There is evidence that Jews arrived in France as early as 39 C.E., and they have continued over the centuries, bringing the foods of their homelands, trading in spices from distant lands, growing grapes for wine. Add to this the French flair for fine food, enriching and enhancing many dishes, and a rich culinary tradition flourishes.
Nathan’s relationship with France goes back to her teens, when she studied there, and her love for the food she has tasted and homes she has visited over the years makes this an especially personal and friendly book. In more than 200 recipes, Nathan introduces the Sephardic tians and olive oil-infused dishes of the south of France and the Ashkenazic choucroutes and cholents of Alsace-Lorraine. Of special interest to the home baker is a tempting array of Sabbath breads.
The recipes, as varied and appealing as they, are only part of this attractive book. Nathan has a gift for telling the stories behind the recipes and for unearthing interesting sidelights — Paul Bocuse’s kosher closet, with plates and products for weddings and b’nei mitzvah; gentle feeding of ducks for kosher foie gras; sections set aside in high-quality vineyards for making kosher wine. After reading this book, readers may start planning a trip to France or at least adding it to their Chanukkah lists. A generous portion of color photographs brings several dishes to life; to help cooks put together menus, Nathan has marked each dish D (dairy), M (meat), or P (pareve). Bibliography, glossary, index, photographs, sample menus, source guide.
Recipe: Quick Goat Cheese Bread with Mint and ApricotsWhen I ate dinner at the home of Nathalie Berrebi, a French woman living in Geneva, she served this savory quick bread warm and sliced thin, as a first course for a dinner attended by lots of children and adults. For the main course, Nathalie prepared rouget (red mullet) with an eggplant tapenade on top, something all the children loved. The entire dinner was delicious, but I especially liked that savory bread with the unexpected flavor combination of goat cheese, apricots, and fresh mint. Now I often make this quick bread for brunch or lunch and serve it with a green salad.
¹⁄³ cup olive oil, plus some for greasing
3 large eggs¹⁄³ cup milk
2 cups all- purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 ounces grated Gruyère, agedCheddar, or Comté cheese
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
1 cup chopped dried apricots
2 tablespoons roughly mincedmint leaves or 2 teaspoonsdried mint
Yields 6 – 8 servings
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease a 9- by- 5- inch loaf pan with some of the oil.Crack the eggs into a large bowl, and beat well. Add the milk and oil, whisking until smooth.Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper in another bowl, and add to the wet mixture, stirring until everything is incorporated and the dough is smooth. Spread the batter in the prepared baking pan, sprinkle on the grated Gruyère, Cheddar, or Comté, crumble the goat cheese on top, and then scatter on the apricots and the mint leaves. Pull a knife gently through the batter to blend the ingredients slightly. Bake for 40 minutes. Cool briefly, remove from the pan, peel off the foil or parchment paper, slice, and serve warm.
Reprinted with permission from Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous by Joan Nathan, Alfred A. Knopf 2010
Maron L. Waxman, retired editorial director, special projects, at the American Museum of Natural History, was also an editorial director at HarperCollins and Book-of-the-Month Club.