Good Enough to Read: Around My French Table

Veteran food writer Irene Sax tells us about a new cookbook and shares healthy and delicious recipes. This month's book is Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.
Around My French TableGood Enough to Read

I’m a competent cook. I can produce a decent meal. But when I cook from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, I’m better than that. I’m really good.

Here are some of the things I've made: shredded carrot salad, tuna-packed peppers, bok choy and sugar snaps en papillote. Lamb tagine with apricots, pork tenderloin with orange segments and salmon stuffed with basil tapenade. My new works-with-everything vinaigrette. And baked apples filled with chopped dried fruits and nuts. Oh my.

You can see from that list that although this is French food, it’s not haute cuisine. It’s neither formal nor stuffy but the French food of today, which Greenspan — who has lived part-time in Paris for 13 years — calls an unexpected mix of old and new, traditional and exotic, simple and complex. Dishes, while sophisticated, fit easily into the meal plan of anyone who wants to eat healthfully. And you don’t need the skills of a French chef to make them.

Although many of the recipes are deeply traditional, others are totally up to date. On one page, you’ll find moules marinières and on another, tuna crusted with peppercorns, coriander and cardamom. Greenspan doesn’t look down on bottled mayonnaise, frozen peas or canned corn. She shares a trick for poaching eggs by wrapping them in cling wrap, and swears that duck breasts cook so quickly that we should think of them when we plan midweek dinners.

Because she’s a pastry chef, the chapter on desserts is pretty amazing. But we won’t even think of that. Instead, we’ll leaf through the book looking for something to make for dinner. How about Creamy Cauliflower Soup Sans Cream? Or Garlicky Crumb-Coated Broccoli? If you’re used to thinking of French food as formal, fussy and fattening, this book will change your mind and your cooking.

No-apologies curried chicken
I made the packets early in the day. When I got home that evening, I turned on the oven, hung up my coat, and popped the tray in the oven. By the time it was done, the table was set, the salad was tossed and I was sipping white wine.

Curried Chicken, Peppers and Peas en Papillote

Serves 4

5 PointsPlus™ values per serving
from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan

Ingredients

  • 1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast, preferably organic, at room temperature
  • 12 thin slices red onion, halved
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 4 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Instructions

  1. Center rack in oven and preheat the oven to 400° F. Cut four 12-inch squares of nonstick aluminum foil. Have a baking sheet at hand.
  2. Cut chicken into long strips and then cut strips crosswise in half. Put chicken and all other ingredients in a bowl, seasoning with salt and pepper, and stir until curry powder has evenly colored chicken and vegetables. Spoon an equal amount of mix onto center of each piece of foil. Draw up edges of foil and seal packets well, but don’t crimp foil very close to chicken — you want to leave room around ingredients so they can steam.
  3. Bake the papillotes for 17 to 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through — carefully open a packet and cut into a piece of chicken to test.
  4. Serve the packets immediately, bringing them to the table straight from the oven or opening them in the kitchen and arranging the chicken and vegetables on individual plates.

Notes from Dorie Greenspan

  • I can’t even count the number of times I’ve made this dish, but each time I do, I have the same reaction: I wonder how anything this good and this pretty can be this easy. It takes about 5 minutes to assemble and needs absolutely none of your attention while it cooks, yet it comes out of the oven full of flavor, fragrant, beautifully colorful, and ready to serve alone or with a little white rice.

Easily improved leek and potato soup
Of course you’ll use water instead of milk, as was done when the soup was invented. You can make it even healthier, writes Greenspan, by dropping in a handful of shredded spinach five minutes before it’s done.

Leek and Potato Soup, Smooth or Chunky, Hot or Cold

Serves 6

3 PointsPlus values per serving**
Adapted from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, preferably Spanish, chopped (or 1–2 more leeks)
  • 2 garlic cloves, split, germ removed, and thinly sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 3 leeks, white and light-green parts only, split lengthwise, washed and thinly sliced
  • 1 large Idaho (russet) potato, peeled and cubed
  • 6 thyme sprigs
  • 2 fresh sage leaves (optional)
  • 4 cups chicken broth (or water)
  • 3 cups whole milk (or water)**

  • Optional toppings**
  • Minced fresh parsley, sage, tarragon, or marjoram, or a combination
  • Snipped fresh chives
  • Grated Parmesan or Gruyère
  • Croutons
  • Truffle oil

Instructions

  1. Melt butter in Dutch oven or soup pot over low heat. Add onion and garlic and stir until they glisten with butter, then season with salt and white pepper, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes, until onion is soft but not colored.
  2. Add remaining ingredients, along with a little more salt, increase heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as soup bubbles, turn heat to low, mostly cover pot, and simmer gently for 30 to 40 minutes, or until all vegetables are mashably soft. Taste soup and season generously with salt and white pepper.
  3. You’ve got many choices now: You can ladle soup into warmed bowls and serve as is, mash vegetables lightly with the back of a spoon, or purée soup through a food mill (my first choice — you’ll get a more interesting texture) or with a blender — regular or immersion — or food processor. If desired, garnish with topping of your choice.

Notes from Dorie Greenspan

  • I like this soup chunky but you can certainly purée it. Not surprisingly, the soup can be the base for lots of add-ins, among them spinach, watercress, fennel (one of my favorites), and, if you’re willing to throw tradition completely to the winds, corn, which is bound to put you in mind of New England chowder.

** Notes from WeightWatchers.com

  • When calculating the PointsPlus values for this recipe, we:
    1. Used water in place of milk.
    2. Did not include any of the optional toppings.

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