My friend Bernadette from New Classic Recipe (https://newclassicrecipe.com) came up with the wonderful idea to have an on-line cookbook club with some of her blog buddies. What a fun, and great way to choose a recipe or two from the books, cook them, and review them. Then, you decide if the book is worth your shelf space! Please go to her site for other reviews of this book!
You don’t have to visit a Parisian bistro to enjoy a delightful French-inspired dish. This little cookbook, “Bistro Cooking,” by Patricia Wells, 1989, packs a lovely range of classic recipes you can refer to again and again. Some, Wells created herself after enjoying a delightful meal; other recipes she coaxed out of friends or reluctant chefs. Their origins are from all regions of France, with a nod to the day’s changing tastes:
“Bistro cuisine knows no boundaries, and the roster of dishes that could seriously be labeled ‘authentic bistro’ runs into the hundreds. Paris has its own style of bistro cooking, as do the French cities of Lyons, Strasbourg, Nice, and Marseilles,” she wrote. “Of course, bistro chefs are conscious of the way we like to eat today. That means they serve more salads, more fish, less meat. While charcuterie – sausages, hams, terrines, and pates – have long played a starring role in bistro cooking, today they appear in different guises, cubed and tossed into compose salads, or served in smaller portions.”
Don’t worry, we didn’t forget the French butter!
But make no mistake, there is still plenty of butter and cheese in these recipes!
The book is organized in appetizers and first courses, soups, salads, pastas, seasonal vegetables, potatoes (yes, a chapter of their very own, be still my heart), eggs, cheese, terrines and tarts, fish and shellfish, poultry, meats, and desserts. There is also a lovely chapter of basics that covers everything from stocks and sauces to breads. Additionally, the book includes a chapter of little recipes for delights such as homemade mayonnaise or crème fraiche, pastry, vanilla sugar, and herb mixtures.
More than recipes, an experience!
Not just a cookbook, these pages are a joy to read, with personal stories before each recipe that reveal the inspiration behind the food. She includes chef’s notes here and there and quotes about the regions and culture:
“Life is so brief that we should not glance either too far backwards or forwards…therefor study how to fix our happiness in our glass and in our plate.” ~ Grimod de la Reynière.
There are also menus strewn about the book for special occasions that bring to mind any number of lovely images: A Summer Lunch in Provence beneath the Old Oak Tree; Burgundian Fete to Celebrate Beaujolais Noveau; It’s About Time we Organized a Picnic; Supper from Normandy; and, Let’s Call it a Bordeaux Country Fete, to name just a few. Wells included lots of handy cooking tips along the way as well from how to cook eggs properly, or how to properly dress a salad. She also suggests a wine pairing with each dish. I’m not sure if all the wines she suggests are still being made, but her descriptions of them offer a guide.
What I made
For Sunday supper with just the husband, I prepared two dishes: Grilled Trout with Peppers, Capers, and Cumin, and a Tomato and Zucchini Gratin. I halved both recipes, but what you see here is the full recipe for four. Both recipes had a minimum of ingredients, and were delightfully simple to make. We loved them, and would make them again. My only critique was that the peppers were so flavorful in the trout sauce, the cumin was almost lost, so I’d probably add a bit more. Otherwise, it was fun to make, the fish very tender and sweet, and the sauce was just right.
A definite thumbs up!
If it’s not already on your cookbook shelf, I recommend it should be! I’m not sure why I didn’t already own this one. The book has certainly stood the test of time. I bought my copy second hand, in excellent condition, and plan to use it frequently. There a tarte au citron I have my eye on…
Daurade Grillé, Sauce au Poivrons, Câpres, et Cumin Willi’s Wine Bar
Willi’s Wine Bar’s Grilled Porgy with Red Peppers, Capers, and Cumin
Wells had this dish at lunchtime at Willi’s Wine Bar in Paris on a wintry Saturday and was impressed by the freshness and flavors of the peppers, capers, and cumin blending together beautifully. She suggested substituting sea bream or rainbow trout if porgy could not be found. I used the rainbow trout, and it was tender and sweet. She suggested a sturdy white wine to serve with this such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Beaucastel.
5 to 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and diced
2 tbs. drained capers
2 tsp. toasted cumin seeds
4 whole porgy, each about 10 oz. (300 g) cleaned, with heads on or substitute sea bream or rainbow trout)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
In a medium non-stick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, add the peppers and sauté until cooked through, 4 to five minutes. Off the heat, stir I the capers and cumin. The sauce can be prepared ahead and reheated at serving time.
Rinse the fish and pat dry. Generously season the cavity of each porgy with salt and pepper. Generously brush the fish with oil.
In a large non-stick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. When hot but not smoking, add 2 of the fish and cook until opaque through but not firm or dry, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Keep the fish warm while you cook the other, adding more oil as needed.
Meanwhile, reheat the sauce. Also heat 4 dinner plates until very hot and brush the hot plates with olive oil.
When the fish are cooked, season with salt and pepper and place them on the hot oiled dinner plates. Spoon the warmed sauce alongside and serve immediately.
Gratin de Courgettes et Tomates
Tomato and Zucchini Gratin
This is really two recipes in one, a side dish or a main course if sprinkled with the cheese. I halved the recipe and cooked it in a smaller dish, and still had enough for four side dishes, and I used the Parmesan. She suggested serving this with a Bandol from the Mediterranean, such as Domaine Tempier.
Rub the bottom of a large oval porcelain gratin dish about 14” X 9” X 2” (40.5 X 25.5 X 5 cm) with the garlic. Alternating the slices of zucchini and tomato, arrange the vegetables in a single layer over the bottom of the gratin. (this sounds tedius, but it was really quite simple and fast.) Sprinkle with the thyme and the oil, salt, and pepper.
Bake, uncovered, until meltingly soft, about 20 minutes.
If serving as a side dish, place under the broiler just until lightly browned. If serving as a main course, sprinkle with the Parmesan and broil until the cheese is bubbly and browned.
Serve immediately. Serves 4.
“My waiter was Gaston, an old, asthmatic man who suffered from rheumatism. On days when the weather was about to change, he was ill-tempered and disinclined to listen to the guest’s orders. Instead, he would bring the guest what he himself liked to eat. But his taste was excellent and usually he made a better choice than I should have done,” ~ Joseph Wechsberg “Blue Trout & Black Truffles”