French food is reputed to be the best in the world – why? In the past maybe it’s been about long complicated recipes, sauces which take all day to simmer, and dishes with so many elements you would need a university degree to unravel them all.
All that has changed – now it’s about using the freshest ingredients and presenting them in a simple way – yes there are still delicious sauces and exquisite desserts, however it’s all been pared down and is within reach of even the most humble cook!
Cooking shouldn’t stress you out – in fact I never contemplate making a cake or anything like that if I’m not feeling relaxed – too many times I have tried to cook when tension is in the air, and always it fails. I remember listening to one great cook saying “you have to stir in the love”, and I think that’s one of the wisest things I’ve heard!
So keep it simple, and cook in season, this is now the thinking behind French food.
Fruit and vegetables simply taste better when they are in season, and when they’ve been grown reasonably close to you – it makes sense, you keep up with the rhythms of the seasons, anticipation is built up for whatever is coming up next, and you get to enjoy your food at the peak of freshness!
You are also submitting to forces greater than you – and that in itself is a humbling experience!
There are many romantic ideas about how the French shop – who of us doesn’t immediately conjure up an image of a gathering of housewives, rustic wicker baskets on their arms, berets perching precariously on their heads, and a couple of fresh baguettes sticking out of their bags?
In reality, they are just like everyone else – with one exception though – they are much more forward at asking questions of the food vendors – they will touch and smell to gauge the freshness, and I think they spend a bit more time sourcing their ingredients. The result? Well it can only be great food, picked out by someone who really cares about what goes onto the plate.
We can all learn from this of course, and travel just a bit further to find artisan cheese shops, local greengrocers, and ethically produced food. I heard recently that in Spain the farmers are paid a few dollars for several kilos of produce, which is then sold to the unsuspecting public at several pounds a kilo! If we can shop for fair trade products, at least we know the farmer is getting a fair deal, and that is really important.
Here are a few pointers about French food, then we’ll look at a couple of typically French recipes
Quiche Oignon et Cumin
Quiches are ubiquitous to French food – they are baked at home for family meals, served at buffets and parties, and ordered by the slice from casual restaurants where they often serve a “quiche de jour”. I can’t resist them – with roasted red peppers, (like the one shown here), simple cheese and tomato, broccoli and sweet red pepper, or the simple onion version of this recipe.
Strictly speaking a quiche will have a savoury custard filling, and something simple and fresh for the gorgeous eggy filling to settle itself around!
You will need
For the filling
1 kilo onions – about 6 – thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
200 ml single cream
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
150g cheese of your choice – grated
Use the pastry to line a greased tart tin – bake blind.
To bake blind, place tart tin on oven tray, line pastry with paper, fill with dried beans or rice.
Bake in moderately hot oven 10 minutes, remove paper and beans, bake further 10 minutes or until pastry is lightly browned; cool pastry
Gently cook the onions with a little of the salt in some vegetable oil for about 30 minutes until caramelised and soft.
Whisk together the eggs and cream, season with the rest of the salt, the pepper and the cumin. fold in the onions and cheese and pour into the tart shell.
Bake for about 35 minutes.
Ratatouille au Four
This is a recipe for a roasted ratatouille – made in the oven – not very traditional I know, however so easy – you can get it ready and then allow all the flavours to mingle while you prepare some lovely rough country bread to dip in!
You will need
2 medium yellow onions
2 minced garlic cloves
1 medium aubergine
3 small courgettes – sliced
2 peppers – 1 yellow, 1 red sliced
8 sliced tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
Salt and pepper to season
A little olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 180.
Combine everything in a large bowl and mix well, then transfer to a large baking dish.
Bake for 30 – 45 minutes, until it all looks cooked, and slightly browned!
Serve with chunky rustic bread.
So all in all, as we have observed, if you want to add a little “OOH LA LA” to your recipes, shop wisely and cook seasonally – it’s as simple as that!