Bookshelf

A French Twist

Beautiful, seasonal cooking from The French Market Cookbook

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TM_BK_FRENCH_AP_001Over the last six or seven years, I’ve become someone who tries to hue fairly closely to the season when determining what’s on the menu. I eat asparagus for a brief period in April and May, go crazy for tomatoes in July and August, and fill my kitchen with acorn and butternut squash once the weather turns cooler.

This way of eating is easier on the budget, always tastes better, and makes the asparagus, tomatoes, and squash feel like a treat. The one problem with eating in this fashion is that cookbooks don’t match up perfectly (particularly if they’re written by authors based in California. They seem to have everything available, all the time).

Happily, finding good, reliable, accessible seasonal cookbooks has gotten increasingly easy over the last few years. One recent addition to my shelf is Clotilde Dusoulier’s The French Market Cookbook.

Dusoulier first became known as the author of the blog Chocolate and Zucchini, where she’s been writing about seasonal French cooking for the last decade. This book represents the latest evolution of her cooking, as she moves more and more to a vegetable-focused diet. Organized by season, this volume features more than 80 recipes that are appealing, sustaining, and blessedly approachable.

On my first trip through this book, I marked at least ten recipes that I wanted to make within the next month, then focused in on three to try immediately. Thinking of making a full meal from the book, I tried the Chickpea Galette (pages 74-75), the Butternut and Celery Root Soup (page 112), and the Pear and Chestnut Cake (page 143).

Of the three recipes, the Chickpea Galette was the biggest winner. With just five ingredients (including water), it cooks up quickly and tastes far better than a slurry of chickpea flour, salt, cumin, olive oil, and water deserves. It’s a great treat for folks who are off gluten, as it produces a sturdy gluten-free flatbread upon which a sandwich can be built.

I really enjoyed the Butternut and Celery Root Soup. However, one of my fellow diners comments that they felt like the celery flavor drowned out the sweet squash notes. It’s a fair critique, though as someone who adores the taste of celery, I thought it was a feature, not a bug.

For those of you who are looking for an easy seasonal cake that’s a bit different from what you normally see this time of year, try the Pear and Chestnut Cake. The chestnut flour gives it a smoky, exotic flavor. The only thing I’d do differently if I made this cake again is that I’d back off on the amount of pear folded into the batter. I found that with the current level of fruit, the cake stayed a little too damp for my tastes. Easing back a little would produce a slightly better crumb.

If you’re looking for a cookbook that focuses on seasonal vegetables and uses more exotic flours and grains, I definitely recommend adding this one to your library.

Chickpea Galette

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Ingredients

1⅓ cups (140 grams) chickpea flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Olive oil for cooking
Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

In a medium bowl, combine the chickpea flour, salt, cumin, and 3 tablespoons oil. Pour in 1 cup (240 milliliters) cold water in a slow stream, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. The mixture will be thinner than pancake batter. Cover and let rest for 2 hours at room temperature, or overnight in the fridge.

Place a well-seasoned 10-inch (25-centimeter) cast-iron pan in the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Whisk the batter again. Remove the pan from the oven cautiously (it will be hot) and pour in a good glug of oil, swirling the pan around to coat. Add half of the batter to the pan and swirl to cover the entire surface. Return to the oven and bake until set, 10 to 15 minutes. Switch the oven to the broiler setting and leave the pan in, keeping a close eye on it, until golden brown and crisp at the top, a few minutes more.

Turn the socca out onto a plate — you may have to help it out with a thin spatula — and then flip it back onto a cutting board, browned side up. Cut into square servings with a knife or pizza wheel, drizzle with a little more olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper, and serve hot.

Repeat with the remaining batter.

Serves 4

To use as a tart base
Prepare the batter as instructed above, but add only ¾ cup (180 milliliters) water. Pour the entire amount of batter into the pan at once and bake until set, 25 to 30 minutes, before switching to the broiler setting for another 10 minutes. Turn the socca out onto a plate, then flip it back onto a serving dish, and garnish with cooked or raw vegetables. Variation: Sprinkle thinly sliced scallions (white and green parts) on the batter just after pouring into the hot pan.

Butternut and Celery Root Soup

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Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil for cooking
1 small yellow onion (4¼ ounces/120 grams), finely sliced
1 medium butternut squash (2½ pounds/1.2 kilograms), peeled and cubed
1 small (700-gram) celery root, peeled and cubed
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons finely chopped dried rosemary
4 cups (1 liter) Homemade Vegetable Stock (recipe follows), hot
Freshly ground black pepper
Heavy cream, for serving (optional)
Garlic Rosemary Croutons (recipe follows), for serving (optional)

Instructions

Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the squash, celery root, salt, and rosemary. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes.

Add the hot stock and pour in a little more hot water if needed to cover the vegetables. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.

Using a blender or an immersion blender, puree the soup until completely smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Reheat if necessary and ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with black pepper. Add a swirl of cream and serve with garlic rosemary croutons, if desired.

Serves 6

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil for cooking
1 medium yellow onion (6 ounces / 170 g), roughly chopped (not peeled)
2 medium (250 grams) carrots, sliced (not peeled)
2 stalks (250 grams) celery, sliced
2 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat of a knife blade
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
6 black peppercorns, crushed with the flat of a knife blade
1 prune or 1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
A few sprigs of thyme, fresh or dried 1 sprig of rosemary, fresh or dried
A splash of dry white wine (optional)

Instructions

Heat the oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and salt, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until lightly colored. Add the rest of the ingredients and 2 quarts (2 liters) cold water.

Cover, bring to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes. (If you have a pressure-cooker, cook for 15 minutes from the point of pressure.) Set a fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl and use a ladle to transfer the vegetables and stock into the sieve.

Let the solids drain completely without pressing. Use the stock right away or let cool completely before refrigerating or freezing in airtight containers.
Makes 2 quarts (2 liters)

Garlic Rosemary Croutons

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil for cooking
½ teaspoon finely chopped dried rosemary
1 garlic clove, pressed in a garlic press or finely chopped
2 cups (85 grams) cubed slightly stale, good-quality baguette or other French-style loaf (cubes should be ⅓ to ½ inch/8 millimeters to 1 centimeter)
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

In a medium saucepan, combine the oil, rosemary, and garlic. Set over medium heat until the garlic and rosemary start to sizzle, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and let rest for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and have ready a rimmed baking sheet.

Add the bread cubes and salt to the saucepan and stir to coat until no oil pools at the bottom of the pan.

Spread on the baking sheet and bake, stirring halfway through, until golden, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with pepper and let cool. The croutons will keep for a week in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 1½ cups (85 grams)

Pear and Chestnut Cake

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Ingredients

⅓ cup (80 milliliters) olive oil for cooking, plus more for the pan
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (200 grams) blond unrefined cane sugar (also sold as evaporated cane juice)
2 large organic eggs
1 cup (240 milliliters) plain yogurt
⅔ cup (85 grams) chestnut flour
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (140 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoon baking soda
1⅓ pounds (600 grams) pears, cored and diced (unpeeled if organic)
2 tablespoons sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line the bottom of a 10-inch (25-centimeter) cake pan with parchment paper and grease the sides.

In a medium bowl, beat together the cane sugar and the eggs. Add the yogurt and oil and beat until combined.

In a second bowl, combine the flours, salt, baking powder, and baking soda, stirring with a whisk to remove any lumps.

Fold the flour mixture and diced pears into the yogurt mixture until no trace of flour remains. The batter will be thick; avoid overworking it.

Add to pan and bake until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Comments

  1. Wonderful recipe choices… What type of pears did you use for the cake recipe? Some varieties, especially Bartletts, can be too juicy when ripe for some baking recipes. Also, I wonder if grating a firm pear, rather than cubing it, works as well for this recipe? I do this for recipes using apples for instance. Hm… think I’ll give it a try.

    • Marisa says:

      I used either Bartlett or Bosc pears when I tested that cake (I had both in my kitchen that week, and so don’t remember perfectly). Good to know about the Bartletts, though. I’d be curious to hear what you think if you made it yourself.

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