When I decided to start interviewing cookbook authors about wine, I thought back on the last 20 years’ worth of cooking and baking books in my collection. I’m hard-pressed to find someone who has given me more fun in the kitchen in that time without actually being in there with me than Dorie Greenspan. My first of Dorie’s books was Baking with Julia, the companion to the PBS series with Julia Child. While you don’t see her on camera, Dorie wrote the book and did much of the behind-the-scenes work on the show. After making probably a dozen recipes from that book, I was on the lookout for more. I think I have almost everything Dorie has written now, including her fun book on waffles.
I rotate cookbooks between the shelves just off my kitchen and space in the attic based on use. Dorie’s books stay put near the kitchen. Her Baking – From My Home to Yours is my go-to gift for friends who love to bake. (Plus I got to meet her at a DC event promoting the book, so it’ll always be one of my favorites.) And her latest two books, Around My French Table and Baking Chez Moi, celebrate the joys of French cooking and baking. They both include recipes given to her by friends and neighbors in Paris, where Dorie and her husband live part-time. From spending time in France over the past 15 years, I’ve come to realize that French people love to make delicious edibles to serve with wine and drinks. Around My French Table has become my source for making those things. Most of them taste complicated but are simple and quick. Including a version of a Spanish tortilla – a sort of omelet with potatoes – that uses potato chips. You won’t want to miss it!
I was really pleased that Dorie agreed to talk with me about food and wine. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve spent time trying to recreate the feeling of eating in France at home. It was great to talk to someone who has helped lots of people do just that, and who can explain the trial and error it sometimes takes. And I was also glad to hear she enjoys Rhône wines, since they were the gateway to my love of French wines. As a food writer, she has taken some memorable trips that include wine, and it was a pleasure to talk about them. Our conversation went over an hour and was great fun. What follows is a condensed version. Enjoy!
You live part-time in Paris, and at least three of your cookbooks have been about French food. What is it that intrigues you about food in France? A lot of people think of French food as kind of static, but it’s great to know that you can get old favorites nearly anywhere, sometimes with some updates. I love that the traditional foods of France remain traditional, and that other flavors are coming in. And not just from the places you’d think of, like North Africa and Vietnam. I also love that my friends and neighbors in Paris, who come from all parts of France, make and share their family dishes.
Was it difficult when you started adapting French recipes for American kitchens and ingredients? It wasn’t as hard as you’d think, or even as hard as I thought it would be. I settled on a rule: the dish had to be delicious even if I had to make changes, and it had to bring back France when I ate it.
Are there any ingredients that you can’t get when you’re adapting a recipe? With one exception, no – it’s amazing what we can get now. I live part-time in southern Connecticut and found Thai eggplants at a local store. That wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago, maybe not even five years ago. But the one thing that’s definitely different is flour. French flour isn’t as strong as American flour, it doesn’t have as much protein. So the French recipes won’t necessarily turn out as light and tender.
How do you handle the difference in flours? Do you just use less all-purpose American flour? I work on the recipes on a case-by-case (maybe I should say ‘cake-by-cake’) basis. I always have American flour in my kitchen in Paris. And, of course, all my recipes get tested in America. What makes the process so frustrating is that in some recipes, it’s just fine to make an even one-for-one swap. In others, nope. But, as you guessed, when changes get made it’s usually to decrease the amount of American flour in the recipe.
What American foods do you make for your friends in Paris? All kinds of things, really. There’s an image of the French as being a little inflexible in their eating, but my friends are up for trying anything. Recently I made salmon burgers and everyone loved them. I couldn’t find Martin’s Potato Rolls so I had to use brioche. (Not a bad problem to have, I guess.) I’ve also made fried chicken, which of course everyone likes. And not just classic American food: I’ve made stuffed cabbage and things like chicken livers with soy, balsamic vinegar, Sriracha, and five-spice powder.
So I’m guessing that your memorable wine experiences have been French? Yes, although I didn’t plan it that way. I can think of two, and both involve Veuve Cliquot. The first was getting a bottle from my birth year. I not going to tell you the year, but it was a great experience!
And the second? I was writing a story for Bon Appetit magazine and met with the chief winemaker at Veuve. I was there in April and got invited to the big annual April tasting, where a bunch of people taste wines from the different vineyards and decide what’s going to go into that year’s blends. It’s pretty intense, and there are a lot of people with long memories, including emeritus employees. I’d hear things like “This is like the ’88,” etc. It was great to be a fly on the wall.
One of the people tasting was a former head of the cave, 98 years old at the time. He, in turn, was the son of another head of the cave from the early 20th century. At the tasting, the chief winemaker told me in confidence that the 98-year-old’s father had made and saved a bottle of Veuve for his son there 98 years ago. The chief winemaker had a plan: Two years later, when the former head of the cave turned 100, the chief winemaker presented him with the bottle and they opened it with a group of winemakers. The son had no idea this was coming, and lots of people kept it quiet for decades. It was fun to be in on the secret.
Wow — it’s really touching that even at a big wine house like Veuve Cliquot they have a sense of family. It’s true. It was touching, and an honor to be part of it.
Where do you buy your wine in Paris? I’m lucky to have a great wine store around the corner from me. It’s called La Dernière Goutte. The owner, Juan Sanchez, is an American who’s been in Paris for more than 20 years. It’s really fun to shop there. He has made it his business to get to know his producers and has them in for tastings on Saturdays. Somehow the tasting experience is always better when you can talk to the winemakers!
What do you like to drink every day? Wine is an essential part of dinner for me. I drink every night, so I try to keep it reasonable. Mostly I gravitate toward Rhônes – I love Syrah, and wines from the Loire and Languedoc, and Chenin Blancs.
How about for nicer occasions? I like to ask Juan for recommendations. I usually don’t buy just one wine for a nicer meal, or even for a particular course. Especially since the meals tend to have a lot of parts: apéros, first course, main dish, cheese, and maybe dessert. I like to buy a bunch of bottles and put them out on the table, let people try them with the different parts of the meal.
Those sound like my kind of dinners, especially when I don’t have to drive! What are you working on now? Right now I’m proofing the final pages of my next book, Dorie’s Cookies. Its birthday will be October 25, 2016 and I’m crazy excited about it. Its look is stunning and it’s got a great collection of recipes – everyday cookies, holiday and celebration cookies, all the cookies from Beurre & Sel, the boutique my son and I had in New York City, and cocktail cookies, savory cookies meant to be munched with wine and booze.
I love the idea of savory cookies. I’m always looking for things to serve with wine. Especially if I can freeze them, either baked or unbaked. Well, I’d be a bad author if I didn’t mention that it’s available for pre-order now…
Thanks so much for talking with me. This has been really fun! Fun for me too. And you’ve got me thinking about what to drink with dinner tonight!
I mentioned Dorie’s recipe for Spanish tortilla made with potato chips earlier in the post, but I decided to include a recipe that’s a main course instead. With Dorie’s permission, here’s her recipe for Boeuf à la Ficelle, or beef on a string, which is made using beef tenderloin. It’s an elegant dish that’s great for company. The meat gets tied up with string, along with a long piece of string that hangs from one end – used to remove the beef from the cooking broth when it’s done. The broth can be served as soup, or everything can be served together (root vegetables get simmered in the broth before the tenderloin, so it’s a complete meal).
The key to making this dish is excellent beef broth. Browning oxtail and beef bones may not be your idea of fun in a warm kitchen, but it makes a wonderful both in about an hour and a half. You can make the broth ahead of time, and even get all the vegetables prepped. So when you go to make the dish, you’ll have everything ready and can get the finished product made in about 45 minutes.
In the book, Dorie tells the story of trying to buy the right piece of meat tied up for this dish. The young assistant at the butcher shop had no idea what she was talking about. But both the older butcher and a woman who was also in line at the shop knew what she wanted. It’s sort of a lost recipe that’s great to see back in circulation. In fact, the woman in line also suggested that Dorie add the tomato paste and the beef bouillon cubes. Most beef tenderloins come tied crosswise, and while you don’t really have to have the long string, it’s easy to put one on yourself. Tie a long piece of kitchen string to one of the crosswise strings and then proceed up the piece of meat to the other end, making a knot at each successive crosswise string and leaving a nice long piece for grabbing the meat after it’s cooked.
You’ll want to serve this dish with an excellent wine. I recommend Château de Clapier Soprano 2011 ($18). It’s Syrah, Grenache, and Pinot Noir from the Luberon in the southeastern part of the Rhône valley, and it’s drinking very well these days. Or, it can be one of the (many) bottles you put out on the table for your guests!
Reprinted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, with the author’s permission.
For the bouillon
5 parsley sprigs
2 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
2 celery stalks with leaves
2 tablespoons mild oil (such as grapeseed or canola)
3 big veal bones or beef marrow bones
2 big onions, unpeeled, halved
¼ teaspoon sugar
About 5 quarts water
3 leeks, dark green parts only (reserve the white and light green parts), washed
2 carrots, trimmed and cut in half crosswise
1 garlic head, only the loose papery peel removed, halved horizontally
1 2-inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and halved
1 star anise (optional)
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 beef bouillon cubes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon coarse salt
For the vegetables and beef
6 small potatoes, scrubbed and halved
6 small turnips, trimmed, peeled, and halved
6 carrots, trimmed, peeled, and cut crosswise into thirds
1 pound celery root, trimmed, peeled, and cut into 2-inch cubes
Reserved white and green parts of the 3 leeks, split lengthwise, washed, and cut into 2-inch lengths
6 shallots, peeled and halved
1 1-1/2 pound beef tenderloin roast, all fat removed, tied with twine (leave a long tail of string), at room temperature
Fleur de sel or other sea salt
Dijon and grainy mustard, preferably French
Horseradish, preferably grated fresh
A peppermill filled with black peppercorns
To make the bouillon: Gather together the parsley, thyme, and bay leaves, tuck them between the celery stalks, and tie up the bundle with kitchen string.
Put a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the oil. Drop in the bones, oxtail, and onions (if you can get everything in without crowding the pot, go for it; if not, do this in batches), sprinkle over the sugar, and brown the bones and onions, stirring as needed. When all the ingredients are as deeply browned as you can get them – even a little blackened – transfer to a bowl and pour out and discard the fat.
Put the pot back over medium heat and, standing away, pour a cup or two of water into the pot. Using a wooden or metal spoon, scrape up all the goop that formed on the bottom of the pot, a satisfying job, since you get all the color and flavor from the sticky bits and the scraping does a good job of cleaning the pot too. Pour in the 4-1/2 quarts of water and toss in all the remaining ingredients, including the celery bundle, bones, oxtail, and onions. Bring to a boil, skimming off the scum that bubbles to the top, the lower the heat to a simmer, and cook the bouillon, uncovered, skimming often, for 1 hour.
Strain the bouillon into a bowl and discard the solids – they’ve done their job. (The bouillon can be cooled and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. Once the bouillon is cooled, skim off any fat – it will have floated to the top.)
To cook the vegetables and meat: Return the bouillon to the pot and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the potatoes, turnips, carrots, and celery root. After 10 minutes, add the leeks and shallots and cook for 10 minutes more. Check that the vegetables are cooked and, when they are tender, using a slotted spoon, lift them out of the bouillon and into a large bowl. Cover and set aside while you poach the beef. (The vegetables can be cooked a few hours ahead, moistened with a little bouillon, covered, and refrigerated until you’re ready for them.)
Drop the beef into the simmering bouillon, keeping the string out of the broth (you can tie it to the pot’s handle) and poach for 15 minutes – it will be very rare in the center. Pull the beef from the pot using the string, transfer to a plate, cover with foil, and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. (If you want the beef more well done, you can poach it longer or, better yet, pour some of the hot broth over it at serving time.)
Meanwhile, reheat the vegetables in the bouillon. Cut the beef into slices about ¼ to ½ inch thick. For each portion, put a slice or two of beef in the center of a shallow soup plate, surround it with some poached vegetables, and moisten with bouillon. Have fleur de sel, Dijon and grainy mustard, horseradish, and a peppermill on the table so your guests can season their own dishes.