Category Archives: The News From France

Potage aux Courgettes

Maundy Thursday at St. John's Cathedral

 

 

This simple cream of zucchini soup, based on a traditional provençal recipe, is what I would definitely call a “crowd pleaser.” I’ve made this soup for groups ranging in size from myself and my partner, to a dozen members of my family surrounding a craftily-elongated dining room table, all the way up to 120 people sitting at a liturgical meal forty feet under the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral…which is precisely what I did last night. I’m a congregant at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Los Angeles’ West Adams district. Throughout this Lent I have taken part in the cathedral’s formation program, which is a series of intensive classes preparing individuals seeking baptism, confirmation, reception from another denomination, or reaffirmation of faith. This past year has been incredibly wonderful and exciting but has also been profoundly transitional for me. Within the past twelve months I’ve changed jobs four times, have moved from one city to another very different city, have lived with a significant other for the first time in my life, and have finally returned to school (hence the long delay since my last posting). My life is now settling down and I felt myself finding my bearings in Los Angeles. The many changes of the past year have helped me to evaluate the function and value of many of the things that had tacked themselves onto my identity as an adult. As I evaluated who I was in the context of Los Angeles I wanted to take time to evaluate what role, if any, my faith now played in my life. Throughout Lent I’ve done just that. I find myself serenely comfortable with my identity as an Episcopalian and feel recharged and reminded of a values system I am proud of and hope sincerely to develop as a characteristic of who I am.

The candidates who have taken part in the Formation Classes will be baptized, confirmed, received, or reaffirmed by the Bishop tomorrow evening at the Great Vigil of Easter. One of the expectations of the candidates was that they would help serve at the cathedral’s celebration of Maundy Thursday. Last night St. John’s brought the last supper to life with a touching combination of liturgy, worship, and fellowship. The pews were removed from the nave of the cathedral and a great banquet was set. The congregation sat together at table as the lessons were read and the sermon was given, then the congregation came together for the washing of feet after which communion was given. After communion the meal was served.

Because of my training Fr. Dan and Fr. Mark, the deans of the cathedral, approached me about preparing the meal. They told me their vision: a Mediteranean feast complete with trays overflowing with cheeses, nuts, olives, figs, dates, and dried fruits, a simple vegetarian soup, a big salad, loaves of fresh bread, and for dessert more trays overflowing with grapes, fruits, sweetened breads, and chocolate. Almost immediately I knew Potage aux Courgettes would be perfect. The soup is at once an elegant revelation, balanced and decadent…and then a simple, homey manifestation of “comfort food.” The soup is a long-time favorite, something I make when I want to feel safe and secure…something I’ve wanted many times over the tumultuous past twelve months. And perhaps more than anything that’s what I wanted to share with the congregation of St. John’s: the feeling of comfort, love, and the certainty that every one of us is cared for. I can think of no better medium to have shared this message.

Potage aux Courgettes

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds od zucchini, tips removed and cut into 1/2-inch thick rondelles

1/2 yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock

1 1/2 tablespoons seasoned salt (such as Lawry’s)

1/2 stick of butter

freshly cracked black pepper (to taste)

1 bunch of fresh basil, stems removed and coarsely chopped

2 healthy pinches of ground nutmeg

1 1/2 cups of half and half

Directions:

In a soup pot set over medium/medium-high heat melt the butter and heat just until the foam subsides.

Add the onions and saute, stirring occasionally to brown.

The onions are done when they look like this, golden brown...maybe a little crispy on some of the edges.

Add the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT FOR THE HALF AND HALF (reserve it for later) to the pot. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Once simmering reduce the heat to medium/medium-low and cover. Cook for 30-40 minutes at just around a simmer until the zucchini are very tender (pierce easily on a fork and almost fall apart. Once done turn off heat and allow to cool to room temperature, covered.

Once cooled to room temperature, ladle the soup into a blender. Do this in batches, fill the blender about half-way full on each batch to make sure the soup purees evenly.

puree for 20-25 seconds.

Once all of the soup has been pureed, pour back into the soup pot and return the heat to medium.

Add the half and half. Stir the soup slowly until it returns just to a simmer. Take care to continue stirring the soup, the half and half will curdle if left still.

 

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The News From France: Tartelettes aux Champignons

Buttery, flakey, and Deeply Delicious

These Parisian mushroom tarts are insanely delicious. Buttery, flakey puff pastry encapsulates a rich and deeply flavorful mushroom, proscuitto, port wine, and garlic mixture that has other-worldly flavor. Serve as a wonderfully warming autumn dinner or as a welcome change of routine for lunch or dinner when the holidays arrive.

 

Ingredients:

For the Mushroom Filling

1/4 ounce dried cépe mushrooms

1/4 ounce dried morel mushrooms

1/2 cup vegetable stock

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 shallots, chopped

2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped

1/2 pound fresh white mushrooms

1 1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour

1/4 cup heavy cream

pinch of cayenne

pinch of nutmeg

coarse kosher salt

1 or 2 thick slices of dry-cured ham such as Bayonne or Proscuitto

1/4 cup port wine

1 egg lightly whipped with 1 tablespoon of whole milk

For the Puff Pastry

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

3/4 cup cold unsalted butter

Preparation:

1. Make the Puff Pastry

Start the dough

Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center.

melt two tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat taking care not to brown the butter.

Add the water, salt, vinegar, and melted butter into the well

Whisk the liquid briefly to mix

Using a fork gently fold the flour into the liquid

take care not to overmix, the less mixed the more flakey

You're done mixing when the dough looks like this.

When mixed knead the dough a few times with the palm of your hand

Form the dough into a ball and chill for about two hours

Add in the butter block

Lightly flour a large work surface

roll out to a rough rectangle about 1/4-inch thick

add the chilled butter to the very center third of the (rough) rectangle

Folding like a business letter fold the bottom third of the dough up over the chilled butter in the middle third

Then fold the upper third down over the dough covering the butter. Chill for 30 minutes

Do a series of three roll-outs, three-way-folds, and chills

Pull the chilled dough-and-butter "letter" out onto a lightly floured surface

roll out to a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick

fold the rolled-out dough rectangle back into a business letter starting with the bottom third...

...then folding over the upper third

Chill for thirty minutes. REPEAT THIS PROCESS OF ROLLING OUT, RE-FOLDING, AND CHILLING THREE MORE TIMES.

At the end of the fourth roll-out leave the rolled-out rectangle without re-folding and chill another 30 minutes

2. Prepare the mushroom filling

Combine the dried mushrooms with the stock and heat over medium heat to…

A simmer. Turn off the heat and let the mushrooms cool off for 30-60 minutes, this allows the flavors to infuse.

Chop the garlic and shallots

Slice the white mushrooms

Your ingredients will look like this

Cut rounds out of the rolled-out, chilled puff pastry

And line the tartelette molds you are using. Tonight I'm using a cupcake pan because I left my tartelette pans at the bakery where I am the pastry chef.

A cupcake pan will yield about 5 tartelettes, tartelette pans will yield about 4. Line the pans completely

For decoration I used a fluted-edge pastry roller to cut out leaves. Chill the lined pans, decorations, and remaining dough while you complete the next steps

Drain the liquid out of the mushrooms in the pan. Set the mushrooms aside. Reserve the liquid

Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat

Add the shallots and garlic

Sauté until golden

Add the sliced white mushrooms

Sauté until golden. Remove to a bowl and reserve.

In the same pan over medium heat melt two tablespoons of butter

Sprinkle the flour over the butter

Prepare a blonde-colored roux. For details on the production and use of roux check out http://reclaimingthegoodnameoftheepicurean.com/2011/10/10/back-to-basics-blonde-and-brown-roux/

Add the reserved mushroom/vegetable stock and stir until the roux is combined with the liquid over medium heat

Allow the sauce to chicken slightly, stirring constantly over medium heat

Pour the dried mushrooms you cooked in the stock back in along with the Sauteéd white mushrooms, garlic, and shallot

Stir until combined

Remove the thick, golden mushroom and sauce mixture to a bowl.

Coarsely chop the dried ham or proscuitto

Heat another two tablespoons of butter in the same pan you've been using, when hot add the ham and sauté until golden and crispy

Deglaze the pan by pouring in the port wine and, over medium heat scraping all the dark little flavor nuggets off the bottom of the pan

It will look like this and smell amazingly good

Keeping the heat at medium add the saucy mushroom mixture back into the pan

Stir over medium heat just until combined

Fill the lined tartelette pans just to the top. Take a pastry brush and brush the exposed top of the puff pastry lining the pans with the egg-and-milk mixture (professionals refer to this as "egg wash")

Cut circles out of the remaining puff pastry and cover the mushroom mixture, pressing the dough down over the egg-washed pastry in the pan. Affix the decorations to the top and gently brush egg wash over the tops. The egg wash gived the tartelettes their golden brown color

Bake the tartelettes in a pre-heated 400-degree oven for 20-30 minutes. If you like your pastries darker cook them until they look like mine, but just pull them out sooner for a lighter, more golden appearance. When the crust is the color you like they're done.

Enjoy with a nice, slightly spicy French red wine. Bordeaux lends itself perfectly to this dish. I would recommend Château Lalande 2001 Bordeaux, for a review of this bottle check out  http://reclaimingthegoodnameoftheepicurean.com/2011/10/05/hump-day-vices-chateau-lalande-an-exceptional-value-from-bordeaux/. Bon Appétit

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The News from France: Crab Quiche

A hefty slice of crab quiche served along Salade Verte and some fresh slices of baguette.

Ingredients:

Pastry crust for one pie shell (I will provide a recipe and technique for preparing a pie dough in the future, but in the meantime a store-bought frozen pie shell or one from your favorite recipe will work fine. I’m fortunate to have leftover pastry from a pie in the freezer)

3 tablespoons of butter

One large shallot

8 ounces of cleaned crab meat

2 tablespoons of dry vermouth or madeira

kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

3 eggs

One cup of heavy cream

3 tablespoons of tomato paste

One 4-ounce chunk of fresh Gruyère cheese, finely grated with a microplane.

Preparation:

On a lightly floured work surface work the pastry dough into a flat, round disk.

Roll out into a circle

Transfer the rolled out dough to a pie pan and pressing the edges between your thumb and index/middle fingers carefully scallop the edges of the pie pan.

Set another pie pan on top of the prepared dough and fill with pie weights. Since I do not own pie weights I use some silverware. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 12 minutes. Remove when finished and cool with the weighted pie pan on top.

Meanwhile mince the shallot. Begin by splitting it lengthwise, then...

Cut a series of lengthwise slices into the shallot, like so, approximately 1/8 inch apart

cut another series of crosswise slices across the lengthwise slices so that you end up with a bunch of 1/8-inch by 1/8-inch pieces of shallot.

Repeat the process for the other half of the shallot. Your shallots will look like this when done.

over medium-high heat melt butter in a sauté pan

When butter is completely melted and the bubbles have just subsided add the minced shallot and sauté for a minute or two until the shallots are cooked but not browned

Meanwhile dreain the excess juices from your crabmeat. I bought cleaned crab claws from Whole Foods Market, they're delicious.

Add the crab meat to the butter and shallots in the pan and sauté for another minute or two

Add a heav pinch of salt and a pinch of freshly cracked black pepper

Deglaze the pan with the vermouth or madeira

Turn the heat to high and quickly boil the liquor down for a minute or two. After a minute or two remove from heat and cool slightly.

Meanwhile whisk together the eggs, cream, tomato paste, a heavy pinch of salt and a healthy grinding of fresh black pepper. When the crab in the pan has cooled slightly whisk it into the egg mixture.

Remove the pan with weights from the top of the pre-baked pan. It should look like this, cooked a little and only slightly browned.

Pour the egg and crab mixture into the pre-baked pie shell

Cover evenly with finely grated Gruyère. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 25-30 minutes.

After 25 minutes mine looks like this. I prefer my baked goods a bit darker, but if you prefer a lighter appearance remove from the oven just a couple of minutes sooner.

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The News From France: Gratin de Quennelles de Poisson

Fish quenelles, or more specifically quenelles gratinéed in white wine sauce is a standard luncheon dish served across France, but most notably at the cafes and bistros of Paris. The delicate, saline quality of the white fish (traditionally Pike) is extracted and extrapolated upon with the influence of black truffles, pepper, butter, cream, and gruyere.

The richness of the dish sheds light on why the French are notorious for their small portions, but the richness of the dish sheds absolutely no light on their small proportions (which they are equally notorious for). How a culture can turn heavy cream, decadent amounts of butter, and every form of fat and sugar available into something consistently light and refreshing is beyond the scope of science to explain. All I can say is this dish will make you sublimely happy and will transform a few sad little cans of tuna sitting in the back of your cupboard into an entrée worthy of ironing a tablecloth for. Chill your most mineral-rich dry white wine and loosen your belt just a notch. Bon appétit!

Ingredients

For the quenelles:

Coarse kosher salt

Ground white pepper

4 tablespoons of butter

3/4 cup flour

2 large eggs

1 1/4 pounds well-chilled skinless lean white fish, drained well if taken from a can

1-8 tablespoons of heavy cream

2 tablespoons of chopped black truffle

For the sauce and the Gratiné

5 tablespoons of butter

7 tablespoons of flour

1 1/2 cups simmering whole milk

1 1/2 cup simmering white wine fish stock, or a combination of equal parts white wine, dry vermouth, and the juice from tuna cans, clam juice, or something of the like combined with a clove of garlic, two slices of lemon, chopped shallot or white onion, salt, pepper, and butter

Kosher salt

ground white pepper

Approximately 1 cup of heavy whipping cream

the juice of two lemons

Approximately 3 tablespoons of grated Gruyère cheese

1 tablespoon of butter cut into pea-sized dots

Preparation

1. Prepare the pâte à choux

Measure out 4 tablespoons of butter. I am using this very nice French butter as a sort of experiment to see if using a local butter relative to the dish I'm preparing has any effect on the final product...here's a clue: it totally does.

Measure out the flour by scooping the flour into the measuring cup then...

...Level off with the flat surface of a butter knife

Bring the butter to a simmer with one cup of water over medium heat

remove the pan from the heat

Add the flour all at once...

...mix thoroughly off the heat. Add the eggs one at a time and...

...continue to beat vigorously until well combined off the heat.

place the saucepan into a bowl of ice water and continue to stir for about four minutes until well-chilled.

Chill the pâte à choux in the refrigerator until ready to use.

2. Prepare the fish to be puréed

Thoroughly drain the juice from each can of tuna into a receptacle and reserve for use as a substitute for white wine fish stock

Place the very dry white fish in a food processor

Add the cream, truffles, white pepper, and kosher salt. If you don't have whole black truffles on hand (if you do I'll be surprised, impressed, and will probably want to be your friend) Whole Foods has a nice, relatively inexpensive alternative in the form of black truffle shavings in cream. It's $13.00 per can but when you compare it to the hundreds you would spend on whole truffles it's a steal and since the recipe calls for cream as it is your can replace a portion of the cream called for with the cream in the container and supplement it with extra cream as necessary.

Add the chilled pâte à choux to the ingredients in the food processor and...

Process for about a minute or until smooth

test a spoonful in a pot of lightly simmering water. Simmer for a minute or two, taste, and take note of what is missing texture and flavor-wise.

If the mixture feels too dense add a little more cream, but it is far better to have too little cream versus having too much cream when it comes time to form your quenelles. Adjust the seasoning by adding more salt or white pepper. The key is to have the spices extract the flavor of the truffles without overpowering them.

Transfer to a metal bowl and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

3. Prepare the sauce

Crush the clove of garlic with the flat side of your standard 10-12-inch French knife

Combine equal parts white wine, dry vermouth, and drained tuna water with the crushed clove of garlic, two slices of lemon, white pepper and salt to taste, and about three tablespoons of butter. Transfer to a medium saucepan over high heat

Bring to a high simmer and reduce demi sec (by half)

Meanwhile juice 2-3 lemons...

...strain through a fine mesh seive

Prepare a blonde roux by combining the butter and flour over medium heat. Take care not to color the roux. My example is dark brown because in a feeble attempt to make this dish "healthy" I used whole-grain whole-wheat flour.

Off the heat add 1 1/2 cups of the reduced white wine fish stock replacement. Mix until combined.

Add the simmering milk

Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until thickened

Thin out with the heavy cream (oxymoron, I know)

Season to taste with lemon juice, white pepper, and kosher salt. Set aside.

4. Prepare the quenelles

Over low/medium-low heat bring half fish stock replacement and half salted water to a very, very low simmer

Fill and oven-safe and fire-proof dish with 1.4 inch of the sauce, set aside

To prepare the fish quenelles take two teaspoons in your hands and fill one slightly with the fish purée

To prepare the fish quenelles take two teaspoons in your hands and fill one slightly with the fish purée

Turn the mixture over forming one clean side, then...

...form a second clean side...

...then ...finish by forming a football-like-shaped three-sided quenelle.

invert one of the spoons and gently drop the quenelles into the lightly simmering poaching liquid.

Poach the quenelles for about 20 minutes, take care that the poaching liquid remains just below a simmer. If the simmer gets too vigorous the quenelles will break apart and dissolve

Gently remove the quenelles from the poaching pan with a slotted spoon and...

...lay in a fanned-out circular design on top of the 1/4-inch of sauce in your prepared dish

The layout of the quenelles should be tight and visually appealing, in a design appropriate to the relative shape of your pan. THis dish will be served in-pan at the table.

Brush the rest of the sauce over the quenelles in the pan

grate a generous amount of gruyère over the entire dish

Move the pan into a pre-heated broiler and gratin for 15-20 minutes or until the dish is a deep golden brown...

...like so. The top will be crispy and the mass will be bubbling, hot, and highly aromatic

Serve with a tasty, complimentary contrasting vegetable, a starch like rice pilaf, a nice, crusty French baguette if you have one, and a dry, mineraly French white wine

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The News From France: Sole Bonne Femme

I can scarcely think of a dish which is a more representative example of French cuisine as a whole. Simple, superior ingredients are prepared in such a way so as to respect the true flavors of the individual elements while bringing them together for a two-part experience. You first experience the subtle briny flavor of the fillets of sole, the silky richness of the sauce, and the earthiness of the mushrooms individually. As the flavors infuse in your mouth you suddenly find yourself in the midst of an elevated experience…the silkiness of the sauce somehow simultaneously highlights the briny character of the sole while mellowing it into buttery goodness and the earthiness of the mushrooms cuts through that flavor dichotomy to make a rounded, balanced ringing in your mouth as you savor.

Sole Bonne Femme shows us the heart of what us Francophile epicureans call “La Belle Cuisine” (which is to say French cuisine as a whole) is not a dead and lofty set of rules for preparing expensive, high-brow chow. French cooking is a living, breathing, highly accessible art form. None of the ingredients called for in this dish are especially expensive, in fact I believe I spent less than $20 for everything. None of the preparation techniques are beyond the scope of even the most novice home cook. All that is needed is the time to taste the sauce, your own intuition to adjust the seasoning, the care to gently handle the delicate fillets, and the soulfulness to invest an hour or so to create something truly delicious that you can share with the person or people that you love. It’s no wonder the French named this dish literally “Good Woman Fish,” for if a woman has indeed prepared this dish for you she is worthy of the name and you can consider yourself fortunate to receive the pure part of herself she invested in serving it to you.

Ingredients

For the Poached Fillets of Sole

3/4 pound or 3 1/2 cups fresh mushrooms, cleaned

4 tablespoon butter

freshly cracked peppercorns

a pinch of salt

2 1/2 pounds fillets of sole

1 shallot

1 bottle dry white wine

2 cups of dry vermouth

1/2 cup of clam juice

For the Sauce

3 Tablespoons of butter

4 Tablespoons of flour

1 cup of reduced liquid prepared for poaching the fillets of sole and reserved for the sauce

3/4 cup whole milk

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup whipping cream

1-2 lemons

4-8 additional butter

For the Mushroom Garniture

8-10 whole, medium-small white button mushrooms, stems removed and thoroughly cleaned

salt

1 lemon

1 Tablespoon of butter

Directions

1. Poach the fillets of sole.

Begin by thoroughly washing your mushrooms, once washed carefully brush them with a very clean towel to remove all dirt and impurities

Slice all of the mushrooms thinly with a standard 10 to 12-inch French knife, stems included. Slicing the mushrooms first makes it far easier to uniformly chop them in the next step.

Roughly chop the sliced mushrooms by rapidly running the French knife back and forth across your pile of mushrooms.

The mushrooms are ready when they look like this.

Heat a generous tablespoon of butter in a sauté pan until just after the bubbles subside.

Sauté the chopped mushrooms in the hot butter for about 3-5 minutes. They should not brown. They will look like this when they are ready. Season with a pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of fresh black pepper. Set aside.

Once the mushrooms are ready and waiting lay out your fillets of sole. You will notice that there is a milky, smooth side, and a darker, less milky side. Here I have pictured the fillets with the milky side up and I have turned one over to the darker side to demonstrate. You will be serving these with the prettier, milky side up so bear this in mind as we progress.

Season each side with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Be gentle when handling the fillets, they are fairly delicate and with fish especially it's most appealing to serve complete, undamaged pieces to demonstrate quality.

Once the fillets are seasoned you're going to transfer the prepared chopped mushrooms into a fireproof, oven-safe dish that you are comfortable serving from at the table. I used my fish poaching pan, an enameled pan such as a Le Creuset (for those fortunate enough to own one) or something of the like will work well.

Evenly spread the mushrooms over the entire surface of the bottom. The mushrooms are going to keep the fillets of sole from touching the bottom of the pan and will keep them tender and moist so be sure no large parts of the bottom are left exposed.

Gently lay the fillets of sole on top of the mushrooms in the pan milky-side up, you may gently overlap the pieces as I have so that they all fit. Place in the refrigerator to keep chilled as you prepare the poaching liquid.

Peel the shallot, cut off the dirty non-root tip. Cut several small slices into the shallot lengthwise with the grain as I have with out actually cutting the pieces off of the root end.

Turn your knife and carefully cut one horizontal slice in the same direction as the lengthwise slices, this helps you get smaller shallot pieces in the next step.

Carefully cut several cross-wise slices over the lengthwise slices so that you end up with a very small mince of shallot. Mince the entire shallot in this fashion.

Combine the shallot, bottle of white wine, two cups of dry vermouth, 1/2 cup clam juice, salt, pepper and about 3 tablespoons of butter.

Bring to a healthy simmer over medium-high heat and reduce the poaching liquid by half. This condenses the flavors, cooks off the alcohol, and tames the harshness of the vermouth. While the liquid reduces pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Once the liquid has reduced pour it into the poaching pan over the fillets and mushrooms taking care not to disturb or damage either.

Cover the liquid, sole, and mushrooms with parchment. Make sure the parchment is completely pressed against the water. This prevents moisture from escaping and keeps the fillets completely submerged in the poaching liquid...which prevents them from drying out.

Over the lowest possible flame bring the fillets, mushrooms, and liquid up to a very gentle simmer. Periodic bubbles should barely be breaking on the surface.

Move the pan into the oven and cook for 10 minutes. Only 10 minutes! Remember the fillets are very thin and they have already been cooking in the hot liquitd. DON'T FORGET TO SET YOUR TIMER!

The Sole Bonne Femme will look like this when it is done. Keep the parchment on the fish and a cover over the pan until ready to serve.

2. While the Sole poaches prepare the sauce

Prepare a roux by combining the butter and flour over medium heat until cooked together and platinum blonde in color.

Meanwhile whip together the egg yolks and cream

Over medium-high heat add the reserved poaching liquid to the hot roux.

Add the milk and stir thoroughly

Simmer over medium-high heat for about a minute

By droplets whip the hot roux, poaching liquid, and milk mixture into the cold cream and yolk mixture. Be sure to do this slowly and keep your whip moving because if you add too much hot liquid to the egg yolks you'll end up with a rather disgusting batch of scrambled eggs instead of a tasty sauce.

Season to taste with the juice of 1-2 lemons, a few cracks of black pepper, and salt. Keep warm over a very low flame in a small saucepan until ready to serve.

3. Prepare the mushroom garniture

Flute the button mushroom caps by cutting small, diagonal slits with your paring knife first directly into the surface of the mushroom like so....

...then by cutting another cut behind the same cut at the same diagonal but pitched slightly in so that you get a small sliver of mushroom to remove.

Each slit should look like this

Remove the small sliver of mushroom

Flute around the edge of each of the mushrooms on all of the mushrooms.

Heat 1/3 cup of water, a pinch of salt, 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice, and a tablespoon of butter in a sauté pan until hot.

Toss the mushrooms in the hot pan to completely cover them.

Cover the pan and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. They will look like this when ready to serve.

4. Serving

Pour the hot sauce over the hot sole in the pan

Garnish the top with the cooked fluted mushrooms

Pour the additional sauce into a sauce boat and put on the table.

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Inspiration for Tomorrow’s Post: Julia Child Prepares Sole Bonne Femme

The best part is when she shakes the big, dead sole in front of the camera.

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The News from France: Preparing a Classical Ratatouille

The completed Ratatouille ready to be served is silky without being fatty and incredibly good served hot and fresh or served chilled the next day once the flavors have fully infused.

A Ratatouille is a simple Provençal vegetable stew made of eggplant, tomatoes, and bell peppers. It is hearty, extremely good for you, and what’s more important the stew is very, very good to eat. My preparation is based upon the classic recipe I learned at Le Cordon Bleu with some modern adaptations taken from The Gourmet Cookbook. This version of Ratatouille is light and fresh while retaining the deep, complex flavor of heavier versions. I achieve this balance by taking the time to sauté each of the vegetables individually before finally stewing them together with the rich, earthy tomato base. The result is a tapestry of flavor, with the individual character of all of the different vegetables respected while they come together to achieve a higher purpose.

Special Equipment:

A standard 10 or 12-inch French knife

A standard paring knife

A large, fireproof enamel pot or a cast-iron dutch oven.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes

1 large head of garlic

20 fresh basil leaves

1 cup of fresh, flat-leaf Italian parsley

1 1/2 cups of extra virgin olive oil

coarse kosher salt

freshly cracked black pepper

2 large yellow onions

3 assorted bell peppers

4 medium zucchini

Preparation:

1. I start by peeling and chopping the tomatoes, mincing the garlic, chopping the parsley, tearing the basil leaves in half.

a.) How to properly peel tomatoes:

The following is a classical French technique for peeling tomatoes called tomato concassé. The process is fast and incredibly easy. You will need a small pot of boiling water, a stainless steel bowl of ice water, a pair of cooking tongs, and a small paring knife.

Begin by cutting a small plus sign into the non-stem end of the tomatoes with your paring knife. The cut will be approximately 1/4 inch deep and 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch.

Repeat the process for all of the tomatoes.

Using a pair of tongs submerge each of the tomatoes into boiling water for about 30 seconds.

Shock the tomatoes by moving them directly from the boiling water into an ice water bath. This stops them from cooking and loosens the skin.

The tomato skins fall off easily. Completely peel each tomato in this fashion and discard the skins.

Chop the tomatoes like so and set aside.

b.) Properly mincing garlic:

A properly trained cook has no need for an expensive garlic press or any such gadget. All that is needed is a basic 10 or 12-inch French (or Chef) knife and a cutting board. Garlic presses are cumbersome, time-wasting contraptions waste much of the garlic in each clove and worse yet rob you of much of the flavorful garlic oil this technique retains.

We begin by breaking the bead apart with our hands and throwing away as much of the papery skin as possible, retaining the cloves.Smash the garlic cloves one by one with the flat side of your knife, pull the garlic meat out of the peel and discard the peels.

Pull all of the smashed garlic into a tight mound and begin mincing. The mincing technique is done by holding your knife like so and running it rapidly of the the garlic in an up-and-down motion until the mound is reduced to a uniform mass of very finely minced garlic.

The garlic is ready when it looks like this, set aside with the tomatoes.

c.) Chopping the parsley

Cut away roughly one cup of the parsley and discard the stems.Chop the parsley in the same fashion as your minced the garlic, leaving the finished product slightly more coarse than the garlic. Set aside with the tomatoes and garlic.

d.) Tear the basil leaves in half

Select the largest, cleanest basil leaves from your bunch.Tear in half lengthwise, like so, and add to the tomatoes, parsley, and garlic.

2. Combine the prepared tomatoes, garlic, parsley, basil, and about 1/2 cup of olive oil in your enamel pot or dutch oven , bring to a simmer, and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes break down and sauce is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes or as long as it takes for your to prepare the rest of the ingredients in the following steps.

The fresh ingredients at the start of cooking.The tomatoes, garlic, parsley, and basil after cooking down at a low simmer for about 30 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering prepare the rest of the ingredients.

3. Begin by preparing the eggplant

Start by cutting the eggplant into approximately 1-inch by 1-inch pieces.Toss the pieces of eggplant with kosher salt and set in a colander in the sink. This process extracts extra moisture from the vegetable and prepares it for sautéing later on.

4. While the eggplant sits in the colander prepare the onions.

Peel the onions and cut them into approximately 1-inch by 1-inch pieces, like so.Put about 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a skillet and get it searing hot over a high flame. A proper sauté is done at very high heat, the purpose is to quickly caramelize the outside of the onion to lock in the moisture. A proper sauté is actually a relatively healthy technique because the high heat does not allow the onion to absorb the oil in the pan. Sauté the onions for about 10 minutes or until they are golden, like this. Set aside in a large bowl.

5. Prepare the bell peppers

Cut the bell peppers into approximately 1-inch by 1-inch pieces and sauté in the same fashion as the onions. Season with kosher salt and sauté for about 10 minutes or until the bell peppers are browning slightly at the edges. Pull out with a slotted spoon and put in the bowl with the onions.

6. Prepare the zucchini

Cut the zucchini into approximately 1-inch by 1-inch pieces, like so.

.Add another 3 tablespoons of oil to your pan and sauté the zucchini in the same fashion as the bell peppers and onions, seasoning with kosher salt. Removed with a slotted spoon to the bowl of onions and bell peppers after about 10 minutes or once the zucchini turns golden brown.

7. Prepare the eggplant

Remove the eggplant from the colander and blot off any excess moisture with paper towels. The eggplant will not sauté properly if it is too moist.

Add another 3 tablespoons to your pan and sauté in the same fashion as the onion, bell pepper, and zucchini. Sauté for about 10 minutes or until the eggplant turns slightly brown around the edges, as pictured, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and add to the bowl with your other vegetables.

8. Add the bowl of prepared vegetables to the simmering tomato base.

Using a mortar and pestle grind your peppercorns and kosher salt together, set aside.

Add the prepared vegetables from the bowl to the pot with the simmering tomato mixture, season with the freshly ground peppercorns and salt, and stir thoroughly to combine.

9. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are very tender, about an hour.

After about an hour of slowly cooking at a low simmer your ratatouille will look like this. Taste for seasoning and season with salt as necessary.

Bon Appétit! This recipe yields about 8 to 10 servings and is very good when served immediately but can be prepared up to 2 days in advance. As the stew rests in the refrigerator the flavors have more of a chance to infuse and on a hot day there is nothing nearly as refreshing to serve as this perfect, chilled  ratatouille.

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