Culinaria France: A Celebration of Food and Tradition, edited by André Dominé, features the regional cuisine of France along with the background of the people, culture, and development of local ingredients. A variety of favorites and lesser known recipes can be found including Tarte à l’Espoisses et aux pommes (Epoisses cheese and apple tart) from Burgundy, Raviolis au brocciu (Brocciu-filled ravioli) from Corsica, Quiche lorraine (Lorraine bacon pie), Aumônières de niche forestière sauce Champagne (Venison pasties with Champagne sauce) from the Ardennes, Mousse au chocolat (Chocolate mousse) from Lyon, and Civet de sanglier (Ragoût of wild boar) from the Midi. Interested in other books in the Culinaria series? Here are my reviews of Culinaria China, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, and Spain.
The chapters are divided based on region: Paris/Île-de-France, Nord-Pas-de-Calais/Picardie/Normandie Bretagne, Champagne/Lorraine/Alsace, Bourgogne/Franche-Comté, Lyon/Rhône-Alpes, Provence/Côte d’Azur, La Corse, Roussillon/Languedoc/Les Cévennes, Toulousain/Quercy/Aveyron/Auvergne, Bordeaux/Périgord/Gascogne/Pays Basque, Poitou-Charentes/Limousin, and Pays de la Loire/Centre.
Like the other books in the Culinaria series, Culinaria France is so much more than just a cookbook. Each chapter begins with an overview of the region. I love the interesting facts and cultural tidbits that make the individual areas unique. The first restaurant in Paris opened 225 years ago. The area between Flanders and the Loire estuary was once known as argoat in Celtic, the land of forests, but the forests were cleared and gave way to fields of buckwheat. Sauerkraut in Alsace is known as choucroute. Monks in Saône-Ebene make cheese twice a week using the high-fat milk of their Montbéliarde herd. Rhône-Alpes is the size of Switzerland. Provence is France’s largest supplier of fruit, vegetables, and herbs. Corsica, the island of beauty, is the birthplace of Napoleon and Brocciu. Roussillon is home to the largest wine growing region in the world. Cahors is famous for black truffles and its nearly black red wine. Pays Basque is home to Saint-Jean-du-Luz, once the leading port for sardine and tuna. Cognac, in Charentes, is most well-known for its brandy of the same name. The Loire Valley, the garden of France, holds an abundance of fruits and vegetables.
You also will learn more about the background and local ingredients including the development of the baguette, the incredible variety of grapes and wine, the herbs of Provence, chestnut blossom honey from Cévennes, and the introduction of couscous from Algeria.
The beautiful photography is by Günter Beer. In addition to photos of the finished dish for many of the recipes, there are hundreds of the scenery, people, and food. There are also a few step-by-step photos for certain techniques such as how to prepare a globe artichoke, blend Aïoli, or carve a chicken. Visual guides are scattered throughout the pages showcasing bread specialties, Jewish treats, cheese, sea fish, smoked specialties of Franche-Comté, and French cuts of beef. The name of each dish is written in French (or local dialect) and English. The measurements are provided in US Customary and Metric.
This book is a great pick for those wanting a closer look at French cuisine. Recipes range from simple one-pot meals to the more intricate perfect for entertaining. Having a background in French techniques will be helpful in executing some of the more difficult recipes. Seafood, organ meats, and game are particularly prominent. There are also plenty of appetizers, soups, vegetables, and sweets. Most of the ingredients are readily available in the average American grocery store, but a few may require a trip to a specialty cheese shop or market (orange blossom water, game meat, sweetbreads, seafood, brocciu, ceps, truffles, smoked meats, juniper berries, crème fraîche, snails, and a few other specialty ingredients).
The Provençal Pistou is a pounded basil garlic paste served alongside fish, lamb, and added to Soupe au Pistou- a popular white bean vegetable soup. It was a great way to use up the last of the basil from the garden.
The biggest difference between this sauce and the Italian pesto is the lack of pine nuts- making it a wonderful alternative for those who avoid the ingredient. Traditionally, garlic cloves are pounded by hand in a mortar with thinly sliced basil, Parmesan cheese (a more modern addition), and olive oil until a sauce is created. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle available, you can cheat with the help of a food processor.
I also made Gratin des Halles (Onion Soup topped with Cheese) from Paris, Flammkueche (Bacon and Onion Pie) from Alsace, Tomates Confites (Baked Tomatoes) from Corsica, and Mel i Mato à notre façon (Mel i Mato in our own style) from Roussillon.
Gratinée des Halles, known here as French Onion Soup, is prepared by caramelizing onions and simmering them in seasoned beef stock. The soup is divided among serving bowls, topped with baguette slices and Gruyere, and toasted until bubbly. This soup is always a favorite of mine and the recipe definitely did not disappoint.
Flammkueche is an Alsatian flat pie with bacon and onions. A pizza-like dough is stretched out and topped with quark and crème fraîche before sprinkling with bacon and onions. The pie is then baked until golden and bubbly. This one was a favorite for Chad and Claire.
Tomates Confites are Corsican baked tomatoes topped simply with garlic, parsley, and olive oil. It was an easy side dish to prepare and the perfect accompaniment for a salad with slices of white bread.
Mel i Mato is a rich Catalan cheese dessert. In this adaptation, cream cheese and goat cheese are beaten until smooth with sugar, lemon, and water. The mixture is frozen until sorbet-like in consistency. It is served cold with a drizzle of honey and sprinkling of walnuts.
Disclaimer: I received this book from H.F. Ullmann in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Pistou (Provençal Basil Paste)
Adapted from Culinaria France
6 cloves garlic
2 large bunches fresh basil
Scant 1 cup (100 grams) freshly grated Parmesan
Freshly ground pepper
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Peel and finely chop the garlic cloves. Place the garlic in a mortar, sprinkle with salt to taste, and pound into a smooth paste.
Thinly slice the basil and pound into the basil until well combined, then mix in the parmesan and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while pounding the mixture until the ingredients and evenly combined and smooth.