Patricia Wells Cook Book Cover

Title: The French Kitchen Cookbook, Recipes and Lessons form Paris to Provence
Author: Patricia Wells
312 pages; Hardcover, $35.00 US
Publisher: William Morrow NY NY
Reviewed by, Chef John Vyhnanek

The review--- What s up with French food these days? Find out by buying Patricia Wells's new cookbook The French Kitchen Cookbook, Recipes and Lessons form Paris to Provence. It's a beautiful heavyweight book not just by size but also by content.

Patricia Wells is an American who has lived in Paris since 1980. She is the only woman and only foreigner to serve as restaurant critic of a major French publication, the newsweekly L Express. She was also the restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune. Previously, she was a writer and editor for The Washington Post and The New York Times. She conducts week-long cooking classes both in her cooking studio in Paris and at her farmhouse in Provence.

You know that her credentials qualify her; not only does she have a dozen or so cookbooks to her credit but the experience of eating, cooking and writing about such things. In the first few pages there are many references and photographs of Julia Child, which is a nice thing. I'm proud to say that I also knew Julia and her late husband Paul. I enjoyed her company at Boston University, at AIWF meetings, at her home and at her favorite market, Savenor's in Cambridge. I'm sure that if Julia was still with us that she would be equally impressed by this book!

Published by William Morrow NY, NY the 312 pages are packed with a new view of what is being cooked in French households these days. Speak about globalization and one must also think about how cooking has been influenced. Maybe not the Food Network style, but think about some classic French recipes being prepared in a simpler way and some not so French foods being French foods?

Dishes like Steamed Yuzu Scallops on a Bed of Sesame Sea Greens and Tofu Soup with Bok Choy, Mint and Scallions definitely go in an Asian direction, while Rabbit with Mustard and Tarragon, and Fricassee of Chicken with Fennel, Capers, Artichokes, and Tomatoes stick to the roots of French cuisine.

Patricia shares her thoughts in the Introduction section of the book, explaining some basic premises of cooking. Read the recipe, use the right knives for the task, taste-taste-taste, mis en place, hot food served hot and cold food cold and wine in cooking and at the table. There is no doubt here, It's all true and is a must read section as it will set the stage for cooking her recipes well!

Now to the recipes. I chose to make the Asian inspired Spicy Thai Pumpkin Soup with Crab and Cilantro, Feta and Watermelon Salad with Mint and Baby Greens and Fricassee of Chicken with Fennel, Capers, Artichokes, and Tomatoes that was mentioned above. Since I'm a professional chef, they all were fairly easy for me to make, but they might be challenging for the average cook. But don't let that stop yougo for it and have fun! The flavors were right on and they all tasted very good. From this experience, I deem this cookbook to be inspiring and a must have for your cookbook library. I'm sure it will be well used and referred to often.

Here's a sample of some of the recipes in the book:

The Pan Bagnat Sandwich
The Finished Sandwich
Pan Bagnat

4 servings

When we acquired our farmhouse in Provence in 1984, our visits were generally limited to brief weekend getaways from Paris. The high-speed train got us there in under three hours, and for our Sunday night return to the city, a snack was essential. Pan bagnat, or bathed bread, the traditional Proven al sandwich that can be found at every bakery and market in the region, became our standby. It's inexpensive, includes many of the local Provencal ingredients. It travels well, and is a meal all on its own. I'd prepare the sandwiches on Saturday after going to the market, letting the pan bagnat mature, tightly wrapped and weighted down in the refrigerator, until departure time the next day. Since I generally find sandwiches too dry, with too much bread in proportion to the filling, pan bagnat solves the problem. When properly made, this layered affair is moist, crunchy, and substantial. Think of it as a salade ni oise between slices of baguette, a healthy, filling sandwich that traditionally includes fresh tomato slices, canned tuna, hard-cooked eggs, fresh peppers, scallions, anchovies, and black olives. When preparing the sandwich, some of the crumb is scooped out of the bread, reducing the proportion of bread and making for a satisfying moist pan bagnat.

The original pan bagnat was popularized in Nice in the nineteenth century, when fishermen carried the sandwiches as late-morning snacks. At that time the sandwich contained inexpensive cured anchovies, but later it was enriched with more expensive preserved tuna.

Today there is even a committee (Association pour la D fense et la Promotion de l Appellation Pan Bagnat) to fight against versions of the sandwich that veer off course.

The city of Nice has an official website ( that lists the essential to an authentic pan bagnat: bread, tomatoes, local green peppers, baby fava beans, black Ni oise olives, anchovies or tuna, basil, salt, and pepper. The site also suggests ingredients that are not included in the official repertoire but are tolerated: hard-cooked eggs, vinaigrette, artichoke hearts from Nice, radishes, onions, and garlic for rubbing on the bread.

While the traditional sandwich is made with round, hard rolls (not soft hamburger buns), today It's generally prepared with a classic baguette. The best versions are overloaded with a filling that must be moist, bathing the bread to soften it. A quality pan bagnat is a messy affair, and the filling should fall out as you eat it, so make sure to supply plenty of napkins. No matter how it is made, pan bagnat serves as perfect picnic fare, made for traveling. To this day, the sandwich remains our favorite train snack, washed down with a few sips of our own red C tes-du-Rh ne, Clos Chanteduc.

Equipment: A serrated grapefruIt'spoon.

2 plump, ripe heirloom tomatoes (each about 4 ounces; 125 g), peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
Fine sea salt
1 baguette (about 8 ounces; 250 g)
A 7-ounce (200 g) can of best-quality tuna packed in olive oil (no need to drain)
1 red bell pepper, trimmed and cut into thin strips
2 scallions, white and green parts trimmed and cut into thin rings
2 large eggs, preferably organic and free-range, hard-cooked, peeled, and cut into thin crosswise slices
6 oil-cured anchovy fillets
10 best-quality brine-cured black olives, pitted and halved lengthwise
Coarse, freshly ground black pepper

1. Layer the tomatoes, slightly overlapping, on paper towels. Season them with salt and set aside to drain for at least 10 minutes.

2. Halve the baguette lengthwise. With the serrated grapefruIt'spoon, remove some of the crumb, being careful not to break through to the crust. (I place the reserved crumbs on a baking sheet, spray them with olive oil, and toast them to use as croutons in a salad.)

3. In a bowl, crumble the tuna to reincorporate the oil. Add the bell pepper and scallions, and toss to blend.

4. Layer the ingredients on the bottom half of the baguette in this order: tomatoes, tuna mixture, eggs, anchovies, and olives. Season with black pepper. Cover with the top half of the baguette. Wrap tightly in foil. Place the sandwich on a tray, cover with another tray, and weight it down with a heavy object, such as a cast-iron skillet or a brick. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. At serving time, unwrap and slice. The sandwich should be moist and crunchy.

Goat Cheese Tatins
Miniature Onion and Goat Cheese Tatins

Makes 24 miniature tatins

These tasty, savory, miniature pastries are a huge hit in my cooking classes. There is always a great sense of satisfaction when one removes a tray of these fragrant, golden nuggets from the oven. These are best warm from the oven but are also delicious at room temperature. They can serve as appetizers or as sides to a simple green salad.

equipment: A 2 3/4-inch (7 cm) round biscuit cutter; 2 baking sheets lined with baking parchment; a food processor; 2 nonstick petit four molds or mini muffin tins,
each with twelve 2 1/2-inch (6.5 cm) cups, or a 24-cup mini-muffin pan.

A 14-ounce (400 g) sheet of Blitz Puff Pastry (page 294) or purchased all-butter puff pastry, thawed (see Note)
4 tablespoons (60 g) unsalted butter
1 pound (500 g) onions, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into thin half-moons
Fine sea salt
Coarse, freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces (125 g) soft fresh goat s milk cheese
Grated zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic
3 large eggs, preferably organic and free-range, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme leaves
Fleur de sel, for garnish

1. Evenly center two racks in the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C).

2. With the biscuit cutter, cut out 24 rounds of pastry. (Note: you will get the most from the pastry if you begin on the outside and cut rings as tightly as possible from the outside. Then work from the next large inside ring. I usually get 31 rounds out of a sheet.) Arrange the rounds side by side on the baking sheets. Prick them with a fork and freeze for at least 10 minutes.

3. In a skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, and sweat cook, covered, over low heat until soft and translucent about 10 minutes. Season with pepper.

4. In the food processor, combine the goat cheese, lemon zest, eggs, and half of the thyme leaves and process to blend. Add the cheese mixture to the onions in the skillet and stir to blend. Taste for seasoning.

5. Spoon a tablespoon of the mixture into each mold or muffin cup. Cover each one with a round of pastry.

6. Place the molds or tins in the oven and bake until the pastry is puffed and golden, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Then remove them from the cups and turn them over, pastry side down. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with the remaining thyme leaves and fleur de sel.

wine suggestion : The mineral-rich flavors of a blend of Marsanne, Clairette, Ugni Blanc, and Bourboulenc with their touch of spice make Domaine du Paternel Cassis Blanc de Blancs a perfect palate opener to pair with the tatins.

the secret : Make sure that you cut the pastry slightly larger than the diameter of the molds, since the pastry may shrink in baking.

variations : Replace the goat cheese with grated cheddar and bits of bacon; Feta cheese; crabmeat and tarragon; or peas, scallions, and pancetta. Add herbs. Bake as simple, lighter, quiche-like bites without the pastry.

note : In our tests, we have preferred Dufour brand frozen puff pastry, available at most specialty supermarkets. See Be sure to leave ample time for thawing frozen dough, at least 6 hours in the refrigerator.

Cucumber Avocado Soup
Yveline s Chilled Cucumber and Avocado soup with Avocado Sorbet

8 servings

Yveline is our good friend and neighbor in Provence, and she is always coming up with simple local recipes that we love. This is one of her summertime creations. We sometimes add a dollop of avocado sorbet, a fine act of gilding the lily.

equipment: A blender or a food processor.

1 large European cucumber (about 1 pound; 500 g), chopped (do not peel)
2 large ripe avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, and cubed
2 cups (500 ml) Homemade Chicken Stock (page 283)
1 cup (45 g) chopped cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime, preferably organic
Avocado Sorbet (recipe follows; optional)

1. In the blender or food processor, combine the cucumber, half of the cubed avocado, the chicken stock, 3/4 cup (34 g) of the cilantro and the salt, and process to blend. Taste for seasoning. Chill for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

2. At serving time, garnish with the remaining 1/4 cup (11 g) cilantro, the rest of the avocado, and the lime juice and zest. If you like, add a spoonful of the sorbet to each bowl.

Honey Squares
Chestnut Honey Squares

Makes 32 squares

These rich honey squares satisfy with just a single bite. And they are so pretty once they come from the oven that you will proudly announce, I made these!

equipment: A 9 1/2 x 9 1/2-inch (24 x 24 cm) baking pan; baking parchment; a food processor.

3/4 cup (120 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (45 g) almond meal (see Notes)
3 tablespoons (35 g) unrefined cane sugar, preferably organic, vanilla scented (see Notes)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons (90 g) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into cubes
1 large egg yolk, preferably organic and free-range
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

4 tablespoons (60 g) unsalted butter
1 cup (80 g) sliced almonds
1/3 cup (30 g) candied orange or lemon peel, preferably organic, cut into tiny cubes
1/3 cup (65 g) unrefined cane sugar, preferably organic
2 tablespoons intensely flavored honey, such as chestnut
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Center a rack in the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C).

2. Line the baking pan with baking parchment, letting the parchment hang over the sides. (This will make it easier to remove the dessert once It's baked.)

3. Prepare the pastry: In the food processor, combine the flour, almond meal, sugar, and salt. Pulse to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg yolk, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon of water. Pulse to incorporate. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water, tablespoon by tablespoon, through the feed tube, pulsing until just before the pastry forms a ball. You may not need all the water.

4. Turn the dough out into the prepared baking pan. Press the dough evenly onto the bottom of the pan. Place in the oven and bake until the pastry begins to brown around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes.

5. While the pastry is baking, prepare the topping: In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the almonds, candied peel, sugar, honey, and vanilla extract. Heat just until the ingredients are incorporated.

6. Remove the pan from the oven and spread the almond-honey mixture evenly over the pastry. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the topping is a deep gold, 12 to 15 minutes.

7. Remove from the oven. Transfer to a rack to cool in the pan . Once it has cooled, remove from the pan and cut into 32 squares. (Store in an airtight container at room temperature f or up to 3 days.)

notes :

Almond meal (sometimes called almond flour) is made from whole, unblanched (skin-on) almonds. For this recipe, whole, unblanched almonds can be finely ground in a food processor. Do not over-process or you may end up with almond butter.

To make vanilla-scented sugar: Flatten 1 or several moist vanilla beans. Cut them in half lengthwise. With a small spoon, scrape out the seeds and place them in a small jar; reserve the seeds for another use. Fully dry the vanilla bean halves at room temperature. Place the dry halves in a large jar with a lid, and cover with sugar. Tighten the lid and store for several weeks to scent and flavor the sugar. Use in place of regular sugar when preparing desserts.