By Anna Dantoni –
American women seem obsessed with their French counterparts – what they eat, how thin they are, how they flirt, where they shop and how they manage to tie a silk scarf in 20 glamorous different ways. A new book called The Bonne Femme Cook Book by Wini Moranville promises to demystify the recipe part of the French mystique. You’re on your own with the scarf thing.
The author aims to bring 250 authentic (and easy to make) French recipes to the American table. Her emphasis is on techniques and speedy preparation. She says French women don’t spend all day in the kitchen and neither should you. Many of the meals in this book can be assembled in just 30 minutes. The author has spent every summer in France for the last 20 years perfecting her skills at assembling ingredients and producing authentic French meals.
Moranville’s book is nicely divided into chapters on casseroles and pasta, sides, eggs and cheese dishes, salads, soups braised or stewed dishes and desserts. There’s a measurements equivalents section and herb section because French women can really maximize herbs. And the author offers tips for success as well as cultural comments on many of the classic recipes.
One thing she makes clear is that the modern French cook develops her soup repertoire and relies upon it just as her grandmother did. First-course soups are alive and well in France, in both homes and restaurants. The author makes a good case for reviving the soup course in American homes and she offers some soup recipes that could easily persuade me.
Instead of color photographs, The Bonne Femme opts for whimsical drawings of pencil-thin women cooking or shopping as well as depictions of ingredients or little vignettes of table settings and the like. The art adds a lightness to the book that is welcome and makes you believe that everyday French cooking can be easy and breezy. You already know it will be delicious.
Chickpea Soup from the South of France
(The Bonne Femme Cook Book)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 celery ribs, finely diced
½ cups finely chopped onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon dried herbs de Provence, crushed
1 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans) rinsed and drained
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped or 1 cup diced canned tomatoes, drained
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the celery, onion, garlic and herbes de Provence and cook, stirring until the vegetables are barely tender, 4 to 5 minutes (do not allow onions to brown; also, the celery should retain its color and little of its crunch). Add the chickpeas, chicken broth and tomato,pouring slowly so that the liquid doesn’t spatter. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. If you like, mash a few of the chickpeas against the side of the pan to thicken the soup a bit. Serve the sup in wide, shallow bowls topped with fresh shavings of the cheese.
Variations: Instead of tomatoes, add ½ cup sliced roasted red peppers. Or, stir in some shredded leafy greens that are in danger of wilting before you can use them up – escarole is an especially good choice. Add more chicken broth if your soup becomes too thick after adding the greens.
(The Bonne Femme Cook Book by Wini Maranville. Harvard Common Press, hardcover, $24.95)
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