The Gift of French Cuisine

The French peasant cuisine is at the basis of the culinary art. By this I mean it is composed of honest elements that la grande cuisine only embellishes. -Alexandre Dumaine I don’t remember exactly when it happened. One day I resisted even opening my then-pristine copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking…

Advertisements

Unquenchable: Natalie MacLean’s Terrific New Book on Wine

If, like me - overwhelmed by the hundreds of possible choices in front of you at the grocery store or local wine shop - you’ve ever stood in front of the endless shelves of stunning wine bottles and felt like just closing your eyes and grabbing a bottle, any bottle (preferably one on the lower…

The Provençal Pantry in Poetry and Photos

Readers of Gherkins & Tomatoes / Cornichons & Tomates will see something new in the coming weeks --- tiny photo essays. A weekly showcasing of some of the basic components of the Provençal (and frankly French) pantry, enlivened with a blessedly small pinch of poetry, these meditative snippets incarnate my intense desire for fresh, nay…

Oreillettes, A Part of Provence’s Thirteen Desserts

Fried dough, a universal love. Grease, sugar, what more could you dream of? In the south of France,  when you want fried dough, you'll get oreillettes. As with any traditional holiday dish, each cook has his or her version. The signature taste with these oreillettes is the orange flower water. In New Orleans, oreillettes come…

The Provençal Thirteen: Fennel- and Cumin-Scented Sablés

In France, you'll find sablés,  buttery cookies that originated in Normandy. (You know they had all that butter to get rid of there.) Most sablés are sweet. But in Provence, for the famous Thirteen Desserts of Christmas Eve, cooks prefer savory little disks perfumed with fennel and cumin. Cumin? How did cumin get into mix?…

Nougat Noir, or Black Nougat, Another of the Thirteen Desserts

A Provençal gros souper (Christmas Eve dinner) would not be correct without some nougat noir to challenge the skill of your dentist and possibly lay waste to your dental work. In other words, nougat noir can be a bête [bite!] noire*, if you're not careful. For nougat noir is a hard candy, not the pillowy stuff…

Les Quatre Mendiants au Chocolat, A Candy Offshoot of Provence’s Thirteen Christmas Desserts

Gorgeous, huh? Yummy? You bet! And the best part is that, with a quick flick of a switch and your wrist, you too can make these beauties, part of the Thirteen Desserts of a Provençal Christmas. Mendiants au Chocolat Noir ou Blanc Makes about 75 - 100 candies, depending on size of circles 1 pound…

Begging the Question: Les Quatre Mendiants and Provence’s Thirteen Christmas Desserts

The truth is, the dishes associated with Provence's Thirteen Desserts abound with religious symbolism. Take the Four Beggars, or Les Quatre Mendiants, which symbolize something that we in the secular West have basically lost, a sense of awe and fear about the natural world and all that is in it. The Thirteen Desserts likely represented…

One of the Thirteen, the Tangerine

The color certainly captures your attention, doesn't it? Such a glossy --- almost neon --- orange. When I was a kid, I always wondered if anyone else ever got a wrinkly tangerine bumping around in their Christmas stocking. At some point along the way, I found out that the Victorians were big on citrus fruit…

No Partridges, Just Thirteen Desserts: French Christmas Culinary Traditions

I love culinary traditions ... and usually I don't mind cooking all the foods associated with upholding those traditions.  Like Thanksgiving dinner, for example. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole (from scratch, mind you), pumpkin pie with whipped cream (crust handmade just prior to baking), and sweet potato casserole (no marshmallows).…

Italy in Provence

Memories of Provençal food continuously whisper to me. And reflection forces me to draw the logical conclusion that the food of Piemonte, Liguria, and Provence share the same grandparents. Or even the same parents. Countless, interminable wars guaranteed both the emigration and immigration of people (and food) over the centuries. Walking cookbooks, I call those…