Clotilde Dusoulier’s The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes from My Parisian Kitchen is 1/3 cup beautiful, 1/3 cup useful, and 1/3 cup inspirational.
Most immediately striking is the unexpected combination of its size with its striking photographs.
It is compact, which suggests it is all-instructions-no-indulgence, but it has an abundance of images, at least one on every second page.
The glossy pages are adorned with photographs, sometimes of the complete meal and other times of specific ingredients therein.
(Personally, I appreciate the fact that although the photographs are striking, but they do not feature such fancy dishes that my own hide in shame. The recipe photographs are by Françoise Nicol and the Paris/market photographs are by Emilie Guelpa.)
The typeface is clean and simple, and the layout is functional.
There are no footnotes cluttering the page, no lengthy preamble of either glossary or pantry/equipment list: the recipes clearly take centre stage.
(There are two indices, one general and one listing only the recipes.)
The list of required ingredients is consistently on the outer edge of the pages, with the ingredient’s name bolded in a contrasting colour. This lends the book to both list-making or shopping-companion (depending on your style – I prefer list-making, because I’m often relying on more than one cookbook, so carrying them is too onerous).
The book is divided into seasons (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) and Essentials.
Some of the Essentials are expected, like a Classic Vinaigrette. (I tried: it’s a simple and satisfying recipe.)
The regional focus ensures recipes for Harissa, Herbed Tahini Sauce, and Béchamel Sauce as well.
It is this regional focus which will most immediately draw attention to this work: from baguettes to bisques, French cuisine is inherently popular.
And, yet, The French Market Cookbook is taking a slightly different approach. “In classic French cuisine, as for most French home cooks, animal protein remains the foundation on which a meal is constructed; take it away and everything collapses.”
Clotilde Dusoulier is shifting the perspective of this classic perspective, broadening expectations and understanding and encouraging an exploratory approach.
In choosing to focus on vegetarian recipes, the author states her choice “is not a limitation but rather a broadening of our food horizon, prompting us to discover new flavors and techniques”.
She considers The French Market Cookbook her “take on the love affair between French cuisine and vegetables”.
Vegetarians already likely have a love affair underway with vegetables, but Clotilde Dusoulier is also writing for the omnivore, the ‘lessmeatarian’ (a term coined by writer Mark Bittman), and the flexitarian.
(Vegans will find her approach to dairy products relatively uncommon — particularly given the regional focus, in that she doesn’t simply toss a handful of cheese at any given recipe to add heft — with substitutes recommended inline, for non-dairy milk and yogourt and butter, for example. There seem to be very few recipes which insist on a dairy quotient.)
The introduction contains general advice on creating vegetable focussed meals. For instance, she emphasizes the importance of variety, suggests that we juxtapose different flavours and textures or highlight foods of different colours, or that we alternate between cooked/raw, warm/cold, and comforting/unusual.
One of the most striking images illustrates this beautifully (I have not yet tried this recipe, but it’s certainly flagged for future experimenting): Ratatouille Tian (86-7)
Each recipe also contains a short introduction, which places the dish in a personal or cultural context (sometimes, both), and often includes a hint about selection or preparation of specific ingredients. (Occasionally a textbox further supplements this material.)
Measurements are offered in both imperial and metric, and often include a more general guideline. So the recipe for Mushroom Broth with Parisian Gnocchi calls for 7 oz/ 200g or about 20 small mixed mushrooms.
The gnocci recipe, by the way, appears on two separate pages, elsewhere in the cookbook, but this cookbook does not very often include references to other recipes which must already be prepared and now incorporated as single ingredients in other recipes.
(It drives me crazy when a cookbook heavily relies on the incorporation of other recipes; I do not want to rely upon a series of ingredients which each require their own preparation process, like the gnocci, but prefer to simply work from a list of whole foods ingredients. This occurs infrequently in this cookbook and, when it does, the initial recipe is not incredibly complicated, but relies on accessible ingredients and straightforward processes. And, hey, you could buy enough gnocci to feed four anyhow.)
Recipes tried: Crunchy Lentil and Watercress Salad (20-1)
Eggplant and Black Olive Caviar (60-1)
Shocking Pink Pasta (114-5)
Jerusalem Artichoke and Potato Canapes (150-1)
Classic Vinaigrette (206)
Herbed Tahini Sauce (214)
The only substitution required was arugula for the watercress (because I just missed the season for it locally when I discovered the recipe); all of the ingredients were readily available at the farmers’ market, and I could have gotten the watercress at the grocery store, imported. (I have yet to try the Melon and Ginger Soup, but it’s just melon season here now.)
The recipes, as they appeared, suited the taste of all family members (not too garlicky for the kids, though Mr BIP and I could have added more garlic, for instance, to the “caviar”, and been just as content).
The instructions were outlined clearly, and the photographs were fair representations. Even those with only General Vegetable Experience are likely to succeed.
Recipes that Normally Would Scare Me, but I plan to try because she makes it sound so damn easy: Globe Artichokes with Vinaigrette (24-5) Pickled Swiss Chard Stalks (43) Chickpea Galette (74-5)
Clotilde Dusoulier’s website offers regular updates, bonus content, and more recipes: Chocolate & Zuchini http://chocolateandzucchini.com
Those meeting her for the first time on the pages of The French Market Cookbook will be pleased to make her acquaintance indeed.
Note: This is the first of a series of posts in my new Friday Fugue, which will focus on a series of books working towards A Fainter Footprint (on the Earth).