Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Around My French Table

I've intended to review this cookbook for months. After making my favorite new addiction from it for the third time in two weeks, I must delay no more.

My go-to cookbook for nearly all of 2011 has been Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table. It has usurped the always-out-on-the-table place of honor previously held by Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions, and prior to that, Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant. (I still maintain, however, that if I could have only one cookbook, it would be Nourishing Traditions).

Greenspan writes recipes the way I like to interpret them: as suggestions. I use cookbooks primarily for inspiration, and with the exception of baked items, I rarely leave a recipe unaltered. I cook mostly with local, seasonal ingredients, so I tend to substitute what I have available for what is specified in the recipe. Greenspan encourages this practice, offering ideas for substitutions on many of her recipes, even to the point of changing nearly every ingredient! In those cases, the recipe serves as a description of technique.

Perhaps because this is a book of inspiration and technique, I've found it easier to incorporate in my seasonal cooking than some seasonally-focused cookbooks. The couscous salad, for example, specifies certain vegetables, but when I made it in early summer it was delicious with sliced kohlrabi instead of cucumber, some chopped garlic scapes and more sugar snaps instead of a red bell pepper. Greenspan says in the recipe introduction that she had a hard time writing down a recipe for it because she never makes it the same way and uses whatever vegetables she happens to have on hand. She even gives a suggestion for turning it from a side salad into a main course.

Greenspan lives in Paris and New York, a condition that is not always favorable for producing a cookbook that avoids frustrating those who live in places with more basic markets. Happily, Greenspan's own cosmopolitan and sophisticated food world does not impair her ability to deliver a book that is useful to those who lack her resources. The majority of her recipes use ingredients available from any grocery store. Occasionally a specialty ingredient may be listed (even the new spice store here didn't have piment d'esplette), but it is usually optional or substitutable. And even when she provides a recipe for something like veal, or duck breasts, which may not be stocked in the average rural grocery, it's quite easy to think of an appropriate substitution. For example, I might use pork chops instead of veal chops for the "veal chops with rosemary butter."

Greenspan's writing is friendly and engaging. She intersperses the recipes with anecdotes and stories from her elite foodie world. Some readers could find the references to the famous chefs and artists she knows to be annoying name-dropping, but I've not encountered any famous person tidbit that didn't enhance the story. I've particularly enjoyed her sidebars on French culture. In one, she describes her experience with a cheese shop in which she complained, ever so politely, about the quality of a cheese she had purchased and began receiving improved service at the shop because the complaint showed she had discriminating taste.

The book is beautifully photographed. Its hefty weight may help burn some of the calories from those rich butter and cream desserts, such as the one I'm about to share.

Here it is, my latest addiction, the Chocolate-Banana Tart, which is not local or seasonal but is chocolate heaven:

And, so that I don't have to type in a recipe, I found instructions, with much better photos, to make a version of it here.

The recipe in Around My French Table is simpler than the one on the link.  The caramelized bananas are made with only butter and sugar -- no raisins, rum or habanero pepper. I use 2 sliced bananas in about 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of sugar. The ganache is made by bringing one cup of cream (Shetler's, for those in northern Michigan) to boil, then pouring it over 1/2 pound of chopped bittersweet chocolate (I use two bars of Ghiradelli's 60%), whisking until smooth, and then whisking in 4 tablespoons of sweet butter. The topping is sliced fresh bananas drizzled with some warmed apricot jam. If you won't be eating all of the tart within a day or so, just slice fresh bananas as you go.

Bon App├ętit!

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