Recipe of the Week: French White Bean Soup

‘White Beans’ are one of the most popular beans eaten in France. And one of the most popular ways to eat them is as a soup.

In France, they come in two varieties: coco variety is used in soups and the traditional cassoulet stew, and the longer michelet variety is more frequently eaten fresh. For this recipe, you can substitute cannellinni, great northern, or navy beans; but if you can find the rich, creamy French white cocos, this soup will be even more delicious.

Spread beans in a single layer on a large sheet tray; pick through to remove and discard any small stones or debris and then rinse well.

2 cups of white beans (cannellini, navy or great northern)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled (whole)
2 dried bay leaves
6 cups of water
4 tablespoons crème fraîche (or substitute sour cream)
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
Optional: 2 strips of pancetta bacon, finely diced, for topping

Soak the beans using one of these two methods:
Traditional soaking method: In a bowl, cover beans with 4 inches of cold water, cover and set aside at room temperature for at least 8 hours.

Quick soaking method: In a large pot, cover beans with 3 inches of cold water, then bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, then remove pot from heat, and allow to sit, covered, for 1 hour.

Drain soaked beans and transfer to a large pot (discarding the cooking water).

Add 6 cups of cold water, onions, and garlic. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add bay leaves, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender (about 1 hour). Skim off and discard any foam on the surface.

When beans are tender, discard bay leaves, add the crème fraîche, and mix (I use a hand blender). Depending on how thick you like your soup, you may want to add more water.

Ladle into bowls, and sprinkle 1/2 tsp of lemon juice on the top of the soup. Optional: sprinkle with pancetta bacon just before serving.

Note: the French often add other things to the mix, like stalks of parsley (leaves removed!), celery sticks, or shallots. These can be added with the bay leaves, and removed at the same time. They add a subtle, wonderful flavor to this soup.

Bon Appétit!

How to tell if baking powder is still good…and French chocolate macaroons…courtesy of @davidlebovitz

David Lebovitz is one of my favorite food writers (and, no surprise, he is a big fan of French food). After a long stint working for Alice Waters in her famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, he moved to Paris, where he immersed himself in French cooking — and especially desserts.

David’s blog is a treasure trove of yummy recipes (all adapted for North American cooks), and other useful tips. Here’s a useful one from his blog on on how to tell if baking powder is still good.

While you’re on his blog, I’d recommend trying out some of his amazing recipes. This weekend, I’m going to try making (daunting, but delicious) French macarons with my two daughters! His French Chocolate Macaron recipe looks very tempting…I’ll let you know how it goes!

Recipe of the Week: Apple Kuchen

OK, I freely admit to borrowing this great recipe from another source: The Jolly Tomato (a great blog by Jeanne Fratello out of southern California).

Her Apple Kuchen is the dessert contribution to this week’s on-line virtual dinner party, hosted by several family food blogs to commemorate Food Day (October 24th). I love the idea of a progressive dinner party online, as it embodies so many of the positive aspects of the foodie movement: created shared communities around local food cultures. I hope this becomes a yearly tradition!

So, thanks for sharing Jeanne! 🙂

Apple-Cranberry Kuchen

For the crust:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup oat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 T. sugar (you can substitute turbinado sugar or brown sugar if you are staying unprocessed)
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
1 T. milk

Topping:

3 to 4 large, crisp apples, quartered, peeled, and sliced
1/3 cup fresh whole cranberries
1/2 cup brown (turbinado) sugar
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 T. butter

Preheat the oven to 350. Begin by making the crust: Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add sugar and mix. Using a pastry blender (see picture), cut in the butter until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Combine the egg and milk and add to the dry mixture, stirring until a soft dough forms. Press dough on the bottom of a greased 9-inch pie plate.

Arrange fruit slices on top of the dough. Prepare the topping by mixing sugar, flour, and cinnamon, and again cutting in the butter using a pastry blender until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit. Bake for 50 minutes, or until apples are soft when pricked with a fork.

Jeanne says to serve it warm with ice cream, if desired (but she likes it best on its own, and I think I would too). Serves 8.

Bon Appetit!

ps Kuchen, in case you were wondering, means cake (or cookie) in German. (Just thought I’d clarify because in Dutch, my heritage language, it means “cough” or “hack”!).

#FoodDay #DinnerParty

Do you remember the ‘progressive dinner party’ trend, where you’d eat one course at one person’s house, then move on to the next, visiting several houses before the evening was over?

Well, this week the progressive dinner party concept is moving online. The #FoodDay virtual progressive #DinnerParty is being hosted by a bunch of amazing family food bloggers, who will each host part of the meal: Bettina Siegel of The Lunch Tray for an appetizer on Monday (yummy spinach hazelnut cranberry salad), Brianne DeRosa of RedRoundGreen for the entree (love the beet and goat’s cheese pasta!), Grace Freedman of EatDinner.org for side dishes, and Jeanne Fratello of The Jolly Tomato for dessert.

Along the way, we’ll be discussing some controversial topics in debates over children’s food. For example, Bettina raised the point today about how much school lunches should cost (and I blogged here about the willingness of French families to pay reasonable prices for lunches, and subsidize those who can’t afford them).

We’re also discussing the goals of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (the organization behind Food Day):

1. Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods
2. Support sustainable farms and limit subsidies to big agribusiness
3. Expand access to food and alleviate hunger
4. Protect the environment and animals by reforming factory farms
5. Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids
6. Support fair conditions for food and farm workers

Something so simple as what we put on our plates is, as this list suggests, linked to broader questions of social and environmental justice. It’s great to love eating, and love good food. But if you do, you can’t ignore some of these bigger issues. And, as the #FoodDay #DinnerParty suggests, the food movement is increasingly going online to have these discussions.

In future posts, I’ll return to these bigger issues, and the potential positive (or negative) role of social media.

In the meantime, head on over to the #DinnerParty blogs, and Bon Appétit!

Recipe of the Week (Part Two): Beet Salad

Yesterday I blogged about Beet Popsicles, and promised a follow-up recipe for those boiled beets. So here it is: the French classic Beet Salad, a staple in French homes and schools. Beets are excellent sources of iron and phytonutrients (and may also contain nitrites, so go easy on beets with toddlers and younger).

4 to 6 boiled beets
fresh parsley (I prefer flat rather than curly)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp wine vinegar (white vinegar works too, but you might want to use a little less)
1 tsp honey or maple syrup

Take 4 to 6 boiled beets and remove skins (they’ll simply peel off like a banana peel). Dice into bite-sized cubes. Fine-chop the parsley, and sprinkle on top.

In a separate, small bowl, mix together olive oil, vinegar, and honey (or maple syrup). Drizzle on top. Serves well cold or at room temperature. Keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days.

False Alarm Tip: Eating beets may cause pee (and even poo) to turn pinky-red, which may actually incite some kids to eat them!