Bastille Day July 14 – An Excuse to Cook Fresh-French

Chefs, Cookbooks, Cooking, Holidays, Recipes By Jul 07, 2011

I  am unapologetic in my love of France.

No tattoos adorn my body, but I suspect that a royal-blue fleur de lys insignia is branded on the surface of my heart. My time spent in Paris has fostered treasured memories, and that includes the revelry of Bastille Day celebrations.

France celebrates Bastille Day on July 14, a date that marks the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789. It was the first major event of the French Revolution and Paris rejoices with parades, fireworks, dancing in the streets, and of course, great food.

Cookbook author Dorie Greenspan spends much of her year at her home in Paris. She says that Bastille Day in Paris is a round-the-clock celebration. Her latest cookbook “Around My French Table” (Houghton Mifflin, $40) was recently named Cookbook of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

Here are two dishes that Dorie suggested to me – part of a Bastille Day menu sourced from her book. Dishes that makes my stomach rumble with hunger:

The meal starts with Savory Cheese and Chive Bread. The quickbread is cut into bite-sized pieces, either strips or cubes, and served as an irresistible hors d’oeurves to accompany chilled wine or Champagne.

I love the convenience. The cheese-laden bread can be made ahead and wrapped in plastic wrap up to two days in advance of serving. And the bread is no more difficult or time consuming to make than muffins.

The salad showcases fresh asparagus, eggs boiled just long enough to thoroughly set the whites, crunchy nuts and salty-chewy bacon.

“It’s a salad that’s both elegant – I think asparagus are always elegant – and fun, too,” Greenspan says.

“And I’m crazy about the eggs – they’re just slightly warm and just slightly runny in the center, so the yolk mixes with the vinaigrette to make the dressing a tad richer.”

And, again, I love the convenience. The components can be prepared a couple of hours ahead, then right before serving, the cooked, shell-off eggs are swirled in the bacon renderings. Voila.

Savory Cheese and Chive Bread
Yield: 8 servings
Butter for greasing pan
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt (depending on what cheese and add-ins you’re using)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (or more to taste; you could even add a pinch of cayenne)
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup whole milk, room temperature
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 generous cup coarsely grated Gruyere, Comte, Emmenthal or cheddar (about 4 ounces)
2 ounces Gruyere, Comte, Emmenthal, or cheddar, cut into very small cubes
1/2 cup minced fresh chives or other herbs (or thinly sliced green onions)
Optional: 1/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
Cook’s notes: To toast nuts, place on rimmed baking sheet. Place in 350-degree oven for 3 to 5 minutes. Watch carefully because nuts burn easily. Cool.
1. Center a rack in oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Generously butter an 8-by-4 1/2-by 2 3/4-inch loaf pan – a Pyrex pan is perfect here. If your pan is slightly larger, go ahead and use it, but your loaf will be lower and you’ll have to check it for doneness a little earlier.
2. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and white pepper together in large bowl.
3. Put eggs in a medium bowl and whisk for about 1 minute, until they’re foamy and blended. Whisk in milk and olive oil.
4. Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and, using a sturdy rubber spatula or wooden spoon, gently mix until dough comes together. There’s no need to be energetic – in fact, beating the dough toughens it – nor do you need to be very thorough, just stir until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in cheese, grated and cubed, the herbs and walnuts, if you are using them. You’ll have thick dough. Turn dough into the buttered pan and even top with the back of the spatula or spoon.
5. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until bread is golden and a slender knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer pan to a cooling rack and wait for about 3 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the pan and turn the loaf over onto the rack; invert and cool right side up. To serve, cut into 8 slices about 1/2-inch thick, and cut slices into strips or cubes
Nutrition information (per serving): 200 calories, 55 percent of calories from fat, 12.2 g fat, 3.2 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 18 g carbohydrates, 4.7 g protein,430 mg sodium, 2.0 g fiber Source: “Around My French Table” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin, $40)

Bacon and Eggs and Asparagus Salad
Yield: 4 servings
Optional: 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon hazelnut oil or walnut oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 extremely fresh large eggs
20 asparagus spears, preferably thick, trimmed and peeled
6 strips bacon
3 handfuls mesclun or other mixed green salad greens, rinsed, dried
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts or walnuts
1. For vinaigrette: Put all ingredients in a small jar, cover and shake to blend; or use a small bowl and a whisk. If you’ve used the mustard, the dressing will be fairly well blended; if not, it will blend, then separate – either way it’s fine. Set aside and shake or whisk again before using. (You can make the vinaigrette up to a week in advance and keep in fridge.)
2. For salad: Bring a medium saucepan of heavily salted water to a boil. One by one, put cold eggs on a spoon and slowly and gently lower them into the water (saying a little don’t-let-my-eggs-break prayer on the way down). Allow the eggs to boil for exactly 6 minutes, then remove the pan from het, lift the eggs into a strainer and run them under cold water to cool them quickly. Fill the pan with cold water and leave eggs in water until needed.
3. Bring a large skillet of salted water to a boil. Slip asparagus into pan and cook for 4 minutes, or until you can pierce the spear with the tip of a paring knife. The asparagus should be cooked through but not at all mushy. Carefully transfer the spears to a plate lined with a double thickness of paper towels and pat them dry.
4. Pour out the salted water, rinse skillet to cool it, dry it, and lay strips of bacon in pan. Cook over medium-low heat, turning as needed until bacon is golden and crisp on both sides. Remove and put between a double thickness of paper towels; when bacon is cool, cut into narrow strips or chop to bits. Leave 2 tablespoons bacon fat in skillet – you’ll use it for the eggs.
5. When ready to serve, very, very carefully shell the eggs. It’s a fussy job, because the eggs are soft, and you might not get the shells off cleanly, but until you break into the yolks, it will be fine. Rinse eggs to remove any bits of shell and pat them dry. Warm bacon fat over medium heat.
6. While bacon fat is heating, assemble salad. You can put it together on a platter or arrange it on individual plates. Either way, season the mesclun with salt and pepper, then toss with about 3/4 of vinaigrette, and arrange it in the center of the platter or your plates. Toss asparagus with remaining vinaigrette (I do this with my fingers) and lay the spears over the greens.
7. Now return to the skillet. When the fat is warm, gingerly slip the eggs into the skillet and roll them around in the fat for a minute or two, just to coat them with fat, heat them slightly and color them a little. Lift eggs out of skillet and place them on top of asparagus. Scatter bacon and toasted nuts over salad and serve immediately.
Source: “Around My French Table” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin, $40)

Greenspan’s newest project, the “Baking with Dorie” app is due out in a few weeks. The ground-breaking app includes step-by-step videos for each recipe, with options for the viewer to skip steps as they become comfortable with specific techniques. The app will be available at the iTunes app store.

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