In just a few words peppered throughout an ingredient list or set of instructions — flambée, chicken liver, béchamel — French cooking can go from achievable to aspirational.
“Lunch in Paris,” by Suzy Ashford (South Street Press), presents a collection of simple recipes for classic French dishes that show you don’t have to go to culinary school to make something more complicated than a quiche. A self-taught, Australian chef that dreams of her days when she was an expat in France, Ashford took inspiration for her recipes from five Paris neighborhoods: Place des Vosges, Ile Saint-Louis, the 11th arrondissement, Jardin du Luxembourg, Canal Saint-Martin.
The recipes range from easy sandwiches to main-course meats, salads and sides, rillettes and pâtés, and tartelettes and other sweets. Some of the creations can certainly travel in a tote bag to the quai of the Seine for lunch, whereas others would be better off brought to an apéro dinatoire or served as an easy yet impressive dinner. What all the recipes have in common is their simplicity.
Most people who see the world “terrine” in a recipe title take that as a cue to hang up the apron and head to a French restaurant that serves a good cheese and charcuterie board. But Ashford’s recipe for chicken terrine, with pistachio and lemon thyme, will have the opposite effect — terrine has never looked so doable. Other often intimidating recipes, like salmon rillettes or lemon and almond tart, will also feel within the realm of possibility.
The instructions are written clearly, amounts are listed in cups, ounces and grams, and Ashford provides specific descriptions for often-used vague terms (ex: “thickened cream,” she clarifies, is also “whipping” cream, which, she also notes, is “35% fat”). Ingredients are simple, not too obscure to find in a local supermarket.
A word of caution about the vegetables: Organic produce or produce purchased at a local market (whether in France or not) is smaller than the hormone-filled, GMO-labeled fruit found in American supermarkets. A small tomato purchased at a grocery store will not be the same size as a small tomato purchased at a farmers’ market. A recipe that calls for a whole red onion may not need a whole supermarket-sized onion. Feel free to eyeball a smaller amount if, say, you’re making the goat cheese and tomato galette and discover that including the whole red onion you bought from Safeway would result in more onion than tomato.
Eating lunch is something that many travelers cherish about their time in France’s capital. Indeed, time does seem to crawl around the mid-day hours when prix-fixe menus are perused and the first glass of wine of the day is ordered (it is vacation, after all). “Lunch in France is sacrosanct, a fundamental part of the French art de vivre, or ‘art of living,’” Ashford writes. “Lunch in Paris” provides a taste of that art de vivre sentiment, that eating a meal is purposeful, sacred and something worth stopping for to enjoy.