Vive La France!

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Although a trip to France is a dream vacation many hope to enjoy at least once in their lifetime, the mouth-watering cuisine found there is something you can actually enjoy right from the comforts of home.

 

Ah, la vie en France! For those fortunate enough to have  spent time in France, what conjures up the most magical memories you have?

A stroll with a lover on the Pont Neuf?

Glorying in the treasures of the Louvre?

Shopping in the boutiques of the rue du Faubourg Saint- Honoré?

Driving around the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile without dying or killing someone?

Finding what you’ve always wanted at the Marché aux Puces St-Ouen de Clignancourt?

Absorbing the jaw-dropping beauty of the architecture of the Place des Vosges?

Discovering yet another small, remarkable museum experience in the Marais?

Nah. Let’s be honest. It’s the food…

It is truly difficult to eat poorly in France. I’m not just referring to enjoying delicious lunches and dinners in the cafés, brasseries and restaurants – I’m talking about actually absorbing the tastes, smells and visuals of the cuisine and learning how to make the mouth-watering dishes yourself.

One of the most satisfying times when I lived in France was learning to make a single-dish meal, known much more romantically in France as the quiche, the torte, the tarte or the tourte. Each one, by the way, just means a different construct of said single-dish meal. Basically, it involves taking any old odd “bit and sod,” placing it all into a pie crust (but the best pie crust, to be sure) with some crème fraiche or an equally excellent equivalent, baking it, then serving it with a salad and some wine to make a wonderful brunch, lunch, early dinner or midnight supper.

I learned to make many of these dishes with confit de canard (canned duck meat solidified in fat – I kid you not), rillettes (shredded meat in a jar solidified in fat – I really am serious), bacon, brussel sprouts, winter tomatoes, smoked salmon, leeks, sausages and cheeses from just about every area of France, and just about anything else I could think of, the majority of which can be found in specialty stores like Balducci’s or Whole Foods. There are also exotic versions of these dishes that are demonstrative of a particular region in France, like the Pissaladier – redolent of Provence – which includes olives, onions and anchovies; or the tarte gratinee aux epinards, a recipe that comes from the Burgundy region of France.

But if you can’t go to Provence or Burgundy and enjoy the real thing, with a little basic culinary knowledge, you can create your own dishes. And as I immediately learned when it comes to French cuisine, the rule “Keep It Simple” always applies. So, starting with a great pie crust, add the freshest ingredients you can find. If they’re out of season or hard to find, at least use the best crème fraiche and the freshest herbs you can get your hands on to combine with the less-than-quality bits you are employing (like the aforementioned winter tomatoes).

All of this is eminently doable right in your kitchen, so il me fait plaisir (I am pleased) to provide one of my favorite recipes here for you to enjoy. Bon Appetit, mes chers amis!

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