By Adrianna Zampieri
With more than 300 types of cheese, more than three-dozen varieties of artisan bread, and at least 16,000 wineries throughout the country, it’s safe to say that France takes their food seriously. They’re renowned for their sophisticated cooking techniques, using only the crème de la crème of ingredients to carefully craft complicated and classic dishes, yet they’re also able to combine just a few ingredients to create a simple yet sophisticated meal.
Even though France is on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, America continues to be influenced by their haute cuisine, both in the present and in the past. American-born Julia Child brought French cuisine to the U.S. with her first cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 1961, and the movie industry frequently draws on French culture to influence the production of films such as “Julie & Julia” and Disney’s “Ratatouille.”
But even if authentic French food is 5,000 miles out of reach, you can pop one of those movies into your TV, choose a delicious recipe, and try your own hand at cooking these traditional culinary dishes. Here are a few to get you started on your exploration of French cuisine.
Hailing from present day Nice, France, this healthy and aesthetically pleasing meal started out as a peasant dish, prepared in the summer by farmers when fresh vegetables were abundant. “Smitten Kitchen” adapted this traditional recipe into her own version inspired by Disney’s “Ratatouille.”
What You Need:
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
- 1 cup tomato puree
- 1/4 tsp. oregano
- 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 small eggplant
- 1 zucchini
- 1 yellow squash
- 1 long red bell pepper
- Few sprigs of fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper
How to Do It:
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Pour tomato puree into bottom of an oval baking dish, approximately 10 inches across the long way. Drop the sliced garlic cloves and chopped onion into the sauce, stir in oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, one tablespoon of the olive oil, and season the sauce generously with salt and pepper.
- Trim the ends off the eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash. Trim the top of the red pepper and remove the core.
- On a mandoline, adjustable-blade slicer, or with a very sharp knife, cut the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and red pepper into very thin slices, approximately 1/16-inch thick.
- Atop the tomato sauce, arrange slices of prepared vegetables concentrically from the outer edge to the inside of the baking dish, overlapping so just a smidgen of each flat surface is visible, alternating vegetables. You may have a handful leftover that do not fit.
- Drizzle the remaining tablespoon olive oil over the vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Remove the leaves from the thyme sprigs with your fingertips, running them down the stem. Sprinkle the fresh thyme over the dish.
- Cover the dish with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside.
- Bake for approximately 45 to 55 minutes, until vegetables have released their liquid and are clearly cooked, but with some structure left so they are not totally limp. They should not be brown at the edges, and you should see that the tomato sauce is bubbling up around them.
- Serve with a dab of soft goat cheese on top, alone, or with some crusty French bread, atop polenta, couscous, or your choice of grain.
Traditional French Chocolate Mousse
France has a long history with chocolate, having cooked with this sweet ingredient since the early 17th century. This recipe for a creamy and rich traditional chocolate mousse from “Boulder Locavore” will have your taste buds believing they’re in France.
What You Need:
- 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, grated or finely chopped
- Unsalted butter to grease jars or ramekins
- 4 Eggs, room temperature and separated
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
How to Do It:
- Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in a metal heat-proof bowl placed over a saucepan of boiling water. Stir as chocolate is melting. Remove from heat when melted to cool slightly.
- Butter four 3-inch diameter ramekins or 7-8 ounce canning jars. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (hand mixer may also be used) beat egg whites on high until frothy; add the lemon juice.
- Continue to beat egg whites, slowly adding the granulated sugar a few tablespoons at a time (allow to mix in before adding more). Beat eggs until stiff but not dry.
- Stir egg yolks into the chocolate. Gently stir in a third of the egg white mixture into the chocolate.
- Combine the chocolate mixture into the bowl with the egg white mixture and gently mixture together completely. Note: Though the eggs are combined with the warmed chocolate they are not fully cooked. Using pasteurized eggs should reduce the risk of contracting Salmonella from eating raw eggs.
- Spoon the mousse mixture into the prepared ramekins or jars and gently tap the containers on a countertop to release any bubbles.
- Cover and fully chill before serving.