Macarons Au Naturale in Aix

AIX Natural Macarons 2

Plain Giant Macarons in Aix

I swear to you, this is going to be the next big thing.  I’ve seen them in Paris in an outdoor market on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, and in Aix-en-Provence at the outdoor market, and in shops.  ”Rustic” macarons.  Not dyed pretty pastel Marie Antoinette colors.  Not flavored with anything obscure.  Just simple, handmade, almondy macarons.  Most are flavored with nothing–just two shells pressed together, tasting slightly of marzipan, a bit chewier than the Ladurée counterpart.  I’ve seen simple, regional flavors like lavender or lemon.  But a few days ago, in Aix, I saw a patisserie taking the rustic macaron to new levels, stuffing the homespun shells with little creams and ganaches, in flavors like pistachio and rose.  My favorite was the chocolate-raspberry, the almond shells spiked with cocoa, stuffed with a very strong, fruity raspberry cream.  But my favorite is still “nature”–or plain.

AIX Natural Macarons 1

The macarons aren't handled with gloves--just kept in candy jars.

Crisp on the outside, and chewy, but substantial within, they taste like sweet almond in a farmhouse way.  I love that something so elevated is getting back to its roots.  I hope these will follow Ladurée over to the states.  As beautiful as the fancy macarons are in their Easter egg hues, so these are beautiful in their simplicity.  As fanciful as the macaron flavors can be, so these are lovely in their unassuming regional best.  They are sort of what we all aspire to with the French–effortless, artful, natural beauty and style.  Looking like there is no diet, no makeup, no effort.  When in reality, there is a master at work.

AIX Natural Macarons 3

On the same subject: Snapshots from the South of France: Rustic Macarons

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Extra! Extra! Ladurée to open in New York!

Laduree Box CartoonAfter years of pining, and wishing, and hoping, it’s finally happening.  Vogue reports in its August 2011 issue (page 147) that Ladurée is opening in New York.  Ladurée is my favorite purveyor of Parisian macarons, and hot chocolate, and other gorgeous, pastel, delicately flavored pastries.  They make fantastic, crisp, sweet, giant palmiers.  And beautiful floral flavors, like the violet religieuse and orange flower macaron.  Vogue reports the new store will be opening this summer, at 864 Madison Avenue (between 70th and 71st).  The Ladurée website makes no mention of the upcoming opening, and from the Vogue article, it is unclear as to the range of pastries the NYC shop will be selling.  But macarons are definitely on the list, with the signature “cinnamon raisin” flavor created especially for New York.  We’ll see which others made the American list.  I can’t.  Hardly.  Wait.

Laduree Macarons

Pistachio, Lily of the Valley, and Granny Smith Apple Macarons at Ladurée in Paris this Spring

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Bouillabaisse in Villefranche-sur-Mer

VILLEFFRANCHE Kerry Bouillabaisse

Me and My Bouillabaisse--with a Bib.

I had my first “real” bouillabaisse two years ago in Cassis.  It was something I was looking forward to with such tail-wagging excitement, I think Mr. English and my family considered my certifiably nuts.  I think it’s just, I spend so much time renovating the French classics I know and love, that I can’t wait to take a bite of another stalwart so I can break it down and build it back up again.  I collect meals of classics French dishes like some women collect Chanel and Hermes bags.  Beautiful, forever, well made, and worth the cost.

So, back to bouillabaisse.  I’d done some digging up of information and discovered that the best was served at Chez Gilbert in the Cassis harbor.  The man at the next table said he drove down for Paris that day especially for that bouillabaisse.  I was the only one at the table who ordered it; they were all fools.  It came in courses.  An urn of thick fish soup with saffron.  A plate of whole local fishes filleted before my eyes, with little mounds of peeled steamed potatoes.  And toasts, and rouille–that condiment named for rust stuffed with garlic, saffron, and chili.  I ate and I ate and honestly, I’ve never seen so much food in my life.  It was one of those things you remember.  Maybe because it’s the dish of the city where Maman was born–Marseille.  Maybe because it’s one of the few French classics with seafood, because I prefer fish to anything else.  Maybe it was like getting an orange Berkin–Hermes orange and rouille are very close in color.  Whatever it was, I loved it and remembered it and cherished it.

So, when my cousin messaged me on Facebook saying that if I was in Beausoleil, I had to check out La Mère Germaine in Villefranche-sur-Mer for the best bouillabaisse of my life, I listened.  I told my family that really, it wasn’t a selfish desire, because my father is pescatarian, and wouldn’t it be nice for him to try a local dish that he could eat.  Wink wink.  Had nothing to do with me at all!

We arrived at this restaurant just at the very brink of the water, filled with sailboats.  There was a tank of lobsters, and a view of the graying waters in the dusk.  We ordered rosé, because that is what one seems to always do in the South of France.  And it’s my favorite anyway.  My father and I shared our favorite appetizer: mussels, with mignonette sauce, brown bread, and fancy butter D’Isigny.  Then, Maman had the lobster, in a lobster sauce, with mashed potatoes.  M. Français had pavé de veau.  But my father and I (New Yorkers are so smart!) had the “mini” bouillabaisse, served as one course for one.  There were four fishes, but I only caught the names of bream and John Dory.  The broth was thick in a way that I can never recreate.  Heady with garlic and saffron and vegetables–onions, and fennel.  It coated the fish, and was a soup at the same time.  There were shreds of Parmesan, a tub of rouille that I dumped onto everything in site.  Rouille may be my favorite thing.  It means “rust” in English, for its color, and is a homemade mayonnaise spiked with garlic, saffron, and chilis.  Toasts were served to dip into the sauce, and to smear with rouille, and whole pieces of garlic to rub on them to add even more garlic to the whole experience.  It was delicious, but in one of those satisfying ways where you know you’re getting the best possible thing for your money and your time.  I have to say, and it pains me to write this, it was even better than Chez Gilbert!

The Bouillabaisse

VILLEFRANCHE Toasts

Toasts for Dipping and Smearing with Rouille

VILLEFRANCHE Rouille

The Condiments: Rouille, Garlic, and Grated Cheese

VILLEFRANCHE Bouillabaisse

The Main Event: Bouillabaisse

The Rest

VILLEFRANCHE Oysters

"The time has come, my little friends, to talk of others things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax. Of cabbage and kings."

VILLEFRANCHE Oyster Condiments

Sauce Mignonette, Brown Bread, and Butter for the Oysters

VILLEFRANCHE Pissaladière Squares

Amuse-Bouche: Pissaladière Squares

VILLEFRANCHE Crab Cake

Gateau de Crabe--so different from a crab "cake" back home! A bed of couscous, crab meat, diced tomatoes, and chive oil.

VILLEFRANCHE Lobster

Lobster, à la Française. But I love the Maine way too.

VILLEFRANCHE Pavé de Veau

Veal with Ratatouille and Potatoes

And for dessert, peaches seared with thyme, with raspberry sorbet.  The picture was too low quality to publish!

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Categories: Côte d'Azur, Restaurants, Voyages
 

In Cassis, Aix-en-Provence, and Menton

CASSIS Chocolat Chaud

Hot Chocolate and Croissants in Cassis

Two summers ago, Maman rented a little apartment in this town none of us had ever heard of: Cassis.  Spelled like the black currant liqueur, but the “s” is silent when you say the town’s name.  Mr. English and I stayed for a few weeks, and we toured around all over Provence, and some of the Riviera, discovering gorgeous seaside villages and majestic perched medieval towns.  I wrote about it all in the Papiers Provence.  So, as my father was in town, and because he had never seen our little seaside getaway, we drove the two and a half hours to Cassis.

It’s a simple town.  Not fancy.  Right on the sea.  With sailboats docked, and a petanque court, and a pebble beach.  It is a natural cove, between the giant calanques, these seaside cliff inlets, that blockade it off from Marseille.  But what I love about Cassis is it’s not to touristy.  The shops sell lovely things.  The restaurants have good food.  There’s an Amorino gelato bar (I’m an addict), and a real beachside ice cream and sandwich vendor that sells me my merguez frites sandwiches for 4.50.  The sea is cold and fresh.  And the sunset against the huge stone cliffs is breathtaking.  There are little garden restaurants that serve ceviche of the local scorpionfish, and seaside terraces that serve “the best bouillabaisse from here to Paris”.  We arrived early, around 9, and I sat down for my breakfast of champions: chocolat chaud and pain au chocolat.  I think only an American would ever order that much chocolate, but I loved it!  Then, we boarded one of the tour boats for the calanques, and a small merry band of us set to sea.  We wove in and out of the secret inlets, the sea so bleu-marine that it was like a siren’s call to dive in and escape the clear sun.  We could see straight to the bottom of the deep sea, and almost straight to the tops of the cliffs.  We arrived to shore windswept, and sad that we’d already seen the whole tiny town, and were moving on to Aix.

CASSIS Calanques 1

Cap Canaille in Cassis

CASSIS Calanques 2

The Cassis Calanques

CASSIS Calanques 3CASSIS Calanques 4

CASSIS Sea

The Deep Blue Sea in Cassis

I first came to Aix when I was fifteen–my mom took me on a little vacation in the South of France for an early sweet sixteen gift.  I was breathlessly in love with the whole place.  And Aix was my favorite.  We stayed right on the Cours Mirabeau, a shady eighteenth century-looking avenue through the middle of town, with platane trees that tangle their fingers up over the road, and a building that looks held up by two famous Atlas figures bearing up the lintel of the front door.  I tried to take a picture to share them, but they are being cleaned.  I guess a shower after a few hundred years is probably a good thing.

I found Aix, back then, almost sleepy.  Not so two years ago, and not so now.  It is bustling, full of all my favorite French-only shops–Princesse Tam-Tam, Petit Bateau, Aigle–and restaurants and crowds.  But the markets remain my favorite, and they sell purple asparagus, pistou-soaked green olives, zucchini flowers, fruits-de-mer, and my favorite, this homespun, completely not Laduree macarons.  I have a whole post coming on those, because I think they’re the next big thing.

AIX Vegetable Lasagna

Ratatouille Lasagna in Aix-en-Provence

We dug up an old favorite lunch spot of ours, Le Pizza, and ordered one of those dishes that you dream about and drive anywhere for (my French In-N-Out burger): vegetable lasagna.  It sounds weirds, I know, to drive hours for a vegetable lasagna, but this one is à la Provençal.  A layer of chunky ratatouille in the bottom of a gratin dish, covered in fresh lasagna noodles, a simple tomato sauce, and a mix of mozzarella and Gruyère bubbling on top.  I had to stop myself, so I could save room for my rustic macarons, which I bought in chocolate-raspberry, lavender, and pistachio.  Again, more on those to come…

AIX Natural Macarons 1

Jars of Macarons, au naturale, in Aix

AIX Natural Macarons 2AIX Natural Macarons 3

AIX Crazy Savory Macarons

Some crazy, savory macaron flavors in Aix: Smoked Salmon with Dill and Fruit Coulis; Shrimp with Anise and Lemon Confit; Foie Gras with Fig and Speck; Goat Cheese with Bacon and Tapenade

We drove back to La Turbie, desperate for our “local”–Café de la Fontaine.  But they were booked.  We drove to Menton, and everywhere was absolutely booked.  Lesson: on the Riviera, in summer, make a reservation.  No matter how crummy some these places look, and how all their tables are empty, they’re “booked”.  Starving and cranky, we tumbled into a little café that I would never recommend because the service was so rude, but we had the best bowls of moules marinière I’ve had in a while.  With itsy-bitsy, tiny mussels.  So much sweeter and less like dead tongues in your mouth than those giants everyone oohs and ahhs for.  I woke up the next morning still tasting the garlic.

MENTON Mussels Mariniere

Teeny, Tiny Moules Marinière in Menton

MENTON Salade

The Mussels Came "Frites-Salade"

MENTON Frites

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French in a Flash: Little Stuffed Zucchinis

RECIPE: Little Stuffed Zucchinis
Round Zucchinis

Little Round French Courgettes

I was inspired to make these by my trip to Nice, and a walk around the Menton market.  Bon app!

Get the whole story on Serious Eats.

The thing I love most about actually writing this column from France (okay, what’s not to love?) is that I get to cook like the French do. I have no idea what I want to make; I just go down to the market and I pick something. Last week, the market inspired the tagliatelle with zucchini flower pistou. This week, it’s stuffed zucchini.

All around the area of Nice they sell petits farcis—which means “little stuffed things”-in stalls on the street and in markets. It’s made of hollowed out eggplant, zucchini, tomato, or pepper stuffed with meat, vegetable, bread or rice, and cheese. [It's a mixture of mini bits of eggplant, zucchini, tomato, and pepper stuffed with meat, vegetable, bread or rice, cheese.] I made my own petit farcis with little, fat, cherubically round zucchinis from the market that I’ve wanted to try for years, and a vegetarian filling of fresh bread crumbs, zucchini flesh, mint, basil, pecorino, olive oil, garlic, onion, and chili. Stuffed to the brim with the filling and topped with a zucchini stem chapeau, the little zucchini looked charming-and, I think, slightly more elegant appeal than the petits farcis from the street. Plus, it’s one of those inexpensive and convenient dinners that comes straight from the pantry. All I have to do is pick up a few zucchini since I always have the rest of the ingredients sitting in the house.

I ate way too much of this once it came out of the oven, giving credence to the fact that this little piggy went to market.

Stuffed Zucchini

Zucchinis Stuffed with Bread, Pecorino, Olive Oil, Walnuts, Chili, Onion, Garlic, Mint, and Basil!

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Cheap, Eat, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, Sides, Vegetables, Vegetarian, Vegetarian
 

Back in Nice, Menton, and Monte Carlo

I’m back in France, having had to go back to London for a few days for work.  As soon as I landed, I went right back to Fenocchio, and made myself try new flavors, even though I love orange flower and am forever loyal to it.  This time, I had rice pudding ice cream (riz au lait) and pear sorbet.  The sorbet was killer, the ice cream was very good, with real plump grains of rice tucked into the frozen cream.  My dad, in Nice for the first time, had the spekuloos.  Amazing as ever, and of course, I stole half of it.

Pichade

Pichade

Barba Juan

Barba Juan

Blette Beignets

Zucchini Flower Beignet Menton

Zucchini Flower Beignet in Menton

Sweet Apple Beignet

Sweet Apple Beignet

The next morning, we went to the market in Menton, where one woman sets up her shop just outside the market.  She is the patron saint of all sinful, delicious, provençal foods.  She sells beignets and pizza.  Could two words ever fit more beautifully together?  I love her Barba Juan, these round fried balls stuffed with blette, a leafy green found in tarts all over the South of France.  Google Translate tells me it’s chard, but it tastes more like dandelion greens.  Just that touch almost sour, and verdant, and good.  And she has giant zucchini flower beignets–the best I’ve had.  Soft, and almost juicy in an impossible way.  She also sells this Menton-only cheeseless pizza, like a tomato pissaladière, called pichade.  I bought a sweet apple beignet from her too.  I love her!  And that was my breakfast.  When in France…

The Monte Carlo Casino

The Monte Carlo Casino

Amazing Ratatouille

Amazing Ratatouille

Pink Grapefruit Sorbet

Pink Grapefruit Sorbet

For a late lunch, I took my father to Monte Carlo, to a famous restaurant called Café de Paris.  I was there when I was fifteen–I was kicked out of the casino for being too young.  So my mom took me there and bought me ratatouille as a consolation.  I never forget that ratatouille, because it was the best of my life.  I find it very difficult to make well, and this one was cut into a million tiny die, like the ones that come with a travel backgammon game.  They don’t cut it so petite anymore, but I have to report, that even thought it is incredibly overpriced, it is still the best ratatouille I’ve ever had.  I followed it with more ice cream–pink grapefruit sorbet.  It’s getting to be a habit.

The bouillabaisse I had that night deserves its own post.  I spent the rest of the afternoon sneaking photographs of recipe postcards in a gift shop.  I was desperate!  The perfect soupe au pistou might be my holy grail.

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Working Girl Dinners Goes Moroccan!

RECIPE: Merguez Bake with Peppers and Couscous

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. My grandmother, my Mémé, was born in Casablanca, making her a teenager around the time of Rick’s Café Americain (if only Humphrey Bogart ever really lived there). She came to France as a teenager, but she still cooks the most amazing Moroccan food, and I am besotted with it. Whenever I go home to Florida, I beg her for her specialties–things I can barely pronounce and definitely can’t spell. But there is one thing that’s as popular in France as it is in Morocco, and that’ Merguez: the spicy lamb sausage I grilled up for Bastille Day. It’s perfect for Working Girl cooking because it’s slightly exotic, which makes it exciting, but it’s also so flavorful on it’s own, stuffed with garlic, harissa, spices like cumin and coriander–so you really don’t have to do anything other than put it in the oven, where it releases the most gorgeous, fragrant juices.

I love this simple bake, inspired by Nigella Lawson, who does a similar dish with Halloumi: I put Merguez and roasted red peppers on a tray in the oven. Meanwhile, I fluff up a pile of couscous. The sausage is intensely smoky and spicy, and the peppers are sweet, and the couscous is mild and filling. An effortless trip on the Marrakech Express! I promise–anyone can make this in minutes. Plus, learning to make couscous is a Working Girl must because it cooks on counter in five minutes with just hot water, and can be paired with anything as a quick side instead of potatoes, or pasta, or rice. If you want to fancy it up, scatter some fresh cilantro leaves over the top of each plate.

Merguez Bake with Peppers and Couscous
serves 2

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into strips
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ½ pound Merguez sausages
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 small handful fresh cilantro leaves (optional)

PROCEDURE

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

On a small rimmed baking pan, toss together the sausages and red peppers, and season with salt and pepper.  Bake for 25 minutes, flipping everything over once.

Meanwhile, combine the couscous with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl.  Pour the boiling water over the couscous, and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap.  Let stand 5 to 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Serve the peppers, merguez, and couscous together on the plate, and top with fresh cilantro for a fancy flourish!

NOTE

If your supermarket doesn't sell Merguez, you can find it any any Middle Eastern or Kosher grocer--and sometimes gourmet shops.  If all else fails, just use another exotic and spicy sausage, like chorizo or andouille.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Main Courses, Meat, Recipes, Series, Watch, Working Girl Dinners