Monday, November 23, 2015

Lunch in Paris - a feast

We traveled to Paris last week: with our hearts, thoughts and prayers.

It was something of a coincidence that a few days later we journeyed to the City of Light once more, this time with our stomachs. The “Lunch in Paris” had been in the works for about a month, the book selected for our fledgling cookbook club because of my ties to France and with no inkling of events to come… Although work in the kitchen commenced with a heavy heart, thoughts of the terrors spanning the globe on the forefront of everyone’s mind, we still gathered for our feast; it seemed that an evening to honor the culinary flair of the beautiful country of France would be a fine way to celebrate the resilient spirit of the French. And if we were doing it, we might as well do it right – with the full seven courses!

Photo credit: Heidi Johnson

Elizabeth Bard’s love story “Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes” was published in 2010, nearly coinciding with our move to France and resonating with me in the many aspects of learning the way of life – culinary and otherwise – in a foreign country. While I appreciated the many anecdotes of American life in Paris, the recipes went untested; I was too busy learning how to ask for le fromage at the market to navigate the seemingly complex recipes at the time. Although I’ve added to my culinary repertoire over the last five years, I still had not found the courage to try any of the recipes, hence the motivation for choosing this book in particular. A few days before our dinner all the members had finally made their recipe choices, and when I realized we had enough for a full seven-course meal I took the liberty of planning a few aspects of our meal outside the confines of the novel.

Bon appetit, y'all

The guests arrived to L’Apéritif of champagne and tentative conversation in the kitchen while we waited on the last few stragglers to arrive. When we sat down to the table it was to the entrée of Velouté de Carottes, creamy carrot soup. Such a delicious, yet simple soup to warm our taste buds to the adventure still to come!

One of the members had risen to the challenge and prepared poached cod with wilted leeks and homemade mayonnaise (homemade mayonnaise!), and so we continued our feast with the fish course. Accompanying the cod were potato and celery root mash, Purée de Céleri - basically mashed potatoes but with the undertones of celery root. We compared notes on the details of these recipes, becoming more and more giddy in the luxury of uninterrupted conversation with other adults!

Fennel salad with lemon, olive oil and pomegranate seeds

My contribution to the meal was served next, during what is the main course in a French dinner, le plat principal. The Aubergines Farcies au Quinoa (eggplant stuffed with quinoa) was a personal test; I had never cooked quinoa before (much less knew how to pronounce it!), nor had I attempted to stuff an eggplant. The recipe was challenging, as dealing with the eggplant wasn’t as easy as I had imagined (or described)– “carefully scoop out most of the flesh without piercing the skin” and “chop the eggplant into small chunks” – was nearly impossible, but the end result was a hearty vegetarian main course that was complimented by the delicious sides accompanying it: Mamy Simone’s Tabouleh, Lentilles au Vin Blanc and fennel salad with lemon, olive oil and pomegranate seeds. By this time we were getting quite full, and respite came in terms of a cheese course.

Eggplant stuffed with quinoa

Not quite a baguette, the Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery stecca was the bread I chose to accompany our meal. Going against French custom, I had sliced the loaf (the French tear their baguette at the table) and we dug in now while sampling the cheese. A mountain cheddar from Ashe County Cheese, a Normandy brie, and camembert to round out the selection. Then, it was time for dessert!

Yogurt cake

The last dish prepared from “Lunch in Paris” was the Gâteau au Yaourt, yogurt cake. We relished our slice(s!), knowing that the evening was coming to a close. A cup of coffee and quite a bit of conversation later the time came to say goodbye, and with full stomachs and recharged batteries everyone headed home to rejoin the chaos. In my case the chaos came home to me, the boys bubbling over with all they had seen and done on their ‘boys’ day’ – the adventure of traveling to France and back in one meal providing warmth and light in the darkness of the weeks following the Paris massacre. 


From Lunch in Paris (by Elizabeth Bard) and the chapter entitled “Dinner Among Friends,”
(Aubergines Farcies au Quinoa) serves 4

4 medium eggplants, 10oz each*
1 tablespoon plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
5 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup white wine
1 1/3 cups chicken broth
1 cup quinoa
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of cinnamon
A small handful of cilantro, coarsely chopped, plus more for garnish
8 ounces soft goat cheese, sliced into 8 rounds

Choose eggplants that are firm, shiny, and without blemishes – the smaller and heavier, the better.
          Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
          Rinse the eggplants and pat them dry. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Prick five or six holes in each eggplant with a fork to allow steam to escape. Rub the surface of the eggplants with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Bake for 1 hour, until the flesh is tender.

          Meanwhile, in a medium frying pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and sauté over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sugar, and cook for 10 minutes. Add the white wine, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook for a further 10 minutes. Remove ¾ cup tomato sauce from the pan and set aside.

          In a small saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add he quinoa and bring back to a boil. Cover tightly, lower the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes, until the broth is absorbed. The quinoa should have the consistency of couscous. Fluff with a fork and leave to cool.

          When the eggplants are done, drain any liquid from the baking sheet and let the eggplants cool slightly. Make a 4-inch cut in the top of each eggplant and carefully scoop out most of the flesh without piercing the skin.** Put the eggplant shells in a shallow casserole dish (you will stuff them later). Put the flesh in a colander, pressing firmly with the back of a fork (or your hand) to drain any excess liquid. Season the flesh with salt, pepper, and cinnamon.
          Chop the seasoned eggplant flesh into small chunks*** and add to the tomato sauce in the frying pan, along with a small handful of cilantro. Heat through. Add the quinoa, stir to combine.

          Stuff the eggplant shells with the quinoa mixture; they should be heaping. Top each eggplant with a spoonful or two of your reserved tomato sauce. (You can refrigerate the eggplants at this point. Reheat at 350˚F, tightly covered with foil, for 30 minutes. Proceed as below.)
          Set the oven to broil.
          Top each eggplant with 2 slices of goat cheese. Cook on the middle rack of the over for 3 to 4 minutes, until the cheese is softened and beginning to color.
          Sprinkle with fresh cilantro. Serve with a large green salad.

* The eggplants I purchased were slightly larger & the cooking time longer as a result.
** This was difficult! I pierced the outer skin in all four eggplants while attempting to empty them, but feel that the result was just as delicious
*** Since I wasn't able to neatly scoop the flesh out as suggested by the recipe, it wasn’t cut into recognizable chunks… more like spooned straight into the bowl!


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