October 8, 2021
Dear Frenchly Readers,
Lately, I’ve been taking breaks to walk around my garden in the cool fall air. I am gleaning the last of the beans and checking on my little lettuces from which I hope I’ll get a few more, albeit small, salads. And I am digging my hands deep into the dirt around my second planting of small potatoes to feel around for what mysteries lie beneath the soil. I am pulling carrots from the raised beds, and I am piling up trays and baskets with the last of my plump tomatoes and glistening eggplants.
Our eggplants—those black beauties that hang improbably like indulgent ornaments from their delicate stems—come in and get eyed warily by our children. Though my husband, Dan, and I love the creamy berry (yes, eggplants are actually berries!), our boys are loath to find small chunks of them melting into what was an otherwise perfect pasta sauce, or cubed on what used to be a nice-looking pizza.
This week, with some extra eggplants on hand, I wrote to the amazing and indomitable chef Alice Waters, whose restaurant Chez Panisse opened in Berkeley California in 1971. Waters is famous for creating the farm to table movement and pioneering a French Californian fusion of cuisine.
I practically feel like Alice is a friend, having read her cookbooks from cover to cover during the most confined period of the pandemic (the French have called it “le confinement,” or, literally, the confinement, which is interesting since, dating as far back as the year 960, the months after a baby is born were referred to as a woman’s “confinement,” when she was advised to stay indoors and recover from the trauma of birth and feed the baby.)
My kids in particular loved her two books about her daughter, Fanny, and their family’s love of food: Fanny in France and Fanny at Chez Panisse. During the pandemic year that left Dan and me homeschooling our two kids, we spent “French Fridays” cooking our way through both books. And, in August of 2020, we rescued a pine warbler that had been hit by a car. Our younger son named her “Fanny,” after Alice’s daughter, Fanny Singer.
Wonderfully—unexpectedly!–Alice responded with a few ideas of what to do with late harvest vegetables, and, especially, the ignominious aubergine. You can read it here, on Frenchly, and, also, below.
Alice Waters, thank you for taking the time to give Frenchly readers a few harvest tips as we start to dip into fall. It has long been a goal of mine to visit your restaurant Chez Panisse. Hopefully when the pandemic is over!
My first question is, what do you suggest as the perfect early-October weekend meal to make with those late harvests of eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, parsley, carrots, and beans? I have been thinking of your Genius Ratatouille.
I always love making a carrot soup. It’s so simple and delicious. And you can easily make variations by adding a bit of sweet red pepper coulis, or a cumin sizzle, or some crème fraiche with herbs.
Since it’s the end of the tomato season, I would suggest making something like an easy tomato confit, with lots of olive oil and garlic. An Eggplant Caviar is another great idea. It can be served alongside roasted red peppers with grilled levain rubbed with garlic. And of course, as you mentioned, a ratatouille is a wonderful way to use those end of the season vegetables.
What are some simple things I can do with an eggplant that won’t take me much time to prepare?
Fried eggplant is easy to make and quite delicious. Or maybe grilled directly over a fire.
What are some surprising and wonderful and unusual—and maybe not so simple, or quick– things one can do with an eggplant?
Perhaps a moussaka? Our chef Amy made one recently for the Chez Panisse to go dinner that was just divine!
Can eggplant be a good meat substitute as my family tries to steer away from meat these days….?
Absolutely! It goes wonderfully in a stew with tomatoes and onions, or as a substitute for meat in a sandwich.
My kids claim to hate eggplant. Did you like it as a child? Is there a way you’ve found to make it that is unctuous and perfect, even for a child?
In truth, I never ate eggplant as a child! It wasn’t until I got to California that I discovered eggplants.
In my family, I’m always looking for whole foods that I can get at the green market & that translate great into quick lunches to slide into metal lunchbot boxes with no problem for my two boys. Do you have any ideas for things that can go in lunchboxes that I can make with late harvest vegetables and my kids will devour?
When my daughter was young, I used to make very elaborate lunches for her to take to school. It always included a salad with a vinaigrette on the side, so she could pour it in herself when she was ready to eat. She actually talks about it in her book Always Home. But for something a bit simpler, you could make a shaved carrot salad, mixing carrots of every color. A whole grain toast, rubbed with garlic and doused in olive oil is always great as well.
Thank you, Alice!
What I am watching ce weekend :
I am still hooked on Le Bureau des Legends which, honestly, m’inquiète and yet I can’t quite disengage from it. In a bizarre life imitating art kind of moment, the Times had this piece about the CIA admitting that it has been losing dozens of informants in the field.
For lighter fare, I’ve started watching Mytho (in English it’s called Mythomaniac) on Netflix. I first read about it in this piece in Le Monde. The second season just premiered this week in France. It’s about a very harried mother and wife, named Elvira Lambert, played beautifully by Marina Hands whose husband, played by Mathieu Demy (from Julie Delpy’s On the Verge), is cheating on her and whose kids are overwhelming and not always terrifically respectful or grateful and whose job in insurance is, at best, boring. Elvira has a cancer scare, which ends up being benign. “Your body made fake cancerous lumps,” her doctor tells her. “It’s a bit like an alcohol-free beer, if you will.”
Elvira lies and tells her husband, Patrick, however that she has cancer in a desperate attempt to get him to connect with her (he immediately has a panic attack and she then takes care of him.) Elvira’s little lie starts to change her life: all of sudden Patrick is bringing her breakfast in bed and he’s no longer interested in his affair, her kids start to behave better. Although at times you’ll cringe, this satire of the modern French family is totally binge worthy.
What I am listening to :
My kids and I have been listening to Beethoven’s 9th a lot this week. That soft violin that’s all hope and grows into a crescendo of courage seems, to me, to be the perfect music to inspire my older son in his cross-country races, my younger one in his soccer matches, and will rouse the competitive spirit in all of us. I like to dance around to it Mr. Bean-style as if I just won the Olympic gold medal, which embarrasses both kids so much it makes them squeal, and I fall into peals of laughter onto the rug.
What to do if you are in San Francisco:
If you’re lucky enough to be in San Francisco this weekend, you might not get a table, but you can at least dream about eating at O’ the newly Michelin starred French Restaurant.
What I am reading :
I loved this piece in the New York Times about Antony Blinken, our U.S. Secretary of State, who has roots in France, and his awkward visit to France last week after the diplomatic submarine fiasco last month.
I also loved this piece about Marie Antoniette’s letters, now unscensored. The New York Times writes, “researchers used a technique called X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, which can detect the chemical signatures of different inks without damaging documents” in order to reveal her letters to a Swedish count, who was, apparently, a pen pal.
What I will cook ce weekend:
I am thinking this weekend of making Alice Water’s Genius Ratatouille and seeing if my kids might be interested in it, despite that dastardly aubergine.
If I were in Northern California, I’d be in the car already on my way to pick up a nutty loaf of my friend Lorin Kalisky’s samertine baguette at his bakery in Davis, the recipe for which he brought back from an old family bakery in Bordeaux and wrote about here in Frenchly last week.
And, if my family can get its act together and go apple picking, I might make this apple skillet cake to tide us through the long weekend (Dan and I might have a little iced Cognac along with it because the le weekend only comes once a week!)
Have a wonderful fall weekend whatever you end up doing, whether its cooking or playing. I am hoping to be brave enough for one last chilly plunge in the ocean and, j’espére a round or two with my kids of our #1 favorite board game, the French game Dixit.
That’s it. Have a good weekend.