What's the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about French food? For me, that's delicate pastries and rich sauces. I think of Julia Child and Jacques Pépin. It can be a bit intimidating because it has a reputation for being complicated and having an intricate process. My Noni claims that she does not like French food at all which is a pet peeve of mine because it's impossible to not like one dish from any one culture's cuisine. After cooking through several menus from Mimi Thorisson's A Kitchen In France, and I can guarantee that I will disprove expectations and stereotypes.
Saying French food is complicated and rich is like saying Italian food is heavy or Spanish food is spicy. There is no one size fits all and I have especially learned that in just a few short weeks. Cultural cuisine, especially that of any European countries, is heavily centered around seasonal produce and what they have available to them. You'll see this as we go through the four different seasons A Kitchen In France is broken into. With that said, winter dishes are going to be heavier because they're meant to be comforting and warm. Spring and fall dishes will have strong seasonal elements and a mix of lighter and comforting meals because they are seasons of warming and cooling. Summer will be light, refreshing and flavorful since many fruits and veggies are at their peak.
French cooking is simple, basic and surprisingly hands-off. Sure, many pastries are rough to handle but the ingredients are minimal. This week's menu isn't the best example for the minimalism I've noticed but it is a great example for the hands-off approach that I admire the French for. Lots of French meals are slow-cooking meaning you have less time laboring in the kitchen compared to say...any week of Cooking With Stanley where I was cooking non-stop for a minimum of three hours. Instead of me taking the time to go on and on about the ease and simplicity of French cooking, I'll just dig right into the first menu...
STARTER: My Aunt Francine's Fava Bean Soup
Fava Beans are like gigantic snap peas that are lightly fuzzy and kind of look like caterpillars. To get to the bean, you have to cut through the sac and then slice the bean out of its shell. It's a tedious process but well worth it because this soup was oh so good. It's simple with only 6 ingredients that include olive oil and chicken stock. Most of the work is done on the stove while the beans and other ingredients cook and soften. It's creamed in a food processor or immersion blender and topped with toasted breadcrumbs, pancetta, mascarpone and mint. It's light yet rich. Creamy and decadent. The soup itself is sweet but is complemented well with the salty pancetta, garlicky breadcrumbs and refreshing mint. This was a favorite of mine.
MAIN COURSE: Roast Chicken with Crème Fraîche and Herbs
If you're like me, super creamy dishes are a bit intimidating. They often leave me with stomach cramps and can make you feel heavy. This dish starts out looking like it will be exactly that, extra creamy. However, once cooked it is a beautiful roasted chicken with plenty of flavor and only a hint of that creaminess. It's a great spring dish from the color to the flavors thanks to lots of gorgeous and aromatic herbs. Roasting a whole chicken is apparently a big accomplishment in French cooking according to a friend of mine. This was my second whole roasted chicken and while I don't particularly prefer it, I definitely am getting the hang of it.
DESSERT: Gâteau Basque
If there was one thing I was worried about when deciding to cook through this book, it was the desserts. Of all the temperamental things to deal with in the kitchen, French pastries and desserts rank pretty high. Starting with the simple cake was the best decision I could have made. It significantly built up my confidence. Gâteau in French means cake. Basque is a region in France. So to translate, this is basically a cake popular in the Basque region of France. It's not fancy, not hard to make and assembles just like a pie. Two "sheets" of cake dough come together with a cream filling in the center. It's dense, rich and absolutely delicious. Cover it with chocolate sauce, a fruit sauce or whatever you like. It's a great treat to introduce yourself to French desserts. Everyone who tried this absolutely loved it. It's an ideal treat for parties or large dinner parties because you don't need, or want, a large piece. You can serve smaller slices to everyone and still have leftovers.
These three dishes aren't the first thing most people have in mind when it comes to French food. I mean, be honest. Tell me in the comments below what you think of first when it comes to French food. I'm betting a bean soup, whole chicken and simple cake are not on that list. Macarons? Sure. Escargot? Definitely. Croque Madame? Maybe. Easy to prepare dinners that have little-to-no labor involved? Most likely not. I'm happy I decided to make my way through this cookbook not only to feed my wanderlust but to break the stigma that all French food is heavy and decadent, especially for my Noni. Well, mission success.