black pepper. Cover with the top
half of the baguette. Wrap tightly in foil. Place the
sandwich on a tray, cover with another tray, and weight
it down with a heavy object, such as a cast-iron skillet
or a brick. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or
overnight. At serving time, unwrap and slice. The
sandwich should be moist and crunchy.
and Goat Cheese Tatins
• Makes 24 miniature tatins •
These tasty, savory, miniature pastries are a huge
hit in my cooking classes. There is always a great sense
of satisfaction when one removes a tray of these
fragrant, golden nuggets from the oven. These are best
warm from the oven but are also delicious at room
temperature. They can serve as appetizers or as sides to
a simple green salad.
equipment: A 2 3/4-inch (7
cm) round biscuit cutter; 2 baking sheets lined with
baking parchment; a food processor; 2 nonstick petit
four molds or mini muffin tins, each with twelve 2
1/2-inch (6.5 cm) cups, or a 24-cup mini-muffin pan.
A 14-ounce (400 g) sheet of Blitz Puff Pastry (page
294) or purchased all-butter puff pastry, thawed (see
Note) 4 tablespoons (60 g) unsalted butter 1 pound
(500 g) onions, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into
thin half-moons Fine sea salt Coarse, freshly
ground black pepper 4 ounces (125 g) soft fresh
goat’s milk cheese Grated zest of 1 lemon, preferably
organic 3 large eggs, preferably organic and
free-range, lightly beaten 1 teaspoon fresh lemon
thyme or regular thyme leaves Fleur de sel, for
1. Evenly center two racks in the oven.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
2. With the
biscuit cutter, cut out 24 rounds of pastry. (Note: you
will get the most from the pastry if you begin on the
outside and cut rings as tightly as possible from the
outside. Then work from the next large inside ring. I
usually get 31 rounds out of a sheet.) Arrange the
rounds side by side on the baking sheets. Prick them
with a fork and freeze for at least 10 minutes.
3. In a skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Add the
onions and a pinch of salt, and sweat—cook, covered,
over low heat until soft and translucent—about 10
minutes. Season with pepper.
4. In the food
processor, combine the goat cheese, lemon zest, eggs,
and half of the thyme leaves and process to blend. Add
the cheese mixture to the onions in the skillet and stir
to blend. Taste for seasoning.
5. Spoon a
tablespoon of the mixture into each mold or muffin cup.
Cover each one with a round of pastry.
the molds or tins in the oven and bake until the pastry
is puffed and golden, about 25 minutes. Remove from the
oven and let cool slightly. Then remove them from the
cups and turn them over, pastry side down. Serve warm or
at room temperature, garnished with the remaining thyme
leaves and fleur de sel.
wine suggestion : The
mineral-rich flavors of a blend of Marsanne, Clairette,
Ugni Blanc, and Bourboulenc with their touch of spice
make Domaine du Paternel Cassis Blanc de Blancs a
perfect palate opener to pair with the tatins.
the secret : Make sure that you cut the pastry slightly
larger than the diameter of the molds, since the pastry
may shrink in baking.
variations : Replace the
goat cheese with grated cheddar and bits of bacon; Feta
cheese; crabmeat and tarragon; or peas, scallions, and
pancetta. Add herbs. Bake as simple, lighter,
“quiche-like” bites without the pastry.
note : In
our tests, we have preferred Dufour brand frozen puff
pastry, available at most specialty supermarkets. See
www.dufourpastrykitchens.com. Be sure to leave ample
time for thawing frozen dough, at least 6 hours in the
Cucumber and Avocado soup with Avocado Sorbet
• 8 servings •
Yveline is our good friend and
neighbor in Provence, and she is always coming up with
simple local recipes that we love. This is one of her
summertime creations. We sometimes add a dollop of
avocado sorbet, a fine act of gilding the lily.
equipment: A blender or a food processor.
European cucumber (about 1 pound; 500 g), chopped (do
not peel) 2 large ripe avocados, halved, pitted,
peeled, and cubed 2 cups (500 ml) Homemade Chicken
Stock (page 283) 1 cup (45 g) chopped cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon fine sea salt Grated zest and juice of 1
lime, preferably organic Avocado Sorbet (recipe
1. In the blender or food
processor, combine the cucumber, half of the cubed
avocado, the chicken stock, 3/4 cup (34 g) of the
cilantro and the salt, and process to blend. Taste for
seasoning. Chill for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
2. At serving time, garnish with the remaining 1/4
cup (11 g) cilantro, the rest of the avocado, and the
lime juice and zest. If you like, add a spoonful of the
sorbet to each bowl.
• Makes 32 squares •
rich honey squares satisfy with just a single bite. And
they are so pretty once they come from the oven that you
will proudly announce, “I made these!”
A 9 1/2 x 9 1/2-inch (24 x 24 cm) baking pan; baking
parchment; a food processor.
Pastry 3/4 cup
(120 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour 1/2 cup (45 g)
almond meal (see Notes) 3 tablespoons (35 g)
unrefined cane sugar, preferably organic, vanilla
scented (see Notes) 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt 6
tablespoons (90 g) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into
cubes 1 large egg yolk, preferably organic and
free-range 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Topping 4 tablespoons (60 g) unsalted butter 1 cup
(80 g) sliced almonds 1/3 cup (30 g) candied orange
or lemon peel, preferably organic, cut into tiny cubes
1/3 cup (65 g) unrefined cane sugar, preferably organic
2 tablespoons intensely flavored honey, such as chestnut
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Center a
rack in the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
2. Line the baking pan with baking parchment,
letting the parchment hang over the sides. (This will
make it easier to remove the dessert once it’s baked.)
3. Prepare the pastry: In the food processor,
combine the flour, almond meal, sugar, and salt. Pulse
to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture
resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg yolk, vanilla, and
1 tablespoon of water. Pulse to incorporate. Add 2 to 3
tablespoons of water, tablespoon by tablespoon, through
the feed tube, pulsing until just before the pastry
forms a ball. You may not need all the water.
Turn the dough out into the prepared baking pan. Press
the dough evenly onto the bottom of the pan. Place in
the oven and bake until the pastry begins to brown
around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes.
5. While the
pastry is baking, prepare the topping: In a saucepan,
melt the butter over low heat. Add the almonds, candied
peel, sugar, honey, and vanilla extract. Heat just until
the ingredients are incorporated.
6. Remove the
pan from the oven and spread the almond-honey mixture
evenly over the pastry. Return the pan to the oven and
bake until the topping is a deep gold, 12 to 15 minutes.
7. Remove from the oven. Transfer to a rack to cool
in the pan . Once it has cooled, remove from the pan and
cut into 32 squares. (Store in an airtight container at
room temperature f or up to 3 days.)
• Almond meal (sometimes called almond flour) is
made from whole, unblanched (skin-on) almonds. For this
recipe, whole, unblanched almonds can be finely ground
in a food processor. Do not over-process or you may end
up with almond butter.
• To make vanilla-scented
sugar: Flatten 1 or several moist vanilla beans. Cut
them in half lengthwise. With a small spoon, scrape out
the seeds and place them in a small jar; reserve the
seeds for another use. Fully dry the vanilla bean halves
at room temperature. Place the dry halves in a large jar
with a lid, and cover with sugar. Tighten the lid and
store for several weeks to scent and flavor the sugar.
Use in place of regular sugar when preparing desserts.