At home, back in the States, entertaining is one of my great pleasures in life. I can spend hours planning menus and weekend time prepping dishes (or parts of dishes) to freeze before the event. I create detailed timelines so I can keep track of when each step for each dish needs to be completed, sometimes backing up a few days in advance of the party. And while you might consider this to be
completely insane a little extreme, I can assure you, I love it.
But somewhere between the small kitchen, lack of cooking equipment, and easy availability of such wonderful food around here, that urge to throw parties with complex menus has somehow been replaced by a much more simple style of entertaining. Instead of choosing dishes with long exotic ingredient lists, why not just try to showcase the best of what’s here? Now, when I lie awake at night, going over menu possibilities in my head, more often than not, it is filled with the things I can buy nearby: how about some slices of smoked salmon from Autour du Saumon and proscuitto from the Italian shop in Rue Cler? and cheeses from Fromagerie Laurent Dubois? Should I serve dessert from Aux Merveilleux de Fred? Crostini with olive tapenade from Provence or the artichoke truffle paste I picked up in Italy? And of course whatever is in season at the farmer’s market.
As a result, I’ve been drawn to recipes that don’t call for specialized equipment or spices and just let the basic ingredients shine. (It helps that my pantry is extremely limited here since I am trying my best to only buy things I know I will use up before we leave—spices like cumin, cinnamon, and pimente d'espelette and a few different types of vinegar and olive oil for salad dressing.) It’s actually a way of cooking that is somewhat inspiring—far fewer jars of things in the fridge and cabinets that I’ve used once and then kept around “just in case.” So, appetizers with friends might look something like this:
With simple brie and date crostini, roasted vegetables, meats and cheeses, and David Lebovitz’s fancy sardines on buttered bread. Or this:
With farmers market tomatoes, nuts, gougères from Picard, crostinis with artichoke truffle paste, those lovely sardines again. And always cheese. For dinner, when we had friends staying with us in town, I made Salmon with Anchovy-Garlic Butter and Warm French Lentil Salad with Bacon and Herbs. Very simple, very French, and no obscure ingredients. (If you consider anchovies to be obscure, please try this recipe, and you will want to keep a jar in your fridge. They melt into a deep savory flavor that is not fishy at all and are excellent in lots of dishes, including tomato sauce!) I’m afraid the salmon picture does not do this meal justice—I didn’t really pretty-up the plate and was so ready to eat that I forgot to snap a pic before I dug in. #signofagoodmeal
Make extra salmon and lentils when you make this so that you can enjoy the leftovers the next day in a salmon niçoise salad. I make a similar niçoise salad all the time here with good quality canned tuna, but the salmon made it extra special. This meal is definitely making it into my regular rotation when we return to the States—a little taste of France on your plate. :)