Have you noticed that the best part of all great holidays is the feast? The Fourth of July has come and gone, and what a feast it was! The Fourth is the greatest of all American celebrations because it highlights the greatest of all American pastimes: the cookout! But don’t be sad or disappointed that the party’s over — another food celebration opportunity is here: Bastille Day, July 14.
This is the French equivalent of America’s Independence Day. Like us, the French spend the day celebrating with great feasts. Being snooty French, they don’t lower themselves to cooking out, but they do picnic. And my, they do it well. While we grill burgers and dogs, French folks braise artichoke hearts and slice fine pâtés. Americans swill copious amounts of ice-cold Bud Light (PBR for the hipsters) while the French sip chilled rosé from Provence. Americans shovel in potato salad, the French nibble salade niçoise. Americans: baked beans. French: chilled green lentils with vinaigrette. Such different styles. Such awesome food.
Being truly democratic, at least when it comes to food, I heartily embrace both. And I don’t mind shifting gears from big, simple American fare to petite, complex French preparations, because all the flavors are wondrous.
French cuisine is a beautiful thing indeed. Don’t think of it as pretentious. Think of it as good eats — ’cause that what it truly is.
There’s nothing more French than a beautifully roasted chicken with crispy, salty skin and a warm bowl of summer vegetable ratatouille. How about a roasted red pepper and goat cheese terrine or pungent green olive and anchovy tapenade? I’m envisioning warm, ripe, funky, Brie cheese with raspberry jam, and — of course — lots of chilled rosé.
Yeah, I can party just as well as our amies across la mer.
You may not know it, but the French like to set off fireworks as much as we do. So go ahead, use your leftover fireworks from the Fourth and celebrate independence for a second time this summer!
Before we say adieu, check out this ratatouille recipe. It’s trés French and perfect for summer produce.
Chef Bill’s RATATOUILLE
- 2 cups zucchini, seeded and small diced
- 1 cup eggplant, small diced
- 1 cup red bell pepper, small diced
- 3/4 cup red onion, small diced
- 1 teaspoon garlic paste
- 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, cored and halved
- 1 ounce vermouth
- 2 ounces olive oil
- 3 ounces V-8 juice
- 3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 tablespoon basil, chiffonade (cut in long, thin strips)
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Sweat the onions until they’re translucent. Add the eggplant and garlic, sweat all for three minutes.
- Increase heat to medium-high, add the peppers and zucchini. Sauté for three more minutes.
- Deglaze with the vermouth, reduce au sec. Add the V-8 juice. Season with salt and pepper.
- Reduce heat to a bare simmer, add tomatoes, partially cover and continue to simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Test doneness and adjust the seasoning; add the herbs and finish with Parmesan to taste.
Until we cook again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Historic Fernandina Beach, with your recipes or questions at c[email protected], for inspiration to get you Cheffed Up!