Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sundays With Jacques

There is a Tuesdays With Dorie blog where the host chooses recipes to make once a week. Anyone can participate. The only stipulation, of course, is that you have Greenspan's Around My French Table cookbook. Every participant makes the chosen dishes and sends in photos. I have always wanted to participate, but I don't want to buy the book because I have lots of cookbooks that I really should work through. Plus, I worship at the altar of Jacques Pepin.

For a while I did Sunday night Jacques Pepin dinners - my own thing - working out of his most recent tome, Essential Pepin. I have made several soups and souffl├ęs and other dishes, and they have all been fantastic, of course. I fell out of the habit for some reason, and I would like to fall back in. I took up the cause again this past Sunday and, since today is the following Sunday, I have got one of JP's recipes  on the stovetop.

Let me just say a couple of words about Jacques. He is so fantastic and incredible. His resume in the world of cuisine is astonishing and one that is now unapproachable. Chefs in the US certainly don't train the way he did; I don't know if they still do so in France, but I doubt it. He was of a generation that was apprenticed at the age of 14 and grew into being a cook as musicians grow into their trade - that is, by learning the art in the bones. Musicians know that you don't think about the individual notes in the scales you practice, you just play because your body knows them. I think the same can be said for JP's mise en place. He cooked for French presidents; he cooked in famous restaurants; he turned down cooking for the Kennedys in the White House. He teaches, he writes, he has TV shows and throws some killer fetes. I have a fantasy that I will write his biography. I mean, Julia Child has how many biographies? Lots. JP needs a few too. And, since he's on the East Coast, while I'm over there, I will try out for America's Test Kitchen, get in, move there, and then write Christopher Kimball's biography too. (Yeah, yeah, the family comes with me, duh.)

So Sunday. I try to pick a balance of dishes. Last week I made mushroom ravioli, fish soup with rouille, and a carrot salad.

I have wanted a pasta maker for-ev-er. I know that I can hand roll dough and make a ton of shapes that way, but I haven't tried. My kitchen workspace is so small that a huge task like Pasta is pretty daunting. I really have to get up the gumption. For this recipe, even JP uses wonton wrappers, so I did too. The first night, I made his suggested wine sauce to go with the ravs (and forgot to photograph it) - delicious and goes so well with mushrooms. The second night, I made a browned butter and sage sauce, which is pretty darned awesome and seems like it can go on anything.
For the fish soup, I bought fish heads and made a fume for the first time. I picked out my own heads at Uwajimaya, which didn't seem right. I must have gotten a neophyte at the fish counter, because who in the world hands a lady two plastic bags and tells her to go to town on the stack of fish heads? It was fun, though, so I didn't mind. Except when I got poked by one of the razor-sharp little cheek spikes.

I must say, I have made lots of chicken and vegetable stock in my day, but fish stock is super easy and cheap! I paid $3 for all those heads, boiled them for 15 minutes, and voila! fish stock. It was good too. Then I boiled aromatics and herbs in it and served it with rouille (a sort of mayonnaise) and toasted bread. I saw Jacques and Julia make it on their show and have wanted to make it for a while. Now I have.

The carrot salad looks simple enough, but the flavor combination was unique and delicious. It's just carrots and sunflower seeds on watercress (a must!), but the vinaigrette makes it: sherry vinegar with walnut oil! How big of a difference can that make? A huge one. I got a sort of expensive California walnut oil and it was totally worth it.
So that's it for Sunday #1 with JP. Back on track.

Walnut Oil Vinaigrette. 
1 teeny weeny shallot, finely minced
1 small clove garlic, smashed and minced
2T sherry vinegar
4T walnut oil
Whisk together. You could add a 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard if you want it more piquant. Definitely serve with watercress or arugula.

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