There's a lot of French food flying around the blogosphere this week, in anticipation of Friday's opening of the movie Julie and Julia. I'm excited on many levels:
I loved the book, Julie&Julia, a memoir written by Julie Powell. If you haven't read the book, you should. It follows Julie (who started a blog called the Julie/Julia Project) through 365 days; days in which she has pledged to cook every recipe (all 524 of them) from Julia Child's lofty tome: Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Add to it that Powell accomplished this in a teeny-tiny apartment kitchen and you have an entertaining read.
I love Nora Ephron, who adapted the book into the movie Julie and Julia. The fact that Meryl Streep plays Julia Child and Amy Adams plays Powell is pure icing on the cake.
I love that one little blog jump-started Julie Powell's life. A life that, at the time, was languishing at a dead-end secretarial job. I love that she had the courage to take on the Julie/Julia Project, still working full-time, and it caught fire. Everyone loves a good underdog tale.
I also love that Julia Child herself wasn't a big fan of the Julie/Julia Project, partly because she objected to Powell's salty language on the blog. Powell is especially fond of the word f*%k in all its configurations . Julie Powell is a girl I can love! As a blogger who also gets chastized for her ribald tongue, I have to root for Powell. Tell it like you see it, girlfriend!
The one thing I don't love about the whole media circus surrounding Julie and Julia is the inundation of all things French in the media. Because, gentle reader, I have a confession to make. A lot of French food, in my opinion, sorta sucks ass.
Now before you throw a fistful of lardons at my head, let me explain. I have nothing wrong with the French food you get at a simple brasserie or bistro. I'll eat a plate of steak frites or a croque-monsieur with the best of them.
I don't mind some of the simpler French fare--peasant cooking, really--like coq au vin or bouef bourguignonne. Those dishes perk up a chilly day just fine.
The French food I don't like is the high-falutin' stuff, the stuff with confit and foie gras and escargots and enough butter and cream to lube up the Eiffel Tower. I don't like fussy techniques, like making rillettes or pate choux or veloute.** And I don't want seared pituitary glands on top of my salade frisee.
The French food I don't like is the food that gave my father a horrendous case of the gout when we visited Paris one spring. Food like that isn't good for you, costs more than a Buick, and puts you in a wicked bad mood when it's time to Pay the Piper.
Now I realize that most people residing in France use that thing called moderation. You know, that thing that we Americans consider sacrilege? I realize that those slender folk in France don't eat foie gras or creme brie or protiferoles every day. Or even every week. I understand that they drink wine without making it a Bacchanalia.
French people are just...smarter than we are. They know if they eat like Americans, they'll look like Americans--impossibly rotund, limping through the seventh arrondissement, cursing blue like my father. The clever French practice moderation and walk a lot. Oh, and they smoke like goddamn chimney's too. That helps, certainly.
I will never make even 1/8 of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I don't have the patience to bone a whole duck, the fortitude to crisp sweetbreads. That just ain't me.
So while other media might be exploding this week with French delicacies, I'll post my recipe for the humble Salade Nicoise. It's one of my favorite simple French things. And it's killer during the dog days of summer, when you don't want anything heavy.
Salade Nicoise *
serves 4 Americans or 8 French people
1 pound tiny new or fingerling potatoes
1/2 pound thin string beans or haricot verts, if you can find them
3 medium tomatoes (good ripe ones!), cut into wedges
2 (6 oz cans) tuna in oil, drained *** see note
1/2 cup slivered red onion
3 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
1/4 cup good black olives (such as Nicoise or kalamata)
1 tablespoon drained capers
1/4 cup french cornichons or small sweet pickles
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 large head red leaf or boston lettuce
1/3 cup of your favorite viniagrette
Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water (make sure water covers the potatoes by 1-2 inches) in a large uncovered pot, 15-20 minutes or until tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove potatoes from pot using a slotted spoon. Cool slightly, until you can handle them.
Drop the green beans into the boiling water and cook 4-5 minutes, uncovered, until crisp-tender. Drain in a colander and immediately rinse with icy cold water to stop the cooking process. Pat dry.
At this point, you can decide to peel the potatoes or leave the jackets on. It looks more elegant with the skins off, but you'll get more fiber if you leave the skins on. I detest peeling potatoes, so I usually keep skins on. Halve the potatoes and toss with a couple tablespoons of viniagrette.
Line a large platter with the lettuce, torn into manageable pieces. Make a row of string beans, a row of potatoes and a row of the tuna. Place tomatoes, eggs, olives and cornichons around the perimeter of the platter. Sprinkle red onion, capers, parsley and chives over top. Season with a generous grind of salt and pepper.
Pour remaining viniagrette over salad and enjoy with a nice crisp chilled rose or pinot grigio.
* This is my recipe, not Julia's. She would roll over in her grave at the inclusion of cornichons, and rightly so. But I love 'em.
**I can't figure out how to get that cool little french accent mark in my text? I'm an asshole. Anyone know?
***Do not use sucky tuna for this!! No Chicken of the Sea, no StarKist here! No water-packed tuna, either. Use really good imported tuna in oil (make that journey to Whole Foods, guys!) I recommend Ortiz Bonito brand. You can find it at WF or order it from Zingerman's.