My Favorite Green Beans

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Many years ago, I purchased a fairly obscure cookbook written by an unknown chef, at least to me. Sunshine Cuisine was published in 1994.

The book cover states that chef Jean-Pierre Brehier “combines the taste memories of his Provençal childhood (born in Aix-en-Provence) with the Florida-Caribbean influences that weave their way throughout his professional career.”

Also from the book flap, “Chef Jean-Pierre Brehier has trained in some of the best restaurants in the south of France… came to Florida in 1973 and in 1976 became chef-proprietor of the award-winning restaurant The Left Bank in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.”

I googled him and there’s not much information on the chef since 1998, but there is a website called Meet Chef Jean Pierre.

I guess he had a show on the Food Network, and also on PBS, but I’ve never come across him except for this one cookbook. Is anyone familiar with him?

I’ve made quite a few dishes from his cookbook, but one recipe originally stood out to me, and occasionally, I make it. If you know me at all, you know I rarely make the same recipe twice.

The recipe is green beans with tomatoes, Kalamata olives and pine nuts. This recipe alone is the only reason I keep this cookbook, although I have made other good recipes out of it.

Green Beans with Calamata Olives and Toasted Pine Nuts
printable recipe below

1/4 cup pine nuts
1 pound green beans
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup minced onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup Calamata olives, pitted and chopped

In a small nonstick frying pan, toast the pine nuts until golden brown.
Remove from heat and reserve.

Remove the tips and tails from the green beans and cut them into 1 1/2” lengths. Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil and poach the beans until tender but still firm, about 7 minutes. Drain into a colander.


In a sauté pan, heat the butter and oil and add the beans. Sauté 1 minute, then add the onion and cook until translucent, not brown.

Add the garlic, tomatoes, and olives. Sauté for a couple of minutes.

Add the pine nuts and serve immediately.

There’s just something about this group of ingredients that is spectacular. Of course it helps to love green beans.

The tomatoes and olives plus the crunchy pine nuts are just superb together.

And, with the addition of both onion and garlic, no seasoning is necessary. The olives supply the saltiness.

I’m not sure if it’s Kalamata or Calamata, but this chef spelled the olives with a “C.”

Other appealing recipes in this cookbook:
New Potato and Beet Salad
Risotto with Ginger and Carrot Juice
Roasted Peppers and Chili Sabayon Sauce

 

 

Olive Cake

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In the fall of 2015, my husband and I spent a lovely vacation in the Provençal countryside with our friend Stéphane Gabart. If you’re not familiar with him, you should be. He writes the inspirational blog “My French Heaven,” and he’s also a professional culinary guide, chef and photographer.

Before this trip I’d already visited him twice – once with my daughter, and the other time with a girlfriend.

But this trip was different in that we traveled from Bordeaux through Provence, ending up at le Côte d’Azur at the end. So for two full weeks, we really saw Provence, thanks to the itinerary Stéphane customized for us. I wasn’t familiar with many of the villages, like Boulbon, Gordes, Grasse, and Tourrettes. All were awe-inspiring.

Near Aix en Provence, we visited a working olive farm, Bastide du Laval, had a tasting, and walked the trails amongst the olive groves.

This photo shows Niçoise olives ripening.

At every happy hour in Provence, along with our cocktails, we were served olives. Some were whole, some were made into a tapenade, and all were delicious.

At one hotel we were served olives with what I’m sure was olive cake – a savory quick bread.

The olive cake I’m making today is reminiscent of the lovely bread I enjoyed while sipping rosé underneath golden sycamores.

This is the recipe I’m using, although I can’t credit anyone or any publication; I couldn’t even find it online.


I pretty much made the recipe as is, except for increasing the cheese to 7 ounces, all grated, and omitting the ham.



The bread/cake turned out perfectly.

I served it still warm with cheese, olives, salami and oven-roasted tomatoes.

I think the cake would have been fine with just the olive oil and tapenade, but the chopped olives added a nice texture.

Next time I will make this olive cake the same way.

note: I omitted the ham in this specific recipe, but if you want something more fun, check out the raclette quick bread I made a few years ago for the blog, pictured below. It contains sun-dried tomatoes, pancetta, raclette, pine nuts, and herbs. In fact, it just shows how creative you can get with a basic savory quick bread recipe!

Pissaladière

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My first experience eating pissaladière was exquisite – an experience I knew I’d always remember.

It was May of 2002. My older daughter had just graduated from high school, and we took her and her sister on a tour of eastern France, from Nice in the south, ending in Paris two weeks later.

I’d always insisted that we would take the kids to Europe – anywhere in Europe – before they left home, and this was finally that trip. My husband had suggested we start with France because I’d lived there, and spoke some French still.

We booked the tour with Rick Steves – a tour company I highly recommend for many reasons. For one thing, there are only 24 people on these trips. For another, someone else does the driving for you and, the hotel reservations have been made and confirmed. And trust me, we are not “tour” people. Plus, half of the time, you’re on your own.

The name of Rick Steves tour company is Europe Through the Back Door. It’s not a traditional tour in that you get to see Europe as the Europeans do. Unless your specific tour focuses only on cities, you’re taken on back roads into villages and areas that the larger tours don’t and can’t take you. It’s very insightful and the experiences unique.

My husband and I have driven in Europe by ourselves, without a guide, but you miss out on a lot of information. Some friends I know are really good at studying before and during their trips, but my husband and I aren’t like that.

The tour guides for Rick Steves are incredibly knowledgeable people. You don’t work for him if you’re not skilled in the language, and passionate about the arts, the politics, history, and much more. We’ve also used Rick Steves in Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, and Scotland.

So back in 2002, we began our Eastern France tour by visiting Vieux Nice. After two days, we headed out of the city to Èze and had a picnic. And that’s where our guide served us local specialties that included pissaladière, which you can see in the photo on the right.

So that was my first experience. The weather was perfect, the view just stunning, my family was there and happy, and we were finally all in France!

To recreate the pissaladière, I used the recipe in this cookbook.

I’ve seen recipes that use pizza dough and also puff pastry, but whatever kind of crust, caramelized onions, anchovies and Niçoise olives are always on top.


Pissaladière

Pastry
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter
1 large egg
About 2 tablespoons ice water

Topping
Scant 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
2 or 3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cloves
Water
20 – 25 small anchovy fillets
About 15 Niçoise or other small black olives

At least 2 hours before you wish to serve the tart, make the pastry: Place the flour and salt in a bowl. Use the coarse side of a box grater to grate the butter into the bowl, then toss with the flour.

Use a knife or pastry cutter to cut in the butter so that you have small buttery crumbs.

(Or, use a food processor!)

Break the egg into the bowl and mix in lightly with a fork. Add the ice water, starting with 2 tablespoons, tossing and mixing to moisten the flour. If necessary, add more water, just enough so that the dough comes together in a mass when you pull it together.

Transfer to a heavy plastic bag. Press from outside the bag to make a flat disk about 6 inches across. Seal well and refrigerate while you prepare the topping (the dough can be made up to 2 days ahead).

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil a shallow 13-by-9-inch baking pan.

To prepare the topping, heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Add the onions, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and cloves and cook over medium heat, turning frequently, until the onions wilt and soften.

Lower the heat slightly and continue to cook: After they release their liquid, the onions will soften further, but as the liquid evaporates, the onions may start to stick – add a little water as necessary to prevent sticking (1/4 cup, or perhaps a little more).

The whole cooking process will take about an hour.

When done, the onions will be very soft and sweet-tasting. Remove from the heat, and remove and discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

While the onions are cooking, prepare the crust: Lightly flour a work surface and turn out the dough. Flatter the dough by banging on it with a lightly floured rolling pin, then roll it out to a rectangle a little larger than the baking pan, rolling from the center outward.

Transfer the dough to the baking pan and gently ease it into the corners. Trim off extra dough with a sharp knife. If necessary, use scraps of trimmings to patch any holes, pressing down on the edges of the patch to seal well. Prick the dough all over, about ten times, with a fork to prevent puffing, then line it with foil or parchment paper. Weight the foil with dried beans or pastry weights.


Bake the crust for about 10 minutes, until the edges are firm and just touched with color. Remove from the oven and remove the foil and weights.

Spread the cooked onions all over the bottom of the crust, then arrange the anchovies and olives on top.

Place the tart back in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until the edges are touched with brown and pulling away from the sides of the pan.

Let cool for at least 10 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

I served mine with a salad, topped with a basic vinaigrette and finely grated Parmesan.

The sweetness of the onions pairs so well with the salty anchovies and olives.

It’s truly a match made in culinary heaven.


And this crust was total perfection – delicate and flavorful.
Vive la France!

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

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The translation for non, je ne regrette rien, which is a French song title, is essentially, “I regret nothing.”

Made famous by Edith Piaf, the song came to mind when I was discussing the matter of recently “eating” my way through France.

Food is one of my greatest pleasures in life. Of course, my highest priorities are my lovely family and fabulous friends, but beyond those, my life revolves around food.

My husband and I took a two-week trip that began near Bordeaux, continued easterly through Provence, and ended on the Riviera. Our itinerary was custom-designed by Stéphane, from the blog My French Heaven. Because our French vacation was essentially a road trip, we ate at restaurants. I know – heaven! So I thought I’d put together some of my photos showing what we ate.

Even with a basic knowledge of French, menus in France can be challenging. But with Stéphane’s skill in menu interpretation, my husband and I always got exactly what we wanted, and also tried some locally traditional as well as new foods. Below is a shot of my husband seriously contemplating a menu, with Stéphane’s help.
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So when I was thinking about all of the food I enjoyed in France, about that second croissant I enjoyed one morning, with butter, of course, about the abundance of octopus I ate until they were practically crawling out my ears, that eclair that I was really too satiated to eat, but I did anyway… I realized that I enjoyed every bite of food and had no regrets.

Like the few bites I took from this nutella calzone. Be still my heart. But not too still.

Stéphane worked hard to find restaurants we would enjoy the most, whether in a village plaza, on the ocean, or in an alleyway en plein air. As much as upscale restaurants are fun, I much prefer what we call in the US the hole-in-the-wall types, with crooked floors, leaning stairs, and the bathrooms about 1/2 mile walk.

On our first day’s drive, we stopped in Castelnaudary to have traditional cassoulet. It was at a small restaurant off of a side street filled with locals. Always a good sign. All they served was cassoulet, but you could request your choice of meat. I chose pork and sausage. It came out bubbling hot, of course, so we had a chance to enjoy a local red wine and people-watch the regulars.


Here is the town as you enter it:

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If you want to read a humurous post on cassoulet, which includes a recipe, check out this blog post here, by Serious Eats.

Then we headed in to Provence. The region is known for its olives, and so it was common when ordering an aperitif to be greeted with olives, toasts, and tapenade. At one bistrot, we enjoyed the bright green Picholine olive, which even Stéphane had never experienced. Crunchy and buttery. I’m still trying to get my hands on some!


The countryside was full of the beautiful grey-green olive trees and we even visited a working olive orchard – Bastide du Laval.

In France, it’s common to order from three groups – typically entrée, plat, and dessert, whether it’s a lunch or dinner menu.

At a tiny restaurant in old Aix en Provence, I ordered octopus salad for my starter, followed by curried cod. Both were magnificent. Especially paired with a Bandol.


I felt somewhat obligated to accept a dessert, because it was part of the price. I shared it.
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I actually lived in Aix as a child. I remember nothing! But it’s beautiful.

Our next destination for 5 nights was Le Bastide de Boulbon, in Boulbon. I offer a photo of the hotel, because we ended up eating in their beautiful dining room 3 nights in a row. Their chef was inspired and the menus changed daily. Plus it ended up being our favorite hotel.

One night we drove to a recommended restaurant called Bistrot du Paradou. It was a large, bustling bistrot, with red and white checkered napkins on old wooden tables. Every night they served only one main, and on this night it was rotisserie chicken.


Stéphane and I started with ravioli, and my husband had pistou, which he said could have been his whole meal. The chicken doesn’t look like much, but it was excellent.


The first photo, above left, shows the chef’s table in the kitchen, with the rotisserie chickens along the back wall. The other photos shows the mafia members who filled the table near us. They don’t know where I live.

On another day, we traveled up over 3,000 feet to visit the Gorges du Verdon, which is like the French Grand Canyon, except really small. We climbed to the top-most village called Rougon for an enjoyable few hours in the sun. At possibly the only restaurant in “town” – a crêperie, with one of the best views in France, my husband and I ordered pizza-styled crêpes, which were delicious.

In Cassis, on the coast, we stopped in a seaside restaurant which has the highest rated boullabaisse, according to Stéphane’s research. The whole experience was really fascinating.
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They first cook up all of the fish and potatoes for the bouillabaise, and present it to you on a platter. Then a waiter ladles a thick rich broth that is more like a bisque into your bowl. You place the different kinds of fish and other goodies into the bowl. To finish, a spicy aioli is spread on toasts, which are placed into the bouillabaise. According to our very engaging waiters, no one has ever finished a meal of bouillabaisse!

One day we drove to old Avignon and visited the Palais des Papes. I’ve never seen cobblestones quite like here.


It was one of the two times it rained on us in France, so we enjoyed a long lunch, in order to stay dry, of course. I ordered l’escargots cause, well I could. They’re such a great excuse to eat bread!

Stéphane and I ordered veal toes, called pieds paquets. They were fabulous. Just don’t think about it.

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On another day in St. Tropez, I sardines for lunch. It was in a beautiful seaside restaurant.
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And then there was a very special meal in Menton, which was my favorite of the cities along the Riviera.


It’s actually closer to Italy than Nice, and the colors of the buildings are striking, similar to those in Vieux Nice. But what came as a surprise to us was the wonderful Italian lunch we had off the beaten path, sitting outside, of course. Not having had my fill of seafood yet, I chose squid in a red sauce. The boys had pizza, and we all enjoyed everything.


Along with Tiramisu and my nutella calzone, the cutest glasses of limoncello I’ve ever seen, plus the tall, dark glass of water that was our waiter, this was a lunch that I will always remember, and never regret!


On our last day before flying out of Nice, we spent the morning exploring vieux Nice, and shopping at its market.

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At lunch I tried socca, which is something that’s always tempted me. It was in the form of a crepe, served with a Niçoise salad. I also had a Niçoise salad on another day. When in Nice…

There were many more restaurants, many more villages, miles walked, and a million laughs – especially listening to my husband attempt speaking French! Then it was over. We had to say au revoir to Stéphane, who is the best friend and guide a person could have. We already have two more trips in the works!!!
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