Yes, this might be one of those nostalgia-inducing posts only people who post childhood profile pictures can appreciate. But on a much overdue trip back to Chicago after 4 years, I found something even better than a letter to myself in the future, Jessie’s Book of Fabulous Recipes. Amongst the remnants of 18 years of unrequited love in the attic of my childhood home, I found this document scarily predicting my future, all captured in beautiful food illustrations. Doughnut-flavored gyros with caramel? Dare I say this was a precursor to molecular gastronomy? An alive pigeon in honey dijon mustard? Dare I compare this to French cuisine?
We’ve set a date! The renovations are wrapping up in our new place. And we are set to move in next week. But sweet nostalgia is sinking in. I’ll miss our untamed little garden out back. The warm tradition at our local boulangerie. The peeling paint. And the curtains of cobwebs. The assortment of wildlife that creep into our bathroom. The defunct washing machine which serves as our only counter space. The scars on my shoulders reminding me of our ongoing war against bedbugs. The upstairs neighbors and their Saturday morning smooth jazz sessions. Wait a minute, let’s blow this joint!
Even thought the winters in Paris are a moderate step up from the brutal winters I have known in Chicago and New York, there is still nothing more comforting than a hearty bowl of soup. This is one of the things my mom always whipped up on weeknights when I was a kid. A leftover chicken would make a rich tortilla soup. Or a few pantry basics would inspire an avgolemono. Even if the soups were quick, she would always steal a few moments to make her famous cheese muffins. Turns out the trusty recipe was found in the recipe booklet of our avocado green blender. Or we would quickly whip up some baking powder biscuits together. My American friend Catherine just returned from the States gifting me with a jar of apple butter. This brought me back to the Midwestern winters of my childhood. With no further haste or nostalgia, I had to make biscuits and an accompanying soup.
C is convinced that soup is strictly an appetizer. But if I dress it up with some homemade quick bread, he doesn’t complain. I can see why he feels this way though; I’ve noticed that soup in France is usually pureed. We don’t have a blender, one of the wedding gifts that never transpired. So I have to dig back into my mental archives for other ideas. I never ate much lentils growing up. But when slowly stewed with leeks, celery, and garlic, they could have easily been in my mom’s soup repertoire. Recipe to come… Bisou!
When I moved back to the States, I was awfully thankful to have moved back to a food-centric city like New York. It certainly helps having a distraction from all I left behind in France. But these days, I’ve been eating on dime. Fortunately, I recently started working in a sleek little tapas restaurant, which gives me enough culinary thrills to make it through with my weekly pot of beans at home. (Pickled ramps do wonders for my morale!) Nevertheless, I had a bag of dried beans lying around (gulp) and had the ambition to recreate a rustic French dish by the name of cassoulet. It is a slow-cooked stew of white beans with the hearty addition of various meat parts, which can include duck legs, sausages, and pork pieces. I have never actually made this dish for myself. But like most time-starved French home cooks, a delightful version can be found in the prepared food isle at the local Monoprix in Paris. But this time around, I was nostalgic for some French comfort food this rainy week in New York. Although I had aimed for a traditional meat-centric version, I was discouraged my local Greek bodega does not carry any of the duck fragments traditionally used in the recipe. So I took the challenge to make it sans meat, which turned into a tasty abomination of the classic. Since I had the luxury of an afternoon off, I was hoping to cook it slowly until it attained the same silky hearth of my fond food memory of the dish. And I was quite pleased with what I came up with! As soon as the thyme hit the sautéing carrots, celery, and onions, France was all up in my face. It made me nostalgic for the sunshine in the South of France and the lazy nights C would reheat a jar of this French favorite. I’d recommend to serve with baguette, but that’s one bit of nostalgia still to be satisfied…
1 16oz. bag of white beans, soaked in water overnight and drained
1 medium red onion, chopped
12 oz. chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
2 tomatoes chopped finely
5 stalks of thyme tied together with string (bouquet garnis)
1 handful chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
zest of 1 lemon, minced
1.) Sautee onions, carrots, celery, salt, and pepper for 8 minutes until caramelized and tender. Add chopped garlic, thyme, and tomatoes. Stir until fragrant.
2.) Add the soaked beans and 5 cups of water to the mixture. Let come to a simmer.
3.) Cook over a low heat for 60-90 minutes until the beans are soft and the broth thickens. Add more water if needed.
4.) Pull out thyme bouquet. Stir in lemon zest and parsley. Season to taste! And enjoy!