French in a Flash: Chilled Asparagus Mélange with Fines Herbes Aïoli

RECIPE: Chilled Asparagus with Fines Herbes Aïoli


Aspagaragus with Aïoli

Aspagaragus with Aïoli

Mr. English says I make vegetables sexy; that I turn them from limp, lifeless little beings to foods that are exciting, and excited. So, it’s no surprise that in this week’s French in a Flash on Serious Eats, I am offering a menage a trois of asparagus.

When I was fifteen, I spent the summer in France, with a family that thought my vegetarianism was as foreign as my language and my politics. But when I learned what the French could do with vegetables, and when the French saw how this little American girl could appreciate them, we struck an Entente Cordiale. This salad began with my introduction to the succulent and sweet white asparagus, which I marry with pencil and green or purple stalks, coupled with an aioli sauce flavored with fines herbes (tarragon, chives, parsley, chervil).

Aioli was a sauce of which I’d always heard, but of which I never knew the origins. When I was in Provence (see the Papiers Provence here to follow my trip), I learned finally that the fresh garlic mayonnaise is actually a traditional Provencal sauce, and is often served in a dish also known as aioli, in which fish, vegetables, potatoes, and egg are served boiled and accompanied by the pungent, creamy dip.

This dish is far more simple, but I think more lovely and more delicate. Served chilled with a wedge of lime, this is the perfect spring-summer salad.

Chilled Asparagus with Fines Herbes Aïoli
serves 4 to 6

Aspagaragus with AïoliIngredients

  • A total of 2 pounds of asparagus, including white, purple, thick, and pencil

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley

  • 2 tablespoons chives

  • 2 tablespoons tarragon

  • 2 tablespoons chervil

  • Zest of 1 lemon

  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

  • 1 cup mayonnaise

  • Salt and pepper

  • Lime wedges

A Note about Aïoli

Aïoli is a Provençal sauce made from garlic, egg yolks, olive oil, and lemon. It is, in its most iconic state, served in the dish also known as aïoli, which is boiled vegetables, fish, and egg, all served with the sauce. It is, and remains, all about t


  1. Peel the stalks of any thick asparagus, and all the white asparagus.

  2. Bring a pot of water to boil, and salt it well. Blanch each type of asparagus separately. Pencil takes 30 seconds, thicker takes about 60 seconds, white 60-90 seconds. Immediately shock each bundle in ice water until completely cold.

  3. Make the aïoli by whirling together the garlic and the herbs, lemon zest and juice, and salt and pepper in a food processor. Then add the mayonnaise, and blend until it is a smooth sauce flecked with tiny bits of green.

  4. Serve the chilled asparagus with the aïoli sauce, and squeeze wedges of lime over the entire dish. Finish with flaked sea salt or fleur de sel.

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Categories: Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Recipes, Salad, Series, Soup & Salad, Vegetarian

The Secret Ingredient (Crème Fraîche) Part III: Sweet Spring Peas with Shallots, Mint, and Crème Fraîche

RECIPE: Sweet Spring Peas with Shallots, Mint, and Crème Fraîche
Crème Fraîche Peas

Crème Fraîche Peas

Get the whole story at Serious Eats.

Sweet Spring Peas with Shallots, Mint, and Crème Fraîche
serves 4
Crème Fraîche PeasIngredients

  • 1 pound frozen spring peas

  • 1/2 large shallot, minced

  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter

  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche

  • 1 tablespoon chiffonade of fresh mint leaves, plus more for garnish


Bring a pot of water to a boil, and salt it well. Add the peas, and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain, and shock in ice water.

Meanwhile, sauté the shallot in the butter on medium-low heat in a wide sauté pan. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté just until the shallot is soft and translucent.

Add the peas to the butter and shallot, and heat through, allowing all excess water to evaporate. Turn off the heat, and add the crème fraîche and mint. Serve!

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Eat, Recipes, Series, Sides, The Secret Ingredient, Vegetables, Vegetarian

The Secret Ingredient (Crème Fraîche) Part II: Easy Crème Fraîche Baked Mac and Cheese with Zucchini and Thyme

RECIPE: Easy Crème Fraîche Baked Mac and Cheese with Zucchini and Thyme
Crème Fraîche Mac and Cheese

Crème Fraîche Mac and Cheese

Get the whole story at Serious Eats.

Easy Crème Fraîche Baked Mac and Cheese with Zucchini and Thyme
serves 4
Crème Fraîche Mac and CheeseIngredients

  • 1 pound mostaccioli or ziti

  • 1/2 cup grated fontina

  • 1 cup crème fraîche

  • 1/2 cup grated zucchini (1/2 zucchini)

  • 1/2 cup grated Gruyère

  • 1/2 cup grated sharp white cheddar

  • 1/2 grated Parmesan

  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish

  • Salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and salt it well. Boil the pasta until just shy of al dente.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the crème fraîche, zucchini, all of the fontina, Gruyère, and cheddar, and half the Parmesan. Add the thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Stir until it is all perfectly combined.

Drain the pasta, and toss well with the crème fraîche and cheese mixture. Decant into a buttered baking dish, and sprinkle the top with the remaining Parmesan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden. Let stand 5 minutes before serving, and garnish with some fresh thyme.

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Easy, Eat, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, Sides, Starches, The Secret Ingredient, Vegetarian, Vegetarian

The Secret Ingredient (Crème Fraîche) Part I: Crème Fraîche Sorbet

RECIPE: Crème Fraîche Sorbet
Crème Fraîche Sorbet

Crème Fraîche Sorbet

Get the whole story at Serious Eats.

When I was a girl, I had three little girlfriends: Kristen, Sarah, and Alexandra. Alexandra’s mother was called Medusa–at least figuratively. Every time I stood quaking before her towering frame in her frigid marble kitchen, I turned to stone.

One day I was in that kitchen doing something or other innocuous. Medusa asked if I’d like a cup of soda. My mother didn’t permit me to drink soda. “No,” I said simply, and turned to walk away, back to the puppet show we four were preparing in the other room. She grabbed by arm, the tips of her long, bony finger capped in blood red, razor-sharp tips. She hurt me. I turned, frightened, to look up at her. “Don’t be fresh,” she snarled. And let me go.

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Categories: Desserts, Easy, Eat, Frozen, Recipes, Series, The Secret Ingredient, Vegetarian

The Secret Ingredient: Crème Fraîche

Creme Fraiche Carton

It’s time once again for my monthly column The Secret Ingredient over at Serious Eats. And I think this month in particular will be of particular interest to you, Revolutionnaires: Creme Fraiche.


Peas with Crème Fraîche

Peas with Crème Fraîche

Creme fraiche is vastly underutilized in the States, and it’s a shame. Sour cream is close, but it’s really, really, well, sour. Creme fraiche is more understated, with a delicate tang accentuated by its voluptuous texture. It is resilient, and stands up to heat to make instant gratins, macaroni and cheeses, and cream sauces. It can wear sweet or savory with equal effortlessness and elegance.

Baked Pasta with Crème Fraîche

Baked Pasta with Crème Fraîche

This month, I relate my misadventure of how I learned the many meanings of the word fresh, and throw together some simple spring-summer dishes: Perfect Creamy Spring Peas with Mint, The World’s Easiest Mac and (Four) Cheese with Zucchini and Thyme, and Creme Fraiche Sorbet with Berries. A perfectly fresh and fraiche menu…

Crème Fraîche Sorbet

Crème Fraîche Sorbet

Bon App!

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Categories: Series, The Secret Ingredient

French in a Flash: Chaussons aux Pommes with Cinnamon Crème Fraîche

RECIPE: Chaussons aux Pommes with Cinnamon Crème Fraîche
Chausson aux Pommes

Chausson aux Pommes

Did you know that in the late 1980s French version of The Little Mermaid, Ariel didn’t wear her seashell bikini top? Maman used the film to increase my French fluency, but I was so prudish and scarred that I didn’t speak another mot in French for ages.

In this week’s French in a Flash on Serious Eats, I discuss the nuances in French food language that create the ambiance around the dish. Chaussons aux Pommes are simply Apple Turnovers, but in French, they translate to Apple Slippers, a term as warming and evocative as the gooey apple-pie filling that oozes out from the crumbling, buttery puff pastry at every bitten opportunity. Served with cool cinnamon creme fraiche, this dish is all about mouth appeal: in language, and in taste. As always, click here for the full story and recipe.

Chaussons aux Pommes with Cinnamon Crème Fraîche

Chausson aux PommesIngredients for the Chaussons

  • 3 Golden Delicious apples

  • 3 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

  • 1 tablespoon flour

  • Pinch of salt

  • The juice of 1/4 lemon

  • 4 sheets of frozen puff pastry, thawed but cold (from 2 boxes, preferably pure butter)

  • 1 egg, beaten for an egg wash

Ingredients for the Cinnamon Crème Fraîche

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar

  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche

Procedure for the Chaussons

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

  2. Peel and core the apples, and slice them into 1/2-inch slices. Toss with the 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon flour, a pinch of salt, and the juice of 1/4 lemon.

  3. Roll out the puff pastry, using bench flour to prevent sticking, so that you can cut 2 circles the size of tea saucers out of opposite corners of each sheet of puff pastry: you will have 8 circles in all.

  4. Transfer the chaussons to 2 baking sheets, and bake for 20 minutes. The pastry will be golden, buttery, and flakey, and the apples will be gooey, oozing, and sweet. Serve warm with cold cinnamon crème fraîche (recipe follows).

Procedure for the Cinnamon Crème Fraîche

  1. Stir everything together, and chill.

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Breakfast & Brunch, Eat, French in a Flash, Pastries, Recipes, Series, Vegetarian

Papiers Provence: 7 Juin CASSIS

There was one thing I had to do, that I had been meaning to do, before I left the South of France. In last week’s French in a Flash, I wrote that maman was born in Marseille. The reputation of great women spreads the world over, and they become known for their beauty, subtlety, mystery, and magnetism. One such Marseillaise is maman; another is La Bouillabaisse. So it is no coincidence that this past Sunday, the day I ate La Bouillabaisse, was Mother’s Day in France.

Bouillabaisse is a fish stew indigenous to Marseille. There, when served traditionally, the many kinds of fish and the potatoes are served separately from the broth, which is for all intents and purposes Soupe de Poisson, flavored with saffron and espelette, fennel and garlic, bay and tomatoes. Alongside comes the traditional rouille, an aioli stained and scented with saffron and espelette, and a pile of little crisp baguette toasts.

We saved the best for last. We had heard from all the locals that Chez Gilbert was the best seafood restaurant in Cassis, and it sat perched under its red and gold canopy right on the harbor, amidst the sailboats that swayed on the waves to the beat of the guitarist humming “Moon River” on a bench by the docks. The four of us filed in, and I commanded a rose wine from the nearby winehouse town of Bandol. There were many toasts, some of which we shared with the bouillabaisse-stained table to our right.

I told the waitor, “Sir, I want your bouillabaisse!” Then I asked him if I might have a green salad to start. He smiled paternally, and denied me. “Mademoiselle,” he corrected. “When you have bouillabaisse, you have nothing else.”

I do not believe I have ever pined in anticipation more for a single plate of food. I have made versions of bouillabaisse before: a version of only shellfish with chip-sliced potatoes and clams, mussels, shrimps, scallops, calamari, and lobster, and a Seared Chilean Sea Bass in Bouillabaisse Broth with Rock Shimp and Mussels. But I had never had the real thing, only twenty minutes outside of Marseille.

First the waitor brought the platter of the fish that had been poached whole in the broth: there were six types, but monkfish is the only one I can confirm for sure. He then took them away to “prepare” them. They re-emerged, skins, heads, and (mostly) bones removed, accompanied by potatoes poached and stained in the same broth, like white linen in some dark tea. Then, hot from a steaming silver urn, the paternal waiter ladled the broth into my bowl, and after depositing a ramekin of rouille and baguette toasts beside me on the only-white-for-a-minute tablecloth, left me to my pleasure, only to return once with a hot refill of broth.

To my shock and dismay, no one else ordered the Bouillabaisse. They all laughed and said, “We know we can have some of yours. You’ll never finish it.” “Ha!” I scoffed. That’s what they think. I got through one fish, two fish, three fish, and maybe bluefish. But I couldn’t keep up. The broth is thick from chunks of fallen filet, and the bouillon of bones. The baguette with rouille was so pungently fragrant that I couldn’t bring myself to take a bite without it. It was so complex, and yet, so delightfully simple–what must have once been a humble, frugal dish, around which only celebrations could take place.

And as for the rest of the meal? Well, you’ll get a glimpse of that too. But why talk of shoes and ships and ceiling wax, when you can have the sea, boiling hot, on the bay of Cassis?

After all, when you have bouillabaisse, you have nothing else.

La Bouillabaisse
The Six Fishes, Fileted, and Poached in the Bouillabaisse Stock

The “Soupe de Poisson” Stock

The Bouillabaisse: the white fish, the potatoes, the stock, and a baguette croute with rouille

Rouille, on Baguette

Me, in heaven
A Rose from Bandol
Les Amuses Bouches
Chez Gilbert was kind of enough to send over some petites choses to taste before and after dinner, and, besides the Bouillabaisse, they were my favorite parts of the meal.
Shelled, Chilled Mussel Salad over Tapenade

Mussels and Tapenade Spread on Baguette Toasts

Fresh Pineapple in its Juice with Coconut Creme Chantilly and Mini Financiers

The Rest of the Meal

Heart-Stamped Dried Fig Breads
Brochettes of Scallops and Foie Gras with Tropical Fruit Compote
Shrimp and Fava Risotto
Bavette Steak Echalotte with an Eggplant Stew-Stuffed Zucchini
Grilled Lobster with Chilled Herb Rice and a Zucchini-Pistou Puree-Stuffed Zucchini
Frozen Orange Souffle with Berries
Salted Sable Breton with Pistachio Cream and Raspberries
A la France! A Bientot!
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Categories: Papiers Provence, Provence, Restaurants, Series, Voyages