Last year I participated in an event with the goal of increasing awareness about cancer, “The Taste of Yellow“, that was hosted by Barbara from Winos and Foodies. Now I have the privilege of joining one of her other events: food blogging along the “Tour de France,” the premier bike race in the world! This year sixteen teams cruised, bounced and blasted through a 2,263 miles circuit that started in Rotterdam on July 3rd. Each year the race takes a different route, but it always end in Paris, with the final stretch taking the athletes back and forth along the spectacular Avenue des Champs Elysees, between the sublime Place de la Concorde and the gorgeous Arch du Triomphe. What a visual energy boost it is! In Barbara’s “Tour de France 2010,” bloggers posted their descriptions of the food traditions from each locale surrounding the individual stages. You can enjoy this virtual tour here.
I was thrilled when Barbara asked me to cover the final stage of the tour, because I love Paris so much! But was also quite nervous about it, because she was originally going to write about it herself. Talk about pressure!
So, I’ll start by sharing some thoughts on the City of Lights, and finish by offering the recipes of three Parisian treats, hopefully as authentic as La Tour Eiffel itself!
The Paris that everyone knows…
Even people who never set foot in Paris know about its cafes, restaurants, cheeses, baguettes and museums, that create the aura of romance and charm permeating every corner of the city. It’s a favorite activity in Paris to sit outside at a cafe and indulge in people-watching on a pleasant day. We always gravitate back to Les Deux Magots and Cafe’ de Flore, that are situated almost next to each other in the shadow of the oldest church in Paris, St. Germain de Pres.
Not bad to enjoy a cappucino, croissant or pain au chocolat, while staring in awe at the austere tower of the cathedral, provoking dreams of the middle ages, or the days when Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir sat at those very tables, maybe looking across the Boulevard St. Germain to the ultra-traditional Brasserie Lipp, where Hemingway or Modigliani sat and ate Alsatian food fit for the gods (that they were).
Flickr Creative Commons photo
The street markets… are pretty much a French institution. Our favorite may be on Rue Cler, in the 7eme arrondisement. It only takes one stroll through the market to get anything and everything needed to prepare dinner, from the freshest seafood to the most perfect veggies, fruits, cheeses and chocolates. And don’t forget to stop for a fine Sauternes or Bordeaux! During the “R” months, fresh oysters from Bretagne will be waiting for you, either live in the shells or shucked in seconds by the vendor’s expert hands. If you just want to “window-shop,” then grab a crepe made at the small stand halfway along the length of the market: you’ll be amazed at how delicious it is.
Croissants…. are not French by birth, but they will always be associated with Paris. A great croissant makes a soft crunch as you bite into it, and it covers your lips with tiny buttery flakes. It’s messy, but you don’t want it any other way. My favorite (OK, one one of my favorites) is from the Lenotre boulangerie in the 15th arrondisement, but good croissants are everywhere in Paris. Ask for a “croissant pur beurre,” which excludes any lower-fat variations from your lips. No point in having a croissant unless it comes loaded with buttery flavor and goodness. You know, “moderation in moderation.”
Macarons… Apparently, I’m the only human being who does not care for macarons (or macaroons, the English spelling). I apologize for this handicap, and hope you will still visit the Bewitching Kitchen after learning about it. Nevertheless, they are a Parisian fever, so I did my homework and learned that macaron lovers are crazy for those from Pierre Herme‘s patisserie in the 15th arrondisement. And if you want to make them at home, click here for a great tutorial!
Bread, cheese, and metro stations… have something in common: wherever you are in Paris, they’ll all be within walking distance. Baguettes are freshly baked around the clock, and nothing beats munching on one that’s still warm from the oven you stroll through the streets. I always go for the ”baguette tradition,” made according to precise specifications of the bread bakers syndicate: it has no illegal additives and its exclusively leavened with Saccaromyces cerevisiae (the famous “baker’s yeast”). No corners are cut with these baguettes, and their taste and texture proves it. But one cannot mention Parisien bread without also talking about Pain Poilane, and its famous bakery, where you can buy the huge four pound “boule” and enjoy it for days!
With a great bread, one needs some great cheese. When I first lived alone in Paris, I developed a nice relationship with the cheesemonger near my apartment in the 15th. Every week I would ask for my “usual suspects” (Brie de Meaux, Roquefort, and a camembert au lait cru), and she would pick a new one for me to try. That was a happy year! No, I wasn’t able to finish tasting all of these, but I had fun trying.
The Paris that not everybody knows about….
The bees in Paris are almost as busy as its lively streets, making some of the best honey around! The largest beehives are in Jardin du Luxembourg and Parc George Brassens (site of a weekly book market that is also worth a visit). But smaller hives are on top of the Opera Garnier building, and also on the Hotel Eiffel Park. Bees travel a maximum of 2 miles around the hive, and collect pollen from a large variety of flowers. Parisian honey has a complex flavor, and even more “complex” price! Because production is small, the pots of Parisian honey sell like liquid gold. When you are in town take a guided tour of the beehive in Luxembourg, it’s a must see.
Menu “Faim de nuit” (late night “munchies menu”) at La Coupole
One of the most famous restaurants in Paris offers an affordable dinner every evening starting at 10:30pm. Why have dinner so late? Well, when in France, do as the French do! No sense going to sleep before 2am anyway! La Coupole is always packed, a very popular choice not only for tourists, and not only for dining: in the basement you can dance the night away, following a tradition that spans many decades.
Wine, sure… but made in Paris? Mais oui! In the 17th century the vineyards of Paris were the most important in the country, covering a huge area of more than 100 thousand acres. Later other regions started to produce wine, Paris turned into a metropolis, and the vines almost completely disappeared. Almost, but not quite. Small production still takes place in vines located in Montmartre (Clos Montmartre) and a few other spots around town. With very few exceptions, the wine produced in Paris cannot be commercialized. This site is an interesting read (in French).
photo from Wikimedia Commons
Now, the most important question: what to cook at home to celebrate Paris? Follow me to the next page to find out.
TWO TRIED AND TRUE RECIPES AND ONE GOAL
Many of the meals we enjoy in Paris originated elsewhere – duck confit, quiche Lorraine, cassoulet, foie gras, crepes sarrasin, tarte Tatin, creme brulee… The City of Light assembles many of the wonderful things found across France. In search of authentic Parisian faire I inquired of my native friends, and the number one choice was (drum roll, please………): CROQUE MONSIEUR, a distinctive sandwich that appeared in Parisian bistrots around 1910.
Traditionally, Croque Monsieur is a ham and cheese sandwich made with pain de mie, covered with bechamel sauce, and run under the broiler. My favorite version, as served in many bistrots, is an open-faced sandwich using Poilane or a hearty levain type bread. And, I am partial to Croque Madame, a Monsieur with a fried egg on top, releasing its golden deliciousness all over. Irresistible!
(from Paris to the Bewitching Kitchen)
1 Tbs unsalted butter
1.5 Tbs flour
1 cups milk (warmed in the microwave for 2 minutes)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
pinch of nutmeg
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
4 large slices of rustic, sourdough type bread such as this
Dijon mustard to taste
4 slices of ham
Heat the oven to 400F.
Make a Mornay sauce by melting the butter in a heavy saucepan, adding the flour and whisking constantly for about 2 minutes. Pour the hot milk all at once, whisking, and add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Remove from the heat, add half the Gruyere cheese, stir gently until melted into the sauce.
Spread a little mustard on each slice of the bread, but do not add too much, you only need a hint of mustard taste. Add a slice of ham on top, sprinkle with gruyere cheese, and add some mornay sauce over it. Place in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes. If you want, turn the broiler for the final couple of minutes.
Meanwhile, fry the eggs sunny-side up, and reserve .
To serve, place a fried egg on top of each open-face sandwich.
After indulging yourself in the Croque Madame, a fresh green salad and a glass of red wine, how about a simple dessert, such as fromage blanc au miel?
FROMAGE BLANC AU MIEL
(from Paris to the Bewitching Kitchen)
Nest them together in a small bowl.
Dig in by the spoonful.
THE ELUSIVE HOMEMADE CROISSANT
reprinted with permission, from Txfarmer’s blog
A post about Paris would not be complete without croissants. My craving for a great croissant set me on a mission to reproduce them at home, so far unsuccessful. But there is hope! I intend to follow the footsteps of my friend Txfarmer, who produced the masterpiece in the photo in her own kitchen in Dallas… The recipe she used can be found here, in case you need a Paris “fix,” too.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my little virtual tour of Paris, and also got some inspiration from the effort of all athletes who took part of the “Tour de France”. Crossing the finish line at the Avenue Champs Elysees must be one of the most amazing feelings in the world!
Barbara, thank you for giving me the opportunity to write this article, it’s been great to revisit my many memories of Paris!
ONE YEAR AGO: Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce