By Wini Moranville
I’m often surprised how many people assume that French cooking is complicated, time-consuming, and expensive. After spending nearly 20 summers cooking and eating in France, I’ve come to the conclusion that that simply isn’t so. I wrote a book about it: The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day.
For a taste of what the book—and everyday French home cooking—is all about, I thought I’d share five things some cooks might not know about French cooking.
1. You can get a great, true-to-France meal on the table in 30 minutes.
After all, most French women have no more time to spend in the kitchen than North American women do. One way they bring quick meals to the table is through the Sauté-Deglaze-Serve method of cooking: You simply sauté the night’s meat, then deglaze the pan with wine and/or broth and add a few easy-to-find ingredients—grapes or celery root here, sweet potatoes or apples there—herbs almost everywhere—for a fresh, vivid, true-to-France pan sauce. Below, I offer one fine example; there are many more in the book.
2. The French love pasta as much as the rest of us do.
Most of us trace our love for pasta to the Italians, but the French, too, often use it to bring quick, nourishing meals to the table on a busy night. Of course, they put their own spins on the dish, by using quintessential French ingredients, like shallots, fines herbes, and their favorite French cheeses. Case in point: My Market Day Tagliatelle with Goat Cheese, pictured above.
3. French home cooks cheat now and then.
French women don’t always cook from scratch any more than we do. Pie and tart pastry, store-bought pasta sauces, purchased chicken broths, pre-roasted beets—the list of French convenience products is as long as ours. But this is key: If you’re going to cheat, use the highest-quality shortcuts you can find. For example, note in the above photo, the pastries are made with “pur buerre”—pure butter. When I buy purchased pizza dough for one of the French pizzas in my book, I buy it from an artisan bread baker in town.
4. It’s not all about butter and cream.
French cooks get a bad rap for plunking a lot of butter and cream in their recipes and indeed, some classic recipes call for this. But much contemporary French cooking uses less butter than in years gone by, allowing the purity of ingredients to star. Following suit, most of my recipes call on no more than 1 tablespoon butter per person, and quite often, much less than that.
And many contemporary recipes, such as the Roasted Shrimp and Green Lentil Salad, showcase great foods without any butter at all.
5. French home cooks can be very thrifty.
French home cooks aren’t out chasing down foie gras and truffles every week; in fact, they often cook with the “deal of the day” in mind; that is, they go to the market, see what’s on sale, then make dinner around that item. They’re also masters at “l’art d’accomoder les restes”—the art of accommodating leftovers. The above Tartine with Brie and Salami, for example, is a fun way to use up party extras, such as olives, cheese, and charcuterie.
Here’s a recipe to start you on the Bonne Femme way of life: