10 Reasons The Amateur Gourmet Should Come to Paris

10 Reasons The Amateur Gourmet Should Come to Paris…

1. They have no idea who Bobby Flay is.

2. The have no idea who Rachel Ray is.

3. They know who Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are, but don’t care.

4. Scientology is illegal.

5. Since they wouldn’t let Oprah into Hermès, there’s an unclaimed Birkin bag for Adam’s mom.

6. They know who Oprah is, but don’t care.

7. Yes, figs are really in season here.

8. “Brangelina” and “Bennifer” are not in the French vocabulary.

9. Richard Quest has been ‘on assignment’ for a suspiciously long time.

10. We need some New Yorkers here to show Parisians that you can’t just walk right into people and expect not to get slugged.

Bonus Reason:

11. Carrie Bradshaw left.

How to Select Summer Fruits

Apricots

I’m in heaven with all the sensational fruits that explode at the markets every summer. Each shopping trip, I invariably lug back with way too much fruit. But everything looks so good I can’t resist; rosy nectarines, blushing apricots, and crisp, dark cherries.

So to help you choose the best summer fruits, here’s some shopping tips. Best bets are often at Farmer’s Markets, where the growers take primo care of what they’re selling and often they encourage sampling before you buy.

sour cherries

Cherries

The most popular sweet cherry varieties are deep-dark red and plump, with moist, perky stems. Bing cherries are reliably excellent. Although some varieties, like Queen Anne and Rainier, are light red and yellow-colored, they have a more delicate taste, which some people prefer. Cherries should be washed, then stored in the refrigerator. Unlike most other fruits, cherries are more appealing when served very cold and crisp.

Avoid cherries that are wrinkled, which means they were picked a while ago. Split apart cherries means they got wet while growing and will mold quickly.

Mara de Bois

Berries

When buying berries that are packed in plastic or cardboard containers, peek underneath: moisture on the bottom indicates the berries below are soggy or moldy.

Strawberries should be uniformly red with no green at the tips or at the stem. (Did you know the cluster of seeds concentrated at the tip is referred to as a ‘cats nose’?)
Strawberries should have a sweet smell. Some berries have been hybridized to be red on the outside, but disappointingly underripe within, so color’s not always an accurate indication. Avoid buying commercial strawberries after rainy weather: since they grow near the earth, they’re often sprayed with a rather nasty chemical to prevent mold. Look for organic strawberries instead.

If you’re not going to eat strawberries the same day, store them on a plate in the refrigerator, in a single-layer, so they don’t mush each other down.

Raspberries, blueberries, and other bushberries should be plump and dry. Blackberries should be inky-black and a bit soft, never rock-hard. There’s nothing worse than a sour blackberry.

Blueberries should be firm. Most have no fragrance. Did you know that each blueberry can contain up to 100 seeds? If you don’t believe me, slice one open and count. I never wash any berries since they’re too fragile-except blueberries and strawberries.

Can you freeze fresh berries or pitted cherries? Yes. Lay the fruits out in an even layer on a non-reactive baking sheet (or line one with parchment paper.) Freeze. Once frozen, store in zip-top freezer bags. Frozen berries and cherries can be used for sauces, or added frozen mixed with other fruits for pies, crisps, and cobblers.

melons

Melons

It’s been said that finding a good melon is like falling in love. Sometimes you have to try a lot of them to find the right one.

Judy Rodgers in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook insists that the best melons are the ones with lots of netting and claims not to have picked a bad one since learning that. I always take a good sniff. The most amazing melons I’ve tasted were melons that I could smell before I could see them.

Choose a melon that’s heavy and relatively firm, but not-rock hard (except for honeydew melons.) Any mold by the stem end or mushy spots are indications of it being over-the-hill.

A simple melon dessert can be made by pouring sweet wine, such as Muscat or Sauternes, over slices of melon and berries and chilling them well. Store melons in the refrigerator.

Peaches, Elderberries, and Nectarines

Nectarines and Peaches

The best peaches have a sweet, perfumed aroma if you sniff the stem end. Peaches need to be picked a day before ripening, then ripened off the tree. Or better yet, the same day. If they’re too green, they were picked too soon and will never taste good. Ditto for nectarines. Find fruits that are mostly red and blushing.
If faced with a bin of underripe fruits, find one that’s rather soft and smell it. If it smells good, chances are the rest will be too, once ripe.

bag of apricots

Apricots and Plums

Neither of these fruits boast much aroma, but they make up for it with lots of flavor. Apricots should have an appealing blush and no green. Red-tinged apricots means they’ve received lots of sunlight and will likely be good. Apricots are best when they’re gushy-ripe. They should be very soft, like a water balloon. My favorite variety are the Royal and Blenheim apricots.

Most of the flavor in plums are in the skin, and they make the best jam, especially when mixed with raspberries. Santa Rosa and Elephant Heart plums are reliably good.

Baked apricots are a superb, easy dessert: simply halve ripe, but firm apricots, place face-down in a baking dish, pour in a wine glass of white wine (dry or sweet), and drizzle with a copious amount of honey (use more than you think, as apricots get quite tart when cooked.) You can add a split vanilla bean too. Bake until the apricots are tender and juicy.

Delicious with vanilla ice cream!

Fruit Recipes

Baked Nectarines and Cherries

Berry Cobbler

Candied Cherries

Cranberry Raisin Pie

Lemon Tart

Persimmon Bread

Polenta Crisp Topping

Quince tarte Tatin

Red Wine-Poached Rhubarb

Rosy Poached Quince

Tropical Fruit Soup

Vanilla-Poached Quince

Warm Compote of Summer Fruits

Making Red Currant Jam

Ha! I fooled you.

This time, this really is a ‘no-recipe’ (unlike my No-Recipe Cherry Jam) since unless you have your own bushes and pick them youself, you’re not likely to have enough red currants to make jam.
So, no-recipe.

Last weekend out in the countryside lots of red currants were picked…
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No make that lots of baskets of red currants!…
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Hours were spent stirring them diligently on the stove until the red currants were transformed into supple, translucent jelly…
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A few red currants were set aside to make a tart. Tangy, vibrant red currants, cooked with a soupçon of sugar, atop buttery pâte brisée

Yum!

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Later in the afternoon, we picked lots of perfumed rose petals to make jelly…
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Très sexy…Non?

(The rose petals, not the cleavage!)

Panzanella Recipe (Bread and Tomato Salad Recipe)

God forbid you don’t buy fresh bread every day in France. And I love bread, so it’s not unusual for me to come home carrying more than I should. So the problem is, it’s rather difficult to eat all that bread.

Bread

So what to do with all that lovely leftover bread? I make Panzanella, a Tuscan salad designed to use up lots of leftover bread, which we ate this weekend during an outing in the countryside. Tuscans don’t salt their bread, which goes back to a long-standing rift between them and the people from Pisa, who controlled the prices of salt many years ago..and they say I hold grudges!

(But if you’ve ever had unsalted bread, you perhaps can understand why they have so much leftover.)

You can use any firm-textured bread you have on hand. I prefer levain bread, which is dense and won’t fall apart when tossed around. But you should use what you have leftover as long as it’s not too airy. And in spite of what everyone tells you, it’s not vital to use pricey heirloom tomatoes:marinating them in copious amounts of fresh herbs will infuse ordinary tomatoes with summertime flavor. And feel free to use lots of chopped fresh herbs as well. Oregano, marjoram, thyme, and fresh mint are all wonderful mixed in.

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Panzanella

About six servings

Adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz


In traditional panzanella, the bread gets soaked first. However I find tossing it in a copious amount of liquid from the tomatoes, and the dressing, does the same thing and adds lots of flavor. Interestingly, I’ve read that tomatoes were supposedly not used in panzanella until 1928. But like most foods, origins are often mired in controversy.

  • 4 cups torn pieces of hearty, country-style bread (approximately 1-inch/3 cm pieces)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • lots of freshly ground pepper
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 3/4 cup best-quality olive oil
  • 8 medium tomatoes (1½ pounds/750 grams)
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, halved, and seeds scraped away
  • 3/4 cup pitted black olives, preferably kalamata
  • 1 cup packed (80 grams) coarsely chopped mixed fresh basil, mint, and flat-leaf parsley

(Note: I don’t precisely measure herbs for this, so feel free to use lots and lots. The more the better!)
½ pound (250 grams) feta cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC) degrees. Spread the torn bread pieces on a baking sheet and toast until deep golden brown, about 15 minutes. Stir once or twice as they’re toasting. Set aside to cool.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the mustard, salt, pepper, garlic, and vinegar. Add the diced onion and let sit for at least 30 minutes. Stir in the olive oil. Remove the stems from the tomatoes and cut into 1-inch (3 cm) pieces. Cut the cucumber into ½-inch (1½ cm) pieces.

3. Add the tomatoes and cucumbers to the bowl with the dressing. Add the bread, olives and fresh herbs and toss well. Taste, and add additional salt, oil, and vinegar to your liking.
Crumble the feta over the top in large chunks and toss briefly.

Le Verre Volé

If you plan on eating at Le Verre Volé (The Stolen Glass) be sure to call first and reserve a spot. It’s located just next to the Canal St. Martin, a trendy quarter of Paris, and there’s only seats for about 18 people or so. But unlike New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles, you could call that afternoon and likely get a spot. During dinner I told my dining companion that if this was in New York, there would be a line out the door…and around the corner.

Never An Empty Glass

I began the complex task of choosing from one of the wines from the shelves. Each has the price written across the neck of the bottle since Le Verre Volé doubles as a retail establishment. To drink it there, they add a modest 7€. I scanned the shelves and chose a red Mazel from the Ardeches (18€) that was very light and fruity. A bit ‘fresh’ when first opened—once it sat, it gained complexity. I was happy that it was the perfect choice for the warm evening and hearty food. During the evening, practically every three minutes, someone would roar up on their scooter, disembark, and rush in to buy a bottle of wine for dinner.

We shared a jellied terrine of oxtails (5€). The finely shredded meat was gently molded with some spring asparagus and peas, all barely held together with jellied beef stock that was light. It was served with pickled, vinegary capers on their stems and dressed salad greens.

All the main courses were meaty: blood sausage with roasted apples and potatoes, andouillettes de Troyes, and veal Marengo. Not being much of a fan of ‘variety meats’ (as they’re politely called in America), I chose the caillettes ardechoise (10€), a patty of well-seasoned pork ground-up with tasty and still-chewy beet greens and spinach. It was roasted until searingly-crisp on the outside, and when I split it open, a moist cloud of steam erupted revealing fork-tender meat within.

One could also make up a meal composed of lots of the appetizers, like the roasted eggplant caviar, salt cod-stuffed peppers, or platters of various meats and cheeses.

The genial young men who run the place managed to keep the small crowd happy. One took orders and opened wine, while the other stood behind the tiny bar and dished up salads and roasted meats and sausages in the small ovens. Behind the bar is a glass door leading to an air-conditioned room, a jumble of boxes and bottles of wine.

I’ll see you there.

Le Verre Volé
67, rue de Lancry
tel: 01 48 03 17 34
Métro: Jacques Bonsergent

UPDATE: In late 2010, Le Verre Volé remodeled and put in a real kitchen and additional tables. I still like the place, however it did lose the impromptu feel that it used to have after the transition. And having a kitchen has made the menu a little more “ambitious”, which I’m not sure is necessarily a good thing. (I miss the copious cheese and charcuterie boards, for example.) It has also become quite popular so it’s best to book well in advance if you want a seat in this still relatively small dining room. On my last visit, our reservation was in their reservation book, but they told our small group that they couldn’t give us a table because they didn’t have room for us. The did give us the name and phone number of a restaurant in the 20th arrondisement that they recommended.



Related Links and Wine Bars

Le Rubis

Le Garde Robe

Les Papilles

Le Baron Rouge

Beaujolais Nouveau

Paris Favorites

Time Out Paris Dining Guide

French Menu Translator

No-Recipe Cherry Jam

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Stand back. This is gonna get messy.

I’m going to teach you how to make something without a recipe.

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Before you panic, remember that your grandmother made lots of things without recipes and without measuring everything down to the last 5/9ths of a teaspoon. Just breath. That’s right, it will be okay. It’s easy to make jam and you can do it without a recipe.

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Here’s how…

No-Recipe Cherry Jam


You’ll notice a difference in the cherries and the jams shown in the post. The lighter one is made from sour cherries and the darker is made from sweet cherries. The recipe will work well with either.

1. Buy as many cherries as you feel like pitting.

Usually I have the patience for about 3 pounds, but it’s up to you. Figure one pound of cherries will make one good-sized jar of jam. Plump, dark Bing cherries work really well, although Burlats are good, and if you can find sour cherries, your jam will rock.

2. Wear something red. Rinse the cherries and remove the stems. Using the handy cherry pitter that I told you to buy a few weeks ago, pit the cherries. Make sure to remove all the pits. Chop about 3/4ths of them into smaller pieces, but not too small. Leave some cherries whole so people can see later on how hard you worked pitting real cherries. If you leave too many whole ones, they’ll tumble off your toast.

3. Cook the cherries in a large nonreactive stockpot. It should be pretty big since the juices bubble up. Add the zest and juice of one or two fresh lemons. Lemon juice adds pectin as well as acidity, and will help the jam gel later on.

4. Cook the cherries, stirring once in a while with a heatproof spatula, until they’re wilted and completely soft, which may take about 20 minutes, depending on how much heat you give them. Aren’t they beautiful, all juicy and red?

cherry jam

5. Once they’re cooked, measure out how many cherries you have (including the juice.) Use 3/4 of the amount of sugar. For example if you have 4 cups of cooked cherry matter, add 3 cups of sugar. It may seem like a lot, but that amount of sugar is necessary to keep the jam from spoilage.

6. Stir the sugar and the cherries in the pot and cook over moderate-to-high heat. The best jam is cooked quickly. While it’s cooking, put a small white plate in the freezer. Remain vigilant and stir the fruit often with a heatproof utensil. (Wouldn’t it be a shame to burn it at this point?) Scrape the bottom of the pot as you stir as well.

7. Once the bubbles subside and the jam appears a bit thick and looks like it is beginning to gel, (it will coat the spatula in a clear, thick-ish, jelly-like layer, but not too thick) turn off the heat and put a small amount of jam on the frozen plate and return to the freezer. After a few minutes, when you nudge it if it wrinkles, it’s done.

wrinkle test

If not, cook it some more, turn off the heat, and test it again. If you overcook your jam, the sugar will caramelize and it won’t taste good and there’s nothing you can do. Better to undercook it, test it, then cook it some more.

Once it’s done and gelled, add a bit of kirsch if you have it, clear cherry eau-de-vie which will highlight the flavor. Or add a few drops of almond extract, but not too much, or it will taste like a cheap Italian cake. Ladle the warm jam into clean jars and cover. Cool at room temperature, then put in the refrigerator where it will keep for several months.

sour cherry jam

See, you did it!



Related Posts and Recipes:

Easy Jam Tart

Peach Leaf Wine

Quick Mincemeat Recipe

Red Wine-Poached Rhubarb

White Chocolate and Sour Cherry Scones

Seville Orange Marmalade

Bergamot Marmalade

Shallot, Beer, Prune, and Cocoa Nib Jam

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

USDA canning guidelines

No-Recipe Cherry Jam

Pickled Sour Cherries

Upside Down Cake

Almond Cake

Caramelized White Chocolate Ice Cream

cherries

La Table Nutella

The hottest table right now in Paris is not at some snooty Michelin 3-star restaurant. It’s La Table Nutella, a temporary café to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Nutella, the world best-selling spread. Nutella, a paste made of hazelnuts and chocolate (and, um, a few other things) was invented in the Piedmonte region of Italy, famous for it’s delicious hazelnuts.

Each morning a line forms before 7 am, waiting (and hoping) for entrance. I kinda gave up, not really wanting to wake up that early and standing on the street. And I hate crowds of people grabbing food. Plus I had heard stories of a new French revolution brewing since there wasn’t nearly enough food to feed the hoards, and the staff was insanely stressed trying to control the crowd.

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It seems that the staff has figured out a solution to the problems plaguing the café by severly limited the amount of guests, which means the dreaded queue.
Then like magic, I got an email from Louisa that she scored a VIP table and we could cut in front of the queue, something the French are so adept at they even have their own word for it: resquillage.

Once seated, we ordered just about everything on the menu. All proceeds go to the group Rêves, so we didn’t feel guilty.

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This is a dessert created by pastry chef Philippe Conticini for the café, who has written a companion cookbook with stunning recipes using Nutella. It’s an eggshell filled with a rich, creamy chocolate custard that tasted remarkably like great chocolate pudding sans the skin. The baton, or cookie, that came with it was crunchy and the perfect accompaniment..

We split a giant brownie, and when I say giant, that thing was huge… Très Américain! Layers of sticky, dense brownie batter baked with a ganache-like paste of Nutella and toasted hazelnuts. I loved it, but others felt it was too rich.

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So I ate theirs for them.

The Apple-Nutella Crumble was an unfriendly Franco-American alliance on par with Bush and Chirac (Apple Crumble has replaced the ubiquitous Apple Tart in France as the dessert-of-the-moment)…although I don’t like apples and chocolate together, so I’m not the best judge. I did enjoy the fromage blanc with a dollop of Nutella but we all flipped for the little croissants which when split open, oozed out a serious amount of gooey Nutella inside.

When I cut it open, like the croissant itself, Louisa’s enthusiasm spilled out, “Oh yeah, baby, bring it on!

Seems I’m not the only one in love with Nutella.

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La Table Nutella
46, rue de Sévigné, 4th
Until June 22
Monday through Friday, 7am to 11:30am
Saturday 8am to 3pm
(Get there early; latecomers will most likely not get seated.)

The Grainy Breads of Paris

Bread from 134RDT

I’ve dedicated a healthy portion of my life walking the streets and boulevards of Paris to find grainy bread here. In a city where there’s a boulangerie on every corner, you can get excellent baguettes or a nice loaf of pain au levain just about anywhere. But it’s hard to find a loaf of bread with lots of seeds and stuff in it. Maybe it’s because the breads in Paris, like Parisians, are so refined. And as much as I love all the breads in Paris, it’s the grainy breads that I find especially appealing.

Here are some of my especially favorite grainy breads from various bakeries across Paris. These are the sturdy, hearty breads that I enjoy most. And the ones that I’ll happily walk across town for one.

Grain Bread

Norlander Bread
Christian Voiron
61, rue de la Glaçiere

I learned about this bread from Clotilde’s explorations and it’s a favorite. Tight and compact, Norlander bread is the heaviest bread I’ve found in Paris. And it’s also small, making it the perfect bread for a little afternoon snack with some contraband peanut butter, which a friend smuggled out of an American army base in Switzerland.

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Pain Nordique
Le Grande Epicerie
22, rue de Sèvres

I’ve been told the Grand Epicerie makes over 80 different kinds of bread underground, beneath this enormous food emporium. This is a lighter, airy bread, yet full of lots of sunflower seeds and a good amount of oat flakes. It’s excellent sliced-thin and toasted. But get there early: for some reason, by mid-afternoon they start feeding all the Pain Nordique loaves into the slicing machine and bagging them up.

Last time I was there, I was in the slowest line in the world, and as the lone saleswoman waited patiently on some madame that was bickering over the prices or freshness of a single roll or something. Meanwhile the other salesperson was tossing the brown loaves into a slicing machine as fast as he could. All I could do was stand there helplessly, hoping that my turn would come soon, before he could finish slicing all the loaves. I ended up getting the last two. Whew!

Pain aux Cereales
Eric Kayser
8, rue Monge

This is one of thes best breads in Paris, period. I don’t know how Eric Kayser does it, but each loaf comes out encrusted with golden sesame seeds. Slice it open, and you’ll find a delicate but full-flavored bread studded with crunchy grains of millet, sesame and sunflower seeds, with a naturally sweet taste. I used to walk across Paris to his shop on the rue Monge for a loaf (actually, I always get two and freeze the other.) Kayser has opened bakeries across Paris – and even one in New York City – so it’s easy to find this bread. It’s got a lovely lightness, along with the crackle of the grains, and is perfect with cheese or swiped with butter and honey for breakfast.

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Tradigrains
Au Pain de Saint-Gilles
1 bis, rue Saint-Gilles

When the quality of the baguettes of my local boulanger, Au Levain du Marais, slid downhill after their month-long summer vacation a few years ago, I agonized over the loss for weeks and weeks. I was torn. In France, your live your life according to your local bakery. You know when the loaves go in and come out of the oven, when the baker is off, and how to get the baguette cooked just the way you like it (bien cuite, svp!) You adjust your life, since most bakeries are closed two days of the week, so you need to plan your schedule and meals around those two days.

My supreme disappointment lasted for months until I discovered this grainy Tradigrains loaf at Au Pain de Saint-Gilles in the Marais, just a few blocks from chez David. Now this is proudly my baguette of choice. Do you see why?

Millet, poppy seeds and flax seeds ripple through the interior of each loaf. I can barely get out the door of the bakery without ripping off the end, called le quignon, and devouring it (a French tradition, after any baguette purchase…I think of it as an immediate quality-control check.)

[The loaf pictured at the top is from the 134RDT at 134, rue de Turenne.]

Related Links and Posts

Blé Sucré

Bazin

La Boulangerie par Véronique Mauclerc

Paris Favorites

Chocolate Bread Recipe

Du Pain et des Idées

Paris Pastry App