Shawn and I went to the library on Saturday. Wanna see what I got?
The Country Cooking of France by Anne Willan is a book of, obviously, French country food. All recipes from and in the style of what they eat in Provence. Beautiful photography, incredible recipes and great stories that really get into the daily living in the French countryside. Butchers, cheese shops, farming, fishing, hunting for truffles. Earthy, hearty, unpretentious foods. I do not want to give this book back in two weeks.
I am something of a Francophile. I have always dreamed about going to France, namely Paris. I used to think the best way to “do” France would be to go for an entire year; that way you have the time to take in everything the country has to offer. The cafes, the museums, the architecture. Montmartre, Lyon, the Rivera, Bordeaux, St. Germain. I want to go. So. Much.
But, until that happens, making French food will have to do. I adore French food, particularly their rustic, country foods. There is something so natural about those Provencal dishes; a lot of stews and soups, breads and pastries, unfussy and slow-cooked with time, love and patience. And gobs and gobs of cheese. I always loved that the French end meals with cheese platters; something we Americans have gotten backwards since we tend to start a meal with cheese platters, with appetizers.
This cookbook is pages upon pages of truly French food. I mean, there’s a chapter called “Frogs and Snails”. THAT’S French.
The book is divided into main ingredients; Poultry, Beef and Lamb, Savory Tarts, Vegetables, Breads. Every recipe has its proper French name, as well as a translation in English. It talks about where recipes originated from, why you prepare certain dishes in certain ways, recommendations for dishes to serve them with and even advice on how to store them if you’re cooking dishes ahead of time. It talks about each Provence, what type of dishes they’re known for, how the climate affects their vegetable planting and crops. It even goes into detail on annual festivals in certain areas and their traditions.
I knew that I wanted to take on one of the recipes this week for dinner. After flipping through the book a few times, I settled on Ragoût D’Agneau aux Artichauts, basically a lamb and artichoke stew. Yum. I also decided to do a warm bean salad on the side, with a red wine vinaigrette. So much deliciousness.
This dish was really a bit thinner than most stews, but still thicker than a soup (a stoup!). White wine and beef broth flavored by the garlic, meat, tomatoes and artichokes. I tossed in some fingerling potatoes just for good measure and because I love potatoes in stew.
The dish is supposed to be made with lamb, but this being The Humble Gourmet, and lamb costing an arm and a leg, I chose to go with beef instead. Still delicious, though I’m sure the lamb would have added a whole other level of depth to the broth. Seriously though, why is lamb so expensive? Who decided that the most delicious ingredients have to also be the most expensive? If I were making this for just Shawn and myself, I probably would have gone ahead and got the lamb, but I was making this dish for 5 people. 5 people stew = way more lamb than I could ever afford for one Monday night dinner.
There is definitely a distinct taste to French food. The wine in the broth really sweetened things up and kept it from being too heavy or salty. The artichokes were a great addition, a nice little variety from the meat/potatoes/carrot/celery stews I’m used to (Irish-style). The recipe called for baby artichokes, but those can be hard to find in the Bay Area this time of year, so I went with regular artichokes and just peeled them down to the inner leaves. Next time, I will definitely go for the smaller artichokes, because the larger ones are just a little more fibrous than I usually like. I also peeled the stems of the artichokes and added them into the broth. They had a much more concentrated artichoke flavor, like a slightly tougher artichoke heart. Very good.
For the bean salad, I went with regular white beans. I wanted to use fava, but my grocery store didn’t carry them dry, and I prefer to cook my own beans to canned in this type of dish. I did a quick soak on the beans, which is a great method if you’re looking to make beans for dinner but either forgot or didn’t have time to soak them overnight. Simply put the beans in a large pot of salted water. Bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat. Let the beans boil for 2 minutes, then move them off the heat and let sit in the pot for another 10 minutes. Drain and cook accordingly. It does the same work an overnight soak does in about 20 minutes; very handy little trick to have. Be sure to pick out any stones or other oddities from your beans; you’d be amazed how many strange little rocks I’ve found in bags of dried beans.
Well, after this little Monday night jaunt to Provence, I can tell you for certain that my desire to travel to France went from “desperately-want-to-go” to “oh-my-god-someone-buy-me-a-plane-ticket-now-I-MUST-GO!”. While I wait for my first-class ticket (you are sending it, right?), I’ll just indulge in some pain au chocolat and café noisette. Ne pas vous joindre à moi? THG
Ragoût D’Agneau aux Artichauts
(adapted from Anne Willan’s The Country Cooking of France)
1 4- to 5-pound lamb breast or shoulder OR stewing beef
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. flour
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups beef or veal broth, plus more as needed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large tomato, seeded and roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. dried thyme
juice of 1 lemon
8 to 10 baby artichokes OR 4-5 medium artichokes
1 lb. fingerling potatoes
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 lemons, cut into wedges
Trim the meat and cut into chunks. Pat dry the meat and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Working in batches, brown the meat on all sides, about 5 minutes per batch. Remove each batch with a straining spoon and set aside.
Over medium heat, whisk the flour into the remaining olive oil until brown, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the beef broth, garlic, tomato and dried thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Add the meat and push down so all the meat is completely submerged in the broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Simmer over medium-low heat for 1 hour.
In a large bowl, fill up halfway with cold water and add the lemon juice. Trim the stem from the artichokes. Cut off the dried end and peel the outside layer. Cut into chunks and add to the lemon water. Cut the artichokes in half across the equator. Peel back the tough leaves to the center. Cut into quarters lengthwise. Cut out the furry thistle (this section is inedible). Immediately add the cut artichoke hearts to the bowl of lemon water. Set aside.
Wash the fingerling potatoes and cut in half lengthwise. Add to a bowl of cold water. Set aside.
When the meat is tender, drain the artichokes and potatoes and add them to the Dutch oven. Add more broth to cover if necessary. Increase heat to medium and cook, covered, until artichokes and potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.
Skim off any excess fat on the surface of the pot. If the broth is too thin, increase the heat and boil it down to the desired thickness. Remove from heat. Stir in the parsley. Serve immediately.
Warm White Bean Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette
1 lb. dried white beans, soaked
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 whole shallot
1 bunch fresh sage and 1 bunch fresh thyme, tied together (bouquet garni)
salt and pepper to taste
8-10 cups water
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 shallot, roughly chopped
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil plus 1 tsp.
In a large pot, bring beans, garlic, shallot, bouquet garni, salt and pepper and water to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until beans are tender, about 45 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a small saucepan, heat 1 tsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and shallot and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add red wine vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce vinegar by halt. Drain vinegar into a large measuring cup. Whisk in mustard, parsley and salt and pepper. While vigorously whisking, add in olive oil. Whisk until emulsified.
Pour vinaigrette over beans and toss to coat. Serve warm.