Sunday, 25 October 2009

Cook the Books - French Lessons

This month's selection for Cook the Books is Peter Mayle's French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew. It's a series of short pieces on his gastronomic adventures around France and I have to say I was a bit bored by it. I loved his books A Year in Provence and Toujours, Provence so I'd been really looking forward to this one, but I just found it all a bit same-y. He goes somewhere for a festival celebrating a food that people in Britain don't usually eat, discovers it is delicious and that the locals are passionate about it and then he drinks too much. Rinse and repeat.

I wasn't particularly moved to eat any of the things he talked about. I wasn't even particularly moved to visit France and attend any of these festivals myself. I was a bit at a loss. And then I was watching Eating in the Sun on iPlayer and Nadia's challenge was to recreate a meal at Alain Ducasse's restaurant La Bastide de Moustiers. This was what I was looking for! All the countryside they showed in the episode was the Provencal landscape Mayle describes so lovingly in his other books and the care and attention the chefs at La Bastide de Moustiers put into their dishes was exactly what I wanted to convey about French food.

One of the dishes Nadia was challenged to cook was a sort of spelt risotto, with several different squash preparations and black truffles. I thought that tied in nicely with the truffle mass that Mayle attends in French Lessons.

I didn't follow the recipe exactly. For some reason every time I tried to read the recipe I went cross-eyed and got really confused, so I got the ingredients and then pretty much made it up. I softened chopped onion and garlic in some butter and olive oil, then added the pearled spelt and some finely chopped butternut. I added a splash of cava (because it was what I was drinking and I didn't want to open another bottle of white wine) and when it was absorbed I proceeded with hot vegetable stock, as if I was making a risotto. Towards the end of the cooking I stirred through half a jar of sliced truffles. These weren't the brand I have had before and unfortunately they were almost entirely lacking in flavour and aroma. Then I stirred through the shredded flesh of half a baked spaghetti squash and served the risotto topped with caramelly roast slices of butternut, some mustard cress and shaved pecorino pepato.

Aside from the disappointment of the truffles, it was a truly delicious autumn dish. I've never cooked with spelt before and while it didn't give the creamy starchiness that rice gives a risotto, it had a lovely nutty texture and I think it'd be a lot more forgiving of being cooked in advance and reheated. The different flavours and textures of the squash were really lovely. I served it to a largely vegetarian friend and he was either extremely polite or pretty impressed too. I will definitely make this again - but I'll probably skip the truffle and the first squash bit and just add the spaghetti squash at the end with cubes of roasted butternut stirred through.

And now I am saving for a weekend at La Bastide De Moustiers. Maybe 2012.

30 comments:

Esi said...

You sound like me when I cook. I usually just add a splash of whatever I am drinking instead of opening a bottle. Sorry the truffles disappointed, but overall it sounds like a lovely dish.

lapetitepipistrelle said...

::bounce::

::bounce::

I got to help! I opened the bottle of cava! I got to perch on the kitchen stool and watch Foodycat slice and toss and stir; and I got to swoon as all manner of delicious cooking smells swirled round her cosy kitchen!

And best of all, I got a plate of the autumn-fragrant and complexly textured results (perfectly al dente spelt, buttery-soft simmered squash slivers, silky golden squash strings) to bury my snout in. Ha!

::bounce::

lapetitepipistrelle said...

oooooOoops... and by the way... I have been commissioned to add that the largely vegetarian friend was rather more than merely 'pretty impressed', there was no politeness involved (but much appreciative enjoyment) as he hoovered up the risotto!

Foodycat said...

Esi - I think it is the best way. Otherwise I end up drinking more to finish up the bottle!

Pipi - I am glad you loved it!

HH said...

Sounds good FC! I have never used spelt, but it sounds lovely and all the squash and truffles sounds divine!

The Cat's Mother said...

I was given some spelt for my birthday - says a lot about our family. Other people get Crabtree & Evelyn.
FC - I cooked it like brown rice and made a salad very reminiscent of the chicchi we had in Florence. I think Judy's original calls for spelt.
Very nice & Bill agreed.

ARLENE said...

Ah, Foodycat, I, too, am lacking inspiration from this book. The only thing I'd connected to was a garlic festival we have locally. First, I must check out the program you cited (not even sure how to GET iPlayer). Your spelt risotto is something I've never even imagined. Too bad about the truffles, but those autumn flavors still shone through, so c'est bon!

ARLENE said...

Ah, Foodycat, I, too, am lacking inspiration from this book. The only thing I'd connected to was a garlic festival we have locally. First, I must check out the program you cited (not even sure how to GET iPlayer). Your spelt risotto is something I've never even imagined. Too bad about the truffles, but those autumn flavors still shone through, so c'est bon!

Foodycat said...

HH - it's definitely worth looking into!

Mother - yes, you are right. Judy only started using rice when she had a student with coeliac disease.

Arlene - I think your IP address has to be domiciled in the UK for BBC iPlayer to work, sadly!

kat said...

I think he ran out of ideas by the time he got to that book for sure

Laurie said...

You've been eating well, my friend! Love the vegetarian meal. It's beautiful and sounds delicious. I've never tried spelt, but now you have me curious.

"A Year in Provence" is on the top of my reading pile, so I think I will skip the newer one and stick with that.

It's so fun to read about your adventures with your foody friends. The dinner at Le Manoir looks incredible and I love the photo of you and Paul.

Laurie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Teresa Cordero Cordell said...

This looks enticing. I love the idea of risotto and butternut squash. I'd never heard of spelt before. Learned something new. Thank you.

Laurie said...

Sorry for the deleted post. For some reason my comment posted twice so I deleted the second one. Obviously I'm a bit rusty at the blogging...

Foodycat said...

Kat - it sure looks like it!

Laurie - good to see you!

Teresa - it's an old type of wheat, apparently.

Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

It does look like a tasty and hearty dish, my semi-veggie daughter would absolutely love it.

Dee said...

I agree! Peter Mayle does get a bit same-y after a while. I did enjoy the Confessions of a French Baker though.

I've only cooked with spelt flour - ended up with soggy pancakes, Ugh. I'm keen to give pearled spelt a go. So I'd cook it like rice then?

Heather said...

mmmmmm. this sounds like a great cook book :)

The Cat's Mother said...

I followed a recipe for a Sicilian barley salad (in My Cousin Rosa). It said to soak the grains for 24 hours. Having done that they did not take very long to cook quite soft.

Foodycat said...

Natashya - I think it'd be a good dish to pull out for a celebration meal with a veggie/semi-veggie.

Dee - a bit longer than rice but yes.

Heather - there is no way I could recommend it!

Mother - I wonder if you could make a sort of tabbouleh with it?

Rachel said...

Well, I have enjoyed Mayle's book more than you did, especially his dry humor. But after searching around fruitlessly in my area for Livarot cheese, I came up with another cheesy idea for this book club post.

The risotto looks appropriately autumnal and delicious. And now I will have to try some Cava after my next trip to the wine store.

The Cat's Mother said...

I thought about tabbouleh when I was making the salad - another reminder of Sicily's Arab links. Also Claudia Roden's original recipe had more wheat in proportion to parsley which she says is the old way of preparing it.

Foodycat said...

Rachel - I think livarot is always unpasteurised, so you poor Americans always miss out! Cava is my bubble of choice, Freixinet is widely available and reliable.

Mother - I like it with more parsley!

Simona said...

I think you found a very nice answer to the challenge of cooking something inspired by the book. I have actually never cooked spelt, so now you got me curious about it. Sorry about the disappointing truffles.

Debinhawaii said...

The dish looks amazing--bummer about the truffles. I am just finishing up the book now and am having a struggle with what to make too. I liked the book but a lot of what he talks about is hard to find here.

Foodycat said...

Simona - thanks!

Deb - not a lot of frogs legs in Hawaii?

jodimop said...

Pity you didn't like the book that much, I hadn't read his other ones, so I guess that is why I found it so inspiring! I have never had spelt before, but it makes me want to try it. I wonder what it is called in Greek...

cantbelieveweate said...

What a valiant effort!! I'm tickled you found inspiration somewhere...I still haven't. I thought about local food festivities...but the only thing we celebrate where I live is the salmon...after it has fought its way back inland to where it was born. Poor noble fish...it's sure nothing to eat then! And it's not my favorite to start with anyway... So...I've got 8 days... Congrats on your dish!

Foodycat said...

Jo - definitely, I think if I hadn't read his others I would have liked this one much more! I don't know what spelt is in Greek but it is epeautre in French and farro in Italian!

CBWA - poor salmon! Good luck thinking of something to cook!

Claudia said...

Your dish sounds delicious, a real "wing it" creation. I had only read his Hotel Patis previously, a fiction adventure, which was enjoyable, but in this one he was not as successful.

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