Clotilde Dusoulier is just so French, and here I mean French in every good way to be French. In her book cover photographs, Clotilde looks infectiously happy, and she clearly loves food and knows her way around Paris; what more could she ask for? She is the creator of the popular blog, Chocolate and Zucchini, and the author of the three books considered in this post.
I love Clotilde’s first book, Chocolate and Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen for its format alone. It is an eight by six inch paperback with 244 pages, but satisfyingly heavy. On the cover we see Clotilde smiling at us while she inspects strawberries at an open air market. Even I, wary of most strawberries, want to pop some of these strawberries into my mouth. Opening the book, we find a very attractive layout with different colors and fonts, with the occasional color photograph, all used wisely and not promiscuously. The recipe groupings are interesting: some are straightforward (“Salades” or “Oeufs”) yet some groupings encompass a bit more: serendipitous surprises turn up in sections such as “Impromptu” or “Buffet”. There are quite a few vegetarian recipes in this book, and every one that I tried was good.
When I served Danny “Soupe au Pistou” (page 48) and he asked what kind of soup it was, I could only reply: “Soupe!” Indeed, the soup here is just a lot of vegetables, with water and canned tomatoes (or fresh, for those who have that option) as the liquid, and some macaroni for body. The macaroni gives so much body, that by the second day and certainly third and fourth days, the soup is almost solid. It’s the pistou (French pesto) that makes this soup exciting, but even without the pistou the soup is not bad, at least if you add enough salt, significantly more than the half teaspoon that Clotilde suggests. The recipe makes a huge amount of soup; for just two people, even over several days, it would be best to halve the recipe.
Anchovies, potatoes, and cream go well together. There is, for example, the Swedish Jansson’s Temptation, with sliced potatoes, anchovies, and cream. Clotilde gives us the French take on this combination: “Purée aux Anchois” (page 141), mashed potatoes with anchovies and cream. I thought that this dish was great, although I am inclined to like almost anything with anchovies. Danny was less enthusiastic, largely because he is more suspicious of potatoes than I am.
I would call my version of Clotilde’s “Quiche Oignon et Cumin” (page 34) an onion pie, if only because I baked it in a pie pan, not a tart or quiche pan. But whatever you call it, this is a very satisfying custardy filling in a crust: onions, cheese, and cumin seeds in an egg and cream custard. One could easily adapt the basic formula here to other sorts of fillings: broccoli and mushrooms, say, or something with fish. What I liked was the large amount of filling compared to the smaller amount of crust. Although pie crusts are pretty generic, Clotilde’s “Pâte Brisée” (page 32) was perfect: it was easy to work with and behaved quite well when I precooked it before adding the filling.
I did not make “Mousseline de Cabillaud à l’Aubergine” (page 159) with cabillaud (i.e., cod) but with salmon instead; the last time I bought cod at Whole Foods Market I was not that happy with it. I think the recipe worked quite well with salmon: I ended up with a cold salmon mousse with a secret ingredient, Israeli style baba ghanoush (Israeli-style being made with mayonnaise, not tahini). This is quite easy to make: you just process salmon, baba ghanoush, egg whites, and parsley, then bake in a water bath. Clotilde suggests serving it with a red pepper sauce, which I do not think added much. But the salmon mousse had a very high taste to trouble ratio. [Go to the recipe.]
“Fenouil Braisé au Romarin” (page 140) is a delightful and simple side dish. Clotilde quarters her fennel bulbs; I sliced my fennel into wedges. The fennel is then sautéed in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and rosemary, then cooked in white wine and lime juice. Clotilde also used some stock (chicken or vegetable); I found only wine to be sufficient. This is the sort of side dish that is very handy to have in the repertoire.
Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris is not a cookbook, but a food oriented guide to Paris. It has a nice compact size and could fit, if not into a pocket, at least into a small bag. The first section covers restaurants, arrondissement by arrondissement, and the second section covers food-related shops, arranged by type of shop. I did not bring this book with me when Danny took me on our whirlwind tour of Paris a few years ago since we just were not going to have time to look for Clotilde’s haunts, but if we go again and have more time, I certainly intend to take this book. Clotilde might not be the best guide for everyone, but I would quite willingly follow her all over Paris. This book does have twelve recipes, three of which I tried: there are not many cookbooks from which I have cooked a quarter of the recipes!
Cold soups fall into several clearly delineated categories: there are fruit soups, vichyssoise type soups, yogurt or buttermilk soups, and salad in a soup bowl soups. I like some of the fruit soups, at least those not loaded with sugar, but many fruit soups are just smoothies in a bowl. Vichyssoise type soups are great; it’s hard to go wrong with cream and potatoes, but I always have a niggling suspicion that these are not the healthiest type soups. But for the other two types of cold soups, I have rarely found ones that like. True, good gazpacho can indeed be good, but the more frequent mediocre gazpacho is too much trouble to eat. I was hoping that Clotilde could come up with a good salad in a bowl soup with her “Soupe Froide de Courgette et Concombre aux Herbes” (page 28), but alas, that was not to be. This soup, a mixture of cucumber, zuchinni, and herbs with broth and cream, is best described as a green gazpacho. I expect that the inspiration for this soup, from the restaurant Drouant in the deuxième arrondissement is great; I expect that Clotilde’s own rendition of this soup is great, but the soup that I made was very unimpressive.
“Chouquettes” (page 134) are cream puffs without the cream and without any chocolate topping. They are made from a slightly sweetened choux pastry and topped with Swedish pearl sugar. Mindy S wondered what the point is to cream puffs without cream, but I have a simple answer. Making the estimate that each of the three cream puff components (pastry, filling, and chocolate topping) are equally caloric, then if we eliminate two of these components, we can eat three times as many! I certainly had no trouble eating these. [Go to the recipe.]
Whenever I see passion fruit at the grocery, I have nothing in mind to do with it, but whenever I have a passion fruit recipe of interest, passion fruit is nowhere to be found. I suppose there is a season for passion fruit, but what it is I do not know. This is why I was not surprised that once my eye lit upon “Compote de Mangue aux Fruits de la Passion” (page 73), passion fruit was nowhere to be found. To make this recipe, you cook mangoes with sugar and water for an hour or so, then mix with diced uncooked mangoes. Now the passion fruits come into play: this each serving is topped with the flesh, seeds, and juice from half a passion fruit. Fortunately Clotilde gives us the option of topping each serving with raspberries. Mango lovers should like this dessert, and even mango non-lovers such as Danny might like it: Danny found the mango tamed by this presentation. First I served this with pound cake; later I mixed some of this with yogurt which was okay, but whipped cream would have been a lot better.
It makes me very happy when a cookbook author that I admire comes out with a vegetarian cookbook; my feelings are akin to those of a child who finally gets her parents’ undivided attention. Clotilde is quite vegetarian friendly, so it was not a big surprise, but no less delightful for that, when her vegetarian cookbook, The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes from My Parisian Kitchen, appeared. This book is arranged according to season, with a final chapter on “Essentials”. Just as Clotilde’s first book had lots of vegetarian choices, this book has lots of vegan and lots of low carb choices. I found inviting recipe after inviting recipe, and refused to be constrained by the seasonal chains.
“Grated Carrot and Beet Salad with Bulgur and Figs” (page 156) was packed full of flavor, yet was not unduly complicated. In addition the the carrots and beets ( both raw), the bulgur and figs, this salad has only cashews and parsley, and a simple dressing of oil, vinegar, and lemon juice. This salad not only had a very high taste to trouble ratio, but was a beautiful color, and, like the mushrooms discussed below, happened to be gluten free, vegan, and suitable for Pesach.
I have made potato gnocchi before, and they are a pain to make. And although “Parisian Gnocchi” (page 122) may take just as much time, they seem like a lot less work. Parisian gnocchi are made from cream puff dough (i.e., choux pastry). Clotilde instructs us to put the dough in a plastic bag with the corner clipped off, and squeeze out half inch pieces into a pot of boiling water or broth. The little pieces of dough swell and rise to the surface as they cook, until you end up with a pot full of delightful fat giant maggots! I couldn’t eat enough of these! They had a soft doughy texture that I love, and since I cooked them in Clothilde’s mushroom broth, a wonderful savory taste.
Ever since I discovered Better than Bullion paste, I have been less than enthusiastic about making my own vegetable broth. Broth is a nuisance to make, the ingredients are not that cheap, and vegetable broth tastes kind of anemic anyway. Not so Clotilde’s mushroom broth, the liquid ingredient for “Mushroom Broth with Parisian Gnocchi” (page 116). It’s a fairly simple broth, with major ingredients brown mushrooms, dried porcini mushrooms, onion, celery, and carrot, but Clotilde performs some French magic with the minor ingredients, and we end up with a pure and flavorful elixir. Once the broth is made, all that is left to do is add some thinly sliced mushrooms and the gnocchi. This was an excellent soup.
“Mushrooms Stuffed with Plums and Hazelnuts” (page 128) might, more properly, be called “Mushrooms Stuffed with Mushrooms”; although plums and hazelnuts are in this stuffing for big portobello mushrooms, most of the stuffing is made up of mushrooms and onions. The plums provide a very nice sweet and sour taste; the hazelnuts an acceptable crunch. This recipe is vegan, gluten free, and Pesach friendly, one of the best recipes I know that meets these three criteria. [Go to the recipe.]
“Swiss Chard Pie with Prunes and Pine Nuts” (page 35) was not my favorite. To begin with, I was not wild about the spelt crust, although I was pleased to have an opportunity to dig into the big bag of spelt flour that had been sitting on my counter for several weeks. I thought that the prunes would provide an exciting sweet note, but I barely could taste them. I probably should have used more chard; even Danny, who liked this pie, thought that there was too much crust and too little filling. But this pie has possibilities: with more filling, especially more prunes, and a different crust, I might even like it.
Adapted from Clotilde Dusoulier, Chocolate and Zucchini
1 pound salmon, skin and bones removed, chopped into chunks
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
2 egg whites
8 ounces mayonnaise-based baba ghanoush (e.g., Sabra brand)
Handful of parsley, large stems removed
1 14-ounce jar roasted red peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic
Preheat the oven to 350º. Line a loaf pan, bottom and sides, with parchment paper, and find a larger pan for a water bath into which the loaf pan will fit. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
Add all the salmon ingredients to the food processor, and pulse until the salmon and parsley are well chopped; stop before you have a total mush. Scrape the salmon mixture into the loaf pan. Place the loaf pan in the larger pan, put this assembly in the oven, and pour boiling water in the larger pan. The water should come about halfway up the sides of the loaf pan. Bake until set, about 35 minutes. Cool in the pan a few minutes, then carefully invert the loaf pan onto a serving dish and remove the parchment paper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
To make the sauce, blend the sauce ingredients together, adding sauce to taste.
Creamless Cream Puffs
Adapted from Clotilde Dusoulier, Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup water
½ cup flour
2 eggs, room temperature
Put the butter, salt, sugar, and water in a small pan and bring to a boil (at which point the butter should be completely melted). Add the flour all at once, and stir over the heat until the mixture forms a ball; remove from heat. Add the eggs one at a time, beating vigorously after each egg. You could do this my hand, but I think a powerful hand held mixer works better. Set the dough aside for 30 minutes: if your kitchen is cold, the counter will do, else put it in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 400º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon out walnut-sized balls of dough onto the baking sheet; you should get about 20. Sprinkle with pearl sugar, which are small opaque spheres of sugar. Bake until puffy and golden, about 20 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the puffs sit in the oven with the door ajar for another 10 minutes or so., then finish cooling on the counter.
Mushroom Stuffed Mushrooms
Adapted from Clotilde Dusoulier, The French Market Cookbook
6 large or 8 medium portobello mushrooms
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1¼ pounds cremini mushrooms, chopped
10 ounces pitted prunes, chopped
2⁄3 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skins rubbed off, and chopped
½ bunch parsley, large stems removed, chopped
Preheat the oven to 400º. Clean the portobello mushrooms and remove their stems and gills. Lay out the mushrooms in a baking dish. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with the lemon zest and salt.
Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, garlic, and cremini mushrooms and cook until softened. Add the plums and cook a few more minutes. Stir in the hazelnuts and parsley. Add salt to taste. Stuff the portobello mushrooms with this stuffing. Grate some pepper over the mushrooms. Bake until the portobello mushrooms have softened up, about 20 minutes.