Sunday, August 23, 2009

Marco, Julia & I...

Polaroid photo taken by Elsa Dorfman in 1988

Last night, my fiancé and I went to see this yummy film that has just been released: Julie & Julia. It is about the parallel lives of Julia Child, the French Chef, and Julie Powell, a blogger, whose life was saved by Julia Child's revolutionary cookbook : Mastering the Art of French Cooking. We had seen the trailer, and therefore knew that we'd better have a solid dinner beforehand, if we didn't want to agonize over the gorgeous food that would be shown sizzling, frying or roasting on screen. So we seared a couple of peppered steaks that we ate with a beautiful salad of mixed vegetables and scrumptious fresh peas. Miam-miam! We were ready. No rumbling stomachs would roar during the late show of Nora Ephron's adaptation of the two bestselling memoirs: Powell's Julie & Julia, and Julia Child's autobiography, My Life in France.

Meryl Streep // Julia Child

I wanted more recipes, more anecdotes about how Julia got her savoir-faire, more, more! I wished the book had been 1,000 pages long for the film to keep going for at least another half an hour...Because, well, I am afraid I have to admit but I did not know anything about Julia Child before I arrived in Canada. That's true! She was a total stranger to me! It's Marco who introduced me to her for the first time. So now I am getting to know her better - I am reducing my ignorance of great North American chefs. I have also recently discovered The Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr, the incredible James Bond of the food shows in the 1960s...

And another mad chef, Stephen Yan, who would do anything to have it 'wok' alright in his show, Wok with Yan. Good recipes and hilarious!

Being French, I was raised in a kitchen with traditional cuisine performed everyday and most spectacularly at weekends when family gatherings took place. Television was not part of the way to get new recipes, we looked to magazines and cookbooks. I started to watch a few cooking shows on TV, in the 90s. My favourites were Carte Postale Gourmande with the food critic Jean-Luc Petitrenaud or Bon Appétit, Bien sûr with Joël Robuchon, the French chef who also opened a restaurant in NYC, L'Atelier.

So, this morning when I woke up, I was still under the influence and felt like cooking an omelette 'à la Julia'. I opened the original 1969 version of Julia Child's reference cookbook that belongs to my fiancé; who is un fin gourmet, and a pure francophile. Marco has had years of practice with Julia's technique (see bottom of the article where he tells you more about it!), and has therefore become an expert in tossing it on the edge of the pan so as to get a perfectly rolled omelette. Well, I haven't reached that stage of perfection, yet... I got pretty successful with the tossing, I slid the pan back and forth alright but when I tilted it at a 45-degree angle to rapidly gather the eggs at the far lip of the pan with the back of my fork, I could not manage to roll the omelette with the I used my hands, oops! Well, we didn't have any guests, just the usual suspects, so I felt entitled to experiment and get a bit messy.

Later in the afternoon, we were invited for dinner by wonderful friends of ours who live in Oakville. I was invited by Barbara, the most gracious 70-something Australian lady, to pick up a few fresh goodies from her garden. I reveled at the sight of gorgeous tomatoes and fantasized about the rhubarb, thinking of all the strawberry and rhubarb pies and other preserves I could make. Now, tomorrow is going to be quite indecent, blushing with red organic tomatoes. I will most probably make a nice Salade Niçoise (p542) and bake Tomates à la Provençale (p507) (stuffed tomatoes), one of my favourite meals growing up. My mother would sometimes add rice and ground beef to the classical recipe, in order to turn it into a main course.

If you want to find typical recipes from Provence, get yourself a copy of the classic yellow book by J-B Reboul. An absolute must if you like la cuisine provençale. Believe me! No illustrations, just recipes- plain but authentic, the real stuff!

Julia Child’s Tomates à la Provençale

(Tomatoes Stuffed with Bread Crumbs, Herbs and Garlic)

For 6 people

6 firm, ripe, red tomatoes about 3 inches in diameter

Salt and pepper

For the stuffing:

1 to 2 cloves mashed garlic

3 Tb minced shallots or green onions

4 Tb minced fresh basil and parsley, or parsley only

1/8 tsp thyme

1/4 tsp salt

Big pinch of pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup fine, white, dry bread crumbs

A shallow roasting pan just large enough to bold the tomatoes easily in one layer

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the stems, and cut the tomatoes in half crosswise. Gently press out the juice and seeds. Sprinkle the halves with salt and pepper.

Blend all the ingredients for the stuffing in a mixing bowl. Correct seasoning. Fill each tomato half with a spoonful or two of the mixture. Sprinkle with a few drops of olive oil. Arrange the tomatoes in the roasting pan; do not crowd them. (My note: The tomato halves can be stuffed ahead to this point and refrigerated before baking.)

Shortly before you are ready to serve, place them in the upper third of the preheated oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the tomatoes are tender but hold their shape, and the bread crumb filling has browned lightly.

Cover of the original 1961 edition

But, let's finish with the story of Marco & Julia Child's 1969 version of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (whose cover is identical to the 1961 edition shown above)...It is quite a story! Actually, I've asked him to tell you about it himself:

"I was living in Montreal in 1997. Missing the cooking I had learned in Montpellier a couple of years before, but dead broke, I invested the last few dollars I had in a vintage copy of Julia Child's 752-page Magnum opus 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking'. That book brought a lot of happiness to my life and was well worth the skipped meals required to finance its purchase. I taught myself many dishes from that book, including how to properly cook an omelette. While moving out a few months later, I was devastated to discover that I had lost the book. I am still convinced that one of my flatmates had stolen it...
A year later, I was at a bookstore shopping for Christmas gifts. When I walked up to the cash with a couple of books for my family, I caught a glimpse of the long lost Julia Child's book in a bargain bin, the same 1969 edition as the one I had lost! When I asked the shop owner how much he wanted for it, he answered: "Two dollars". I snatched it up without hesitation, experiencing the exhilaration of a bank robber"

Dan Aykroyd as the bloody French Chef for the Saturday Night Live on December 9th, 1978. Sorry, I could not resist that one. Mea culpa, Julia. Aykroyd nails Child’s every nuance so well that he simply is irresistible. Oh well, she had a great sense of humour, she must have loved and laughed at her doppelgänger's show, don't you think?

Her Life in France. Learning how to bone a duck...Go to Julia Child's official website to watch The French Chef's unique videos!

Marco, Julia and I are now sharing a lot of omelettes and other delicious recipes together, happily ever after... Bon Appétit!

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