I’ve been surprised at just how much my mood has lifted since the gradual deconfinement in France that began on May 11th. The simple ability to go outside without filling out an attestation permit, and without fear of being stopped by a police officer with whom you will have to communicate in rudimentary French feels so liberating!
I’ve ventured more than 1 km from my apartment, enjoying long walks with my dog well into the Bois de Boulogne. And I’ve braved the metro to meet a friend in the 16ème arrondissement, pleasantly surprised at the small amount of people on the train. But I think my happiest moment so far was walking past the Marché Escudier and finding it open for business! Up until confinement, I had frequented the outdoor marché in Boulogne-Billancourt, held every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday, at least once a week. My favorite chicken and egg vendor is there, my favorite poissonière with his fresh fish stand, and all of my favorite vegetable and fruit vendors.
Open markets with a sanitary twist
At my first opportunity, I did a reconnaissance mission to see how the new normal would work. The market is now set up with clear entrance and exit points on opposite sides, with hand sanitizer required upon entry. Everyone wore masks, and the traffic was routed in a one-way path weaving through the rows of stalls. Some vendors had not yet returned, and some were taking orders to be picked up on a later market day. Sheets of see-thru plastic wrapped around most stalls so that produce was safe from being coughed or sneezed on.
Even with the strangeness of the plastic and the masks as well as the somewhat nervous energy of the patrons around me, I was thrilled to be in the marché again. And energized by the piles of beautiful fruits and vegetables on display – so welcome after some sad weeks of having to rely mainly on supermarket offerings!
Spring bounty calling out
Deep red cherries glisten in baskets, surrounded by the first of the late spring apricots. Vibrant strawberries pop out and piles of sweet peas are ready for shucking. Asparagus, both thin green stalks and thick white ones are plentiful. And bouquets of cheery radishes with their fresh green leaves and pinkish-red bottoms catch the eye. It’s a chef’s dream!
I had to stop myself from coming home with armloads of produce that would overwhelm my small refrigerator. So I did some recipe brainstorming and planning, then returned on the next market day to buy up the produce on my list. The vendors are so friendly and cheerful and seem as happy to be back as we are to be shopping again. I quickly purchased white asparagus, a bunch of radishes, several rosy apricots, and more cherries than I could possibly have needed. And then set myself to the task of cooking!
Below you’ll find my ideas, which I hope you’ll consider trying. To me, nothing lifts the spirits like cooking a delicious dish, whether it’s just for yourself or for your whole family. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section below for what you’re inspired to make now, too. We’ve arrived at the intersection of deconfinement and spring produce, and though we have not won the battle with Covid-19, there are signs of hope. So treat yourself to the joy of a delicious dish celebrating the bounty of the season!
White Asparagus Roquefort Gratin
This dish is rich, luscious, and totally decadent. And you deserve it! If you’ve never tried white asparagus before, it’s much more common here in Europe than in other parts of the globe, like the United States. Take advantage by trying this tasty vegetable, known in Germany as “white gold.” It has a milder flavor than traditional green asparagus, usually with thicker and meatier stalks. In this recipe, you’ll simmer the asparagus until tender, then cook in a cream sauce accented with Parmesan and Roquefort cheese. Fantastic next to a piece of simply roasted fish, and a green salad.
Serves 3-4 as a side dish
1 bunch of thick white asparagus, about 12 spears (570g)
100 ml crème liquide entière (heavy cream)
1/4 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
2 T. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
50g Roquefort cheese, crumbled
2 T. panko breadcrumbs (or any breadcrumbs you prefer)
Preheat oven to 180° C. Rinse, then peel asparagus (note that white asparagus always needs to be peeled because of its fibrous skin). Cut off bottom 1/2-inch of each stalk. Bring a large skillet or saucepan of salted water to boil. The pan needs to be large enough to fit the asparagus spears. Turn down the heat slightly, add asparagus, and simmer for around 20 minutes. You should be able to easily pierce the asparagus stalks with a knife when they are fully cooked. Drain carefully, as the asparagus tips are delicate, and pat dry with a paper towel. Place in the bottom of a gratin dish or tart pan.
While the asparagus is cooking, heat heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Let it simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently until it begins to thicken. Let cool for a few minutes, then stir in salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese. Spread sauce gently over asparagus using a rubber spatula, then sprinkle with crumbled Roquefort cheese. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons of panko breadcrumbs. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper.
Bake for 20 min, until starting to brown. If you’d like more browning on the top, turn on the broiler and place a rack a few inches from the heat source. Move gratin dish to this rack and broil for a minute or so, until fully browned. For easy eating, serve with a sharp knife to slice through the asparagus stalks.
Radish Crostini with Lemon Ricotta
We may still not be able to entertain large groups for an apéro dinatoire, but should you invite a couple of lucky friends over for a glass of wine, you might consider offering this perfect spring appetizer. You’ll just thinly slice a baguette to make crostini toasts, and prepare a simple lemon ricotta spread. Put it together with slices of fresh local radishes, and you have a delicious but light starter that pairs beautifully with a glass of rosé or a dry white. You can even swap out the crostini for sandwich bread to make tea sandwiches, and serve next to a salad or a bowl of soup for lunch.
Serves 8, as an appetizer
For the crostini:
2 T. olive oil
1/4 t. kosher salt
For the topping:
200g radishes, trimmed
1/2 t. lemon zest
1 1/2 T. lemon juice
250g ricotta cheese
1/4 t. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped parsley, if desired, for garnish
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and preheat oven to 180° C. Slice baguette into rounds horizontally, about 1 cm thick, and place on parchment paper. Combine olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt in a small bowl. Use a pastry brush to brush the olive oil and salt mixture onto the top of each baguette slice. Toast in the oven for 10 minutes, until lightly browned.
Meanwhile, combine ricotta cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt. Cut off radish greens (save them, and use for a salad or to make pesto), and rinse radishes. Slice radishes thinly. After crostini have cooled for a few minutes, top with a small dollop of the ricotta cheese mixture and then with a few slices of radish. Sprinkle generously with pepper, and top with a few sprinkles of chopped parsley, if desired.
Apricot and Cherry Breakfast Pastries
These pastries combine the crust typical of a classic French apricot pastry with the filling from a traditional cheese Danish. So easy to put together with store-bought puff pastry dough, and you can change up the fruit with whatever is in season.
In this recipe, I’m using fresh cherries and apricots, pitted and chopped. Then I’m making a quick cream cheese mixture using that French supermarket staple, St. Môret cheese. Roll out the puff dough, cut into squares, and add the cheese and fruit. Then pinch together two sides of each piece of dough and bake – they’re just heavenly warm out of the oven.
Makes 9 pastries
90 g cherries
150g St Môret cheese (or traditional Philadelphia cream cheese)
50g powdered sugar, or more if needed
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 rectangular frozen pâte feuilleté (flaky pastry crust) from Picard
1 egg, for egg wash
Keep the puff pastry dough refrigerated until you’re ready to use. Rinse apricots and cherries, then pat dry with a paper towel. Pit cherries, and cut in half with your fingers or a knife. Cut around apricots so that you can remove the flesh from one side, then pull out the pit. Chop the apricot flesh into small chunks. Next, prepare the cheese mixture by stirring together the cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract.
Note: taste your fruit to see how sweet it is. If you have apricots that are quite tart, you may want to add more powdered sugar to your cream cheese mixture. Make an egg wash by whisking together one egg with a tablespoon of cold water and a pinch of salt.
Now, remove puff pastry dough from the refrigerator. Roll out pastry dough. Dough will be about 1 cm thick. Cut into 9 squares of 9 cm by 9 cm in size. If dough becomes too soft to work with at any point, put it back into the refrigerator until it firms up.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and space out the pastry squares on it. Place a dollop of cheese mixture (about 1 tablespoon) into the center of each pastry square. Top some with chopped fresh apricots and some with chopped cherries, then paint a small amount of egg wash on one corner as you bring it up to meet the opposite corner and squeeze together to seal. You can also bring up both sets of corners to make a little package. Don’t worry if edges become unsealed during baking – the point is just to make sure the filling stays inside the pastries as they bake.
If possible, move entire sheet pan to freezer and freeze pastries for at least 30 minutes, and up to several hours. If a sheet pan won’t fit, carefully remove the parchment paper with the pastries on it, and transfer to a plate that will fit in the freezer. Preheat oven to 210° C. After at least 30 minutes in the freezer, put pastries and parchment paper back on the sheet pan, then paint all exposed pastry with egg wash using a pastry brush. Bake for 25 minutes, until pastries are cooked through and golden brown.