There’s no place like home!! I’m feeling a little Dorothy-ish today. Let me click my red heels together…
but–ah, France. Was it all we hoped it would be? Mais oui and more! If you’re a cook…ok, if you’re a sort of serious as all get out cook, France lives on your personal radar. Like daily. Or more. For years and years and— For me, as a reader of history (I couldn’t read enough WWI and II history in college), a lover of Hemingway (I still have enough criticism and biography for a good start on a master’s thesis), a dreamer of Provencal dreams (that I inherited Julia Child’s house was one), I had waited long enough. Way more than long enough. I had waited eons, decades, lifetimes, universes. Ok, perhaps not quite those. But enough was surely enough. Did I mention I lived in Germany for two years where I bought my Le Creuset pots and pans, but never made it across the western border except into the Netherlands on a one-day bus excursion? Or that I have an Eiffel tower model in my bathroom and an Eiffel tower cookie cutter on permanent display in the kitchen? How about that I teach both a beginning and an intermediate French cooking class and have for 10 years? Hmph.
Every trip, and one with sister Helen included a brief stop in southern France on a Mediterranean cruise,
we would say, “France is next. When we can go and stay. When we’ve a bit more ready cash. When Alyce can go and study for a few weeks.” French cooking classes in France are pricey; go ahead, check that out. You know this drill, right? Time goes on, kids go to college, houses are bought and sold, Alyce learns to cook other places, directs new choirs, becomes a grandmother, studies French locally, buys French everyday dishes, travels to drink wine with her wine group, looks at French houses friends send her online, cooks for everyone she knows and many that she doesn’t, and in meantime amasses enough books for a small elite library on French cooking and living in France. When she clicks on amazon, the recommended reading immediately runs to Susan Herrman Loomis, Patricia Wells, Richard Olney, David Lebovitz, Jacques Pepin, et al. She could have gone to France six times if she’d stopped buying books and French cheese.
Below: my cookbook shelves, the wine group cooking and drinking together, Dave and Mr. Tucker watching baseball
Last winter, just starting retirement by then, we had bought and paid for a steal of a package for one week in Paris. Nearly to the throwing my beret in the suitcase stage, Tucker –our golden retriever–eats something that nearly kills him and the Paris euros end up in the emergency vet’s pocket. The tax man also comes up with a surprise retirement bill of impressive proportions. I stay home, love my Tuck into health, and make one more pot of boeuf Bourguignon while Dave eyes the bank balance. We do –insert the grand exhale right here — get the money back as we’d bought the insurance. You get the sorry little picture: sniff, sniff, and sniff again. So this trip was a baby that took so long to birth I had just about given up hope and I am a prayerful woman. Thank God I hadn’t because France lived up to the lifelong Alyce hype.
We spent one jam-packed week in Paris seeing the sights (read that lolling in cafés to watch and see if French women are all skinny and French men smell better than American women–no to the first and yes to the second) and one more leisurely week in Beaune, Burgundy seeing the vineyards (read that tasting wine), shopping at the markets, making good friends, and yes, of course, doing a little cooking—cuisine dans la cuisine.
Living through a bit of jet lag–what fresh hell is this– I offer up only a few favorite shots and some short notes here. More to come and that’s a promise. Down below is my own recipe for warming French Lentil soup to get you into the mood for bringing a little France right into your kitchen, too. Oui, s’il vous plaît!
Just about the coolest thing that happened in France: I got to meet one of my forever culinary heroines while in Paris. She’s a French cooking guru in her own right and you might know her as — Dorie Greenspan. I took no photos because I forgot. This is the sad truth; I had too good of a time! I’ll share with you that both Dorie and her fun, out-going, interested husband Michael are just exactly the wonderful people you’d think they’d be. Down to earth, humble, humorous, clever, and generous; they had lots of attractive conversation to share with both Dave and me. I don’t think Dorie would mind my including this photo (below) she took of her shadow right before she returned to New York. (Stolen from Facebook, I freely admit.) I think it’d make a super book cover, though sometimes writers don’t get to choose, I know. She’s of course working on another book and I can’t wait to see what the cover does actually look like. Stay tuned!
Vézelay Abbey was a major starting point for pilgrims on the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela, one of the most important of all medieval pilgrimage centres. (Above photo: Dave on the terrace overlooking the Burgundian countryside behind the Basilica of Mary Magdalene) This might be my favorite photo from the trip. To avoid being encumbered, I skipped the heavy camera and just used my iPhone, btw. I can’t believe I did that, but my hands and shoulders get tired carrying stuff miles and miles.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some of my very favorite recipes from la belle France–along with some top memories– and I hope you’ll cook along with me because it will help ease the pain of leaving (When can I return?!). Hopefully the posts draw you in to the addictive and artful past time of enjoying la cuisine française in the U.S. Since I’ve spent a good bit of my life just so, I know a bit about how to do it and am happy to continue right here on More Time with YOU.
Insert here Le Sigh… … … usually included with a little eye roll, and the ubiquitous Gallic shrug, which I’m desperately and unsuccessfully trying to emulate as I look out at my dying fall yard. I was so impressed with the gardens and fragrant flowers everywhere in cities and countryside. Even at the end of the season, they were stunning. Take away: The French motto could be, “Make it beautiful. Why not?”
We returned to cold and rain in Colorado and even snow on our mountain, Pike’s Peak:
photo courtesy CSGazette
With a first groggy wet morning home temp of 40 degrees F, it seemed the perfect day to put on a pot of well-loved homey French Lentil Soup. Why not add a little saucisson (sausage)–another local favorite– for good measure? The French are almost as famous for their lentil soup as they are for their Soup aux oignons (French Onion soup)--which was on just about every menu I saw in every town as it once, tres early in the morning, fed all the workers at Les Halles-the immense and now long shuttered Paris market. (I tried it a time or two in Paris; the quality varied greatly, by the way and I like my own version better.) According to Dorie Greenspan in her book, AROUND MY FRENCH TABLE, even world-famous chefs such as Jean-George Vongerichten name lentil soup a favorite and strong childhood food memory. (There’s a fine onion soup recipe in Dorie’s book, too.) The Le Puy lentils–a bit peppery–are grown around the town of, you guessed it, Le Puy, France. These famous and tasty pulses are greenish-gray and are known for holding their shape during cooking. (Pulses are dried peas, beans, lentils, and chick peas.)
I make many varieties of lentil soup (just put lentil soup into the search mechanism here on the blog to see a few) and each time, the newest version is definitely Dave’s favorite. Perhaps mine, too.
Below: my Curried Lentil Soup with Fresh Greens
The French whip this sometimes very fast dinner up just like mother made it or according to what’s on the counter that needs to be cooked. Versatile? Definitely.
MANY WAYS WITH LENTIL SOUP: Meat? Maybe and maybe not; you choose. Other beans or grains mixed with the lentils make for a change in interest, texture, and color. Try that. Cloves are a popular addition; remove them before eating! Some like a dribble of vinegar in the finished bowl — typically balsamic or sherry. Many like to purée or at least partially blend the cooked soup, while others live for the chunky style. A large variety of vegetables are scrumptious in lentil soup, so use what you have. Ideas might include–depending on the season– fennel, garlic, sweet potatoes, fresh greens, shallots, potatoes, bell peppers, summer or winter squashes, tomatoes, eggplant, turnips, parsnips, etc. Seasonings could run from oregano to thyme to cumin to coconut curry. Toppings? Try grated sharp cheese, crispy homemade croutons, toasted nuts or seeds, a dollop of sour cream, minced onions or carrots, or a bit of olive oil for garnish. Use your favorite flavor profile next time and make it your way, but first try my current and thus most-loved version:
LENTIL SOUP WITH FLAGEOLET BEANS AND SAUSAGE
SOUP AUX LENTILLES ET HARICOTS FLAGEOLET Á LA SAUCISSES
For a vegan version, skip both the bacon and the sausage and begin, instead, with 1/4 cup olive oil. Your soup will be seasoned well, feel happily full of earthy flavors, and hold you all through a cold night. Add some brown rice for serving and you’ll have a complete protein in this one warming bowl, to say nothing of all the colorful vegetable goodness.
- 1 cup dry flageolet (fla-zhoh-LAY) beans soaked over night or brought to a boil for 2 minutes and rested for an hour afterward (Can sub dry northern white beans or two cans of drained and rinsed white cannellini or Great Northern beans seasoned with a little salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.)
- 3 slices bacon, divided — one left whole for the beans and two chopped into 1/2-inch pieces to fry up for the lentils
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary or 1 tablespoon dry rosemary
- Freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil–or more if needed
- 1 large red onion, chopped
- 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced and then chopped (wash very well)
- 4 medium carrots, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
- 2 stalks celery with leaves, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
- 2 large, fresh cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence (Can sub a mixture of dried basil, thyme, oregano)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 4 cups (1 quart) low-sodium chicken broth
- 4 cups water or more as needed to keep soup from thickening too much
- 1 pound– 2 -2 1/4 cups– lentils de Puy (imported French green lentils). Can sub American-grown green lentils
- 4-5 fresh Italian sausage links, about a pound–or other pork sausages (smoked is fine, too,)
- Extra virgin olive oil, for garnish–optional
- Minced fresh parsley
- Crusty fresh bread and butter or cheese for serving–optional
COOK THE FLAGEOLET BEANS WITH BACON, ONION, AND ROSEMARY: Skip this step if using canned beans. Rinse the beans after soaking. Add them, along with the whole piece bacon, onion, rosemary and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, to a small soup pot or large saucepan. Add water to cover two-inches or a bit more above the beans. Bring to a boil; reduce to simmer. Cook until tender–about an hour, adding 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt half-way through. Set aside to add when the soup is nearly done.
SAUTE THE BACON AND VEGETABLES; ADD THE HERBS: In a large heavy soup pot, sauté the two pieces of chopped bacon over medium heat until just done. Pour in the olive oil and heat briefly. Add the vegetables–onion, leeks, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring, another ten minutes or until softened. Add the garlic, thyme, Herbes de Provence, and bay leaf; cook another minute or two. Pour in wine, scraping up the bottom of the pan, and let cook down 2-3 minutes or until absorbed. Stir in tomato paste.
POUR IN BROTH AND WATER; ADD/COOK LENTILS: Pour in the broth and water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender–35-45 minutes, adding more water if needed to keep the soup brothy and from getting too thick.
MEANWHILE, COOK THE SAUSAGES: Heat a tablespoon olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium flame and add sausages. Brown well on both sides (don’t pierce them), reduce heat and cover until cooked through– 20-25 minutes, checking to turn again as needed. Remove from heat, let rest two minutes and slice very thinly. Set aside.
ADD THE BEANS AND SAUSAGES TO THE LENTIL SOUP; SERVE HOT: Toward the end of cooking, add the cooked, reserved flageolet beans (or drained, canned white beans) along with their onions and rosemary (discarding the piece of bacon you cooked them with –or fry it up and eat later– along with the rosemary stem. The rosemary leaves will have separated and will be in the beans). Stir in the sliced, cooked sausages. Bring the soup back to a good simmer for 5 minutes, stirring, to marry flavors. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot garnished with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, if using, and parsley. Serve with crusty bread and butter or cheese. Whoever gets the bay leaf does the dishes.
Wine: Even though I’m just back from Burgundy, I’ll lay even bets on a red Rhône with this soup. Versatile, and often inexpensive, it’ll work in and with the soup.
If you liked this, you might like a little more info or to try a different lentil souP:
More Time’s Lamb Chops in Curried Red Lentil Soup:
Thanks for being patient online or for following us on Facebook or Instagram throughout the trip. It’s great to “see” you back spending More Time at the Table, friends. Remember to
Amusez-vous à la cuisine (have fun cooking) and sing a new song,