French in a Flash: Lighten Up Summer Zucchini Gratin

RECIPE: Fresh Zucchini Crumble
Zucchini Gratin

Zucchini Gratin

If there’s one thing I love about French home cookin’, it’s a gratin.

But, gratins are pretty hard to justify.  Especially with the onset of summer.  Gratins and beaches mix about as well as oil and water.  That is to say, not at all.

So I’ve recently gone on this ‘gratin-lite’ kick: baked dishes that have the same kind of bubbling creaminess and comforting crusty top as my favorite, say, potato Dauphinoise, but just a bit lighter.  This particular zucchini version is inspired by a zucchini crumble I had about two summers ago in Avignon at a restaurant called Le Moutardier, because it was built on the site of the old mustard maker back when the pope lived in Avignon.  There’s not a lot of mustard there now, but there is a breathtaking zucchini crumble on the menu, made with mint and cheese, that inspired this summer gratin. Continue reading

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Dinner for Two: White Bean Shrimp Scampi on Grilled Garlic-Rubbed Bread

RECIPE: Grilled Garlic Bread with White Bean Shrimp Scampi
Grilled Garlic Bread with White Bean Shrimp Scampi

Grilled Garlic Bread with White Bean Shrimp Scampi

Shrimp Scampi. It may have sunk to diner fare, but then again, diners are kind of where you go to eat any kind of food you REALLY want. Nothing beats those jumbo, juicy shrimp, stewed in white wine with garlic and butter. The parsley is that something green that justifies the ostrich-sized nest of linguine beneath the shrimp. So decadent, and messy, and tangled, and happy.

I love this sleek, modern twist on my beloved scampi.

Char up some thick country bread drizzled in olive oil, and rub it with garlic. Then top it with a five-minute, one-pot stew of meaty shrimp, creamy, comforting cannellini beans, even more garlic, white wine, and just a touch of butter for authenticity. I toss in a handful of parsley or arugula or both, then pour it over the charred garlic bread. The sauce soaks into the crusts, and the shrimp and beans together are so hearty and garlicky and good. Eat this with someone you love, and who loves you. (There’s a lot of garlic.)

White Bean Shrimp Scampi 2

From my weekly column Dinner for Two on Serious Eats.  Check it out every Friday! Continue reading

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Dinner for Two, Easy, Eat, Fish, Main Courses, Recipes, Series
 

French in a Flash: Creamy Mussels with Sauce Roquefort

RECIPE: Mussels with Creamy Roquefort Sauce
Creamy Mussels with Sauce Roquefort

Creamy Mussels with Sauce Roquefort

My stepfather comes from Normandy, which I secretly love for the extremely selfish reason that it means I get to go to a whole different part of France, and eat.  To go where I ordinarily wouldn’t, and to eat what I would otherwise dream of eating.  Mussels.

Across the bridge from Le Havre, which was destroyed in World War II and was rather hastily rebuilt, resides an adorable little seaside town called Honfleur.  There, the harbor is lined with little restaurants, cafés, and bistros.  Some worth their salt.  The dish to get is mussels.  In America, we prize the giant black beasts, but in France, you get tiny, sweet, succulent little mussels that I so much prefer.  They come as a meal: a million little mussels in a great enameled iron pot, the lid of which quickly becomes the bowl for your million little shells.  On the side comes the torn baguette and side of crunchy, salty fries.  And at the bottom of your great mussel pot comes the sauce you ordered.  You can, if you’re enterprising, try about twenty sauces.  Marinière, made with white wine and onions.  Dijon, made with mustard.  Cream, which is Marinière with sweet, thick Normandy cream stirred in.  Provençal, made with garlic and tomatoes.  Garlic.  Cider.  Beer.  Pistou.  And maybe the most unique, and certainly my favorite: Roquefort.  The Cream sauce with sharp, pungent blue Roquefort cheese melted in.  Gorgeous! Continue reading

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French in a Flash: Seared Rare Niçoise Tuna Lettuce Cups

RECIPE: Seared Rare Tuna Niçoise Lettuce Wraps
Niçoise Tuna Lettuce Wraps

Niçoise Tuna Lettuce Wraps

Nothing makes me run for salad like the first sight of springtime sunshine. All I want are bright, light things that still fill me up after a day at the office. I love a classic, but a classic can be so much more fun when you have a little irreverent play with it.

Take the Niçoise salad: torn leaves topped with potatoes, egg, green beans, tomatoes, and canned tuna and anchovies. My favorite restaurant in Paris has a perennial dish on the menu called “Niçoise à Ma Façon,” or, “Niçoise Salad, My Way.” It’s a life-altering tumble of baby gem lettuce, slightly soft French green beans, new potatoes, crumbled purple potato chips, caper berries, anchovies, canned albacore, slivered pickled garlic, fried shallots, and hard boiled egg, tossed in a creamy, soft lemon dressing. A Niçoise salad is the kind of quotidian dish that you eat without consequence at a million other places, but you come back from Paris talking about Niçoise à Ma Façon.

Inspired, I took a shot a trying Niçoise à My Façon. I bag the canned fish for barely seared rare fresh tuna and good white marinated anchovies, dice them up with fresh, crisp haricots verts and baby grape tomatoes and hearty purple or golden potatoes, and then hit it with briny olives and capers, fresh basil, and bright lemon and olive oil. I spoon the mixture into delicate lettuce cups and eat them like tacos. Provençal at its best!

Niçoise Tuna Lettuce Cups Close Up
Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats. Continue reading
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A Seriously New Column: DINNER FOR TWO, and Some Amazing Coconut Mussels

RECIPE: Coconutty Mussels with Ginger, Lemongrass, Chili, and Cilantro on Rice Noodles
Coconutty Mussels with Ginger, Lemongrass, Chili, and Cilantro on Rice Noodles

Coconutty Mussels with Ginger, Lemongrass, Chili, and Cilantro on Rice Noodles

Two weeks ago, sitting on a wooden bench under a leafy tree in a breezy London park, my boyfriend, known affectionately as Mr. English, turned to me and said, “Will you marry me?”

I knew it was time for a new column.

Everywhere I look, I see the same thing: couples living together, both working hard, coming home tired and hungry. We all want to eat well, especially in a time when good, creative, local, special food has become part of our daily zeitgeist, but we don’t always have time to do it. That is my life. And so, I’m writing a new Friday column called Dinner for Two.

It’s all about dinners that are fast but sophisticated, simple but delicious. All the recipes are done in a matter of minutes, using just a handful of easily found ingredients, prepared simply but inventively, most of the time in a single skillet or pot. Recipes meant for those of us with very little time but a lot of ambition. You don’t need much skill in the kitchen, a ton of space in your fridge for leftovers, or a lot of patience for washing dishes. You just need a hearty appetite.

Cooking for two is really my favorite way to cook. You have someone to cook for, to share with, but nothing is too arduous, and you can keep it fun. In the coming weeks, we’ll be making pork loin roasted in sweet, spicy ginger preserves and thyme. Salmon crisped under mustard-spiked breadcrumbs. Fiery sliced steak tacos with cool avocado cream. And scallops broiled in a dish with ruby-red Spanish chorizo. None of these dishes takes more than 30 minutes or 1 pot. We (you, me, and Mr. English) are in for a feast.

To start things off, try these Coconutty Mussels. I make a quick a broth from coconut milk, sliced ginger, fresh lime, cilantro, chilies, and lemongrass. Sounds exotic, but you can get all those ingredients in the produce aisle of almost any supermarket. Then, I use that fresh, tangy, spicy, creamy broth to steam open a couple of pounds of mussels. They cook in less than five minutes, and are just about the most inexpensive seafood you can get—I bought enough for the both of us for under five dollars.

Plus, you get to eat with your hands, and I don’t think there’s anything more romantic than a steaming pot of hot mussels to share. Very twenty-first century Lady and the Tramp. Again, 30 minutes, one pot, and seven easy-to-find ingredients. A little bundle of pre-cooked rice noodles nestled underneath the mussels will help suck up all the coconutty broth, and I can fish them out with some of the takeout chopsticks that accumulate in my silverware drawer. If your supermarket doesn’t sell them precooked, all you have to do is soak the dry version, easily found in your supermarket’s Asian aisle, in some hot water for a few minutes.

Simple as that. Of course, if you’re not the noodle type, a loaf of crusty bread is always a good sauce-soaking tool.

This recipe is pretty great, if I do say so myself. Happy cooking, and happy eating, to you and your very lucky plus one.

From my weekly column Dinner for Two on Serious Eats.  Check it out every Friday!

Coconutty Mussels with Ginger, Lemongrass, Chili, and Cilantro on Rice Noodles
serves 2

Coconutty Mussels with Ginger, Lemongrass, Chili, and Cilantro on Rice NoodlesINGREDIENTS

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 6-inch stalk of fresh lemongrass
  • A small bunch of fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 lime
  • 1 jalapeno or Fresno chili, thinly sliced
  • 2 pounds of mussels (buy them de-bearded and scrubbed: usually that’s how they come)
  • Sea salt
  • 1 10-ounce package of precooked rice noodles

PROCEDURE

Pour the coconut milk and water into a large stockpot over low heat.  Slice the ginger into rounds.  Halve the lemongrass, and beat it with the dull side of the knife to release its flavor.  Tear the leaves from the cilantro stalks.  Peel three strips of zest from the lime with a vegetable peeler.

Add the ginger, lemongrass, cilantro stalks (reserve the leaves for later), and lime zest to the coconut milk.  Raise the heat to high, bring the coconut milk mixture to a boil, then lower the heat all the way down to the lowest setting.  Cover the pot and steep the broth for 25 minutes.

Raise the heat to high and add the chilies and mussels and season with salt.  Cover, and steam the mussels open for 4 to 5 minutes.  Add in the roughly chopped cilantro leaves.

To serve, cut the half a lime from which you stripped the zest in half.  In two large bowls, place large handfuls of the rice noodles.  Divide the mussels and broth over the noodles.  Serve with 1 lime wedge in each bowl.

A NOTE ABOUT MUSSELS

Cooking mussels couldn’t be easier.  When you bring the mussels home from the store, throw out any that are open.  Then, steam them open with a little bit of liquid (coconut milk, in this case) in a large pot with a lid over a high flame.  In about 5 minutes, they will all have opened.  That means they are perfectly cooked.  If there are any mussels that this point did not open, discard them.  That’s it.

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Cheap, Dinner for Two, Easy, Eat, Fish, For a Crowd, Main Courses, Recipes, Series
 

French in a Flash: Roasted Ratatouille Lasagna Napoleons

RECIPE: Roasted Ratatouille Lasagna Napoleons
Roasted Ratatouille Lasagna Napoleons

Roasted Ratatouille Lasagna Napoleons

There is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence, a little city famed for its quaint charm, fantastic shopping, “typique” markets brimming with olives and purple asparagus and rustic Provençal almond macarons, and leafy, shaded boulevards.

The restaurant is a pizza joint.  I have no clue what it’s called, but we go there every time we’re in town.  Just make a left up the hill at the church with the fountain just past the market in the square.  Somehow we always find it.  And even though it’s a pizza place, we always order the vegetable lasagna.

There are several reasons it’s to die for.  It’s served like a tian, baked in its own individual stone dish in a hot pizza oven.  But the best thing is, it’s so much lighter than the lasagnas we are used to.  After a few bites into the deceptively Italian, bubbly dish, you realize that it’s actually ratatouille sandwiched between layers of pasta, bathing gently in tomato sauce, and blanketed with just one fine layer of cheese gratined like onion soup with mozzarella and Gruyère.  It’s simple and light and so of the earth in Provence that you can’t help but trek around town trying to find it.

This is my version.  I create ratatouille planks: long slices of eggplant, zucchini, yellow bell peppers, red onion, and whole garlic cloves, that I roast with olive oil, chili flakes, and herbes de Provence until they are just slightly charred.  Then I layer them with sheets of fresh pasta, bought or homemade tomato-basil sauce, sun dried tomatoes, fresh thyme, basil, and mint, and a final layer of fresh mozzarella and shredded parmesan.  Sliced into four big rectangles, the dish really becomes a ratatouille and pasta Napoleon, beautifully stratified with that signature vegetal Provençal flavor.  And the best part is, you don’t have to boil the pasta!  Just roast the vegetables, and after that, it’s just a simple assembly job that comes out to be a real stunner.

Roasted Ratatouille Lasagna Napoleon Top

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats. Continue reading

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, Vegetarian, Vegetarian
 

French in a Flash: Fun and Fiery Moroccan Lamb Meatball Tagine

RECIPE: Moroccan Lamb Meatball Tagine
Moroccan Lamb Meatball Tagine

Moroccan Lamb Meatball Tagine

Eating dinner at my Moroccan Mémé’s house is the highlight of my year.  It used to be the highlight of my week, and my stomach and I both profoundly regret my decision to move so far away from her kitchen.  Moroccan dinners  have this amazing complexity that is somehow rooted in extreme freshness.  The meal starts off with ten salads.  And it ends with a spread of sliced fruits and sweet fresh mint tea.  In the middle there is fish, and then there is meat, often with couscous and vegetables, and chickpeas.  Yes, the fish and meat are intensely flavored, but sandwiched between all those fresh vegetables and fruits, the meal is like a walk through some enchanted exotic garden.

One of the best parts about eating in France is eating Moroccan. Continue reading

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Eat, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Meat, Recipes, Series