Yes, I was born and kitchen-trained in France. But even after having spent more than four decades in the United States, people still think of me as a French chef and associate me with French cuisine. They also have the impression that French food or any of my cooking requires long, elaborate preparation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
More often than not, I prefer simple, straightforward food that can be prepared quickly. My wife, Gloria, and I often go out together to do errands or shopping, which usually takes longer than we planned. So we come home hungry. The first thing I do is put a pot of water on to boil. Only then do I take off my jacket and raid the refrigerator for vegetables. By the time I’ve grated some zucchini, carrots, and onions—and whatever else I might find—the water is boiling. The grated vegetables cook in moments; I add some instant grits and chopped salad greens for body, and presto: we have homemade soup. Dishes like this—you’ll find the recipe for Instant Vegetable Soup on page 46—are comforting for a family and elegant enough to serve guests.
This book pays tribute to a very simple cuisine—my “fast food.” Some of the recipes are not necessarily quick but none requires much work, and all fit nicely into today’s fast-paced lifestyles. Take a look at my Oven- Baked Salmon on page 118. It takes only moments to season (you can do this in the morning, if you’ve planned ahead), and you put it in a low oven on the same platter you’re planning to serve it on. While the fish bakes, you can make the sauce, serve drinks to guests, or just set the table and relax. The fish will be moist and meltingly tender, guaranteed to win praise. After the meal, you have only the platter to clean—not a roasting pan.
Although I commend anyone who will take hours preparing a dish from scratch, I’m not a snob about cooking. I know that “homemade” doesn’t necessarily translate into superlative food. Most French people would not think of baking their own bread or croissants or making their own pâté, because these items are readily available and of good quality at local markets.
My sister-in-law, for instance, who works in Paris and commutes on the train to the suburbs, stops at the market on her way home and picks up some bread, vegetables, and perhaps a veal roast. When she gets home, she browns the roast in a pressure cooker with an onion, adds some potatoes, puts the lid on the pressure cooker, and then goes upstairs to change. About thirty minutes later, after a leisurely aperitif, dinner is ready. A schedule like this can be yours, too. Great food—easier than going out for conventional fast food and certainly better for you—takes only minimal planning.
When I don’t feel like slaving in the kitchen for hours (and I rarely do) or when guests drop by unexpectedly, I turn unhesitatingly to convenience foods. Cans are a treasure in the pantry, whether they contain anchovies, tomatoes, peaches, tuna, or beans. I can easily transform these ingredients into fast and elegant dishes, as you will see in these pages. Cheese, olives, smoked salmon and trout, and nuts can all be used to great advantage. Good olive oils, vinegars, salsas—even mayonnaise and ketchup—are the base for marinades and sauces to enhance your meals. Store-bought brioche and pound cake become part of quick and delicious desserts, as do shortbread cookies.
Proper techniques and good equipment make your kitchen life easier. Sharp knives, sturdy vegetable peelers, thick, heavy pots (some nonstick), good solid cookie sheets, and rubber spatulas are all essential. While I don’t rely on gadgets, I make use of my blender and food processor regularly, as well as my pressure cooker. I also rely on my microwave oven, which is ideal for reheating anything sticky that would leave a messy pan and is the key to making a quick baked potato. While the oven is heating, we pop the potatoes in the microwave. They’re nearly done by the time the oven is hot, and we finish them in the oven, so they get the crisp skin we love.
My fast food is best shared with friends, along with a bottle of wine. Cook some of these dishes together; you’ll be surprised at how quickly the food comes to the table, and you’ll enjoy the camaraderie. After following my recipes a few times, you’ll start to develop a “fast-food” style of your own.
You will see that most of the dishes in this book are designed to serve four. You have more people at your table? All these recipes double easily. When you’re putting together a meal in a hurry, take a few extra seconds to make it look special. Fresh herbs add a beautiful accent and bright flavor to dishes, and I use them lavishly, since they are so plentiful in my garden. But don’t hesitate to change the garnishes I suggest. Trust your instincts and your sense of taste. They will lead you. EEEEEventually, you’ll transform my simple dishes into your own personal cuisine.
Happy cooking and happy times!
Menus as seen on public television
Crab Cakes in Red Sauce (page 133) Pasta, Ham, and Vegetable Gratin (page 112) Romaine and Radicchio with Salsa Dressing (page 68) Big Almond Macaroons with Apricot Filling (page 178)
Summertime Pasta (page 110) Red Snapper with Tomatoes and Cream (page 127) Asparagus with Shallots (page 90) Two Raspberry Gratins (page 202)
Chopped Chicken Livers with Spinach Salad (page 37) Glazed Salmon in Mirin (page 120) Silky Chestnut and Apple Puree (page 93) Warm Chocolate Cakes with Apricot-Cognac Sauce (page 198)
Silky Tomato Soup with Spinach Coulis (page 48) Little Shrimp Casseroles (page 137) Toasted Bread and Mozzarella (page 39) Rhubarb and Berry Crumble (page 184)
Tomato Tartare with Tomato Water Sauce (page 80) Rigatoni and Mussels with Saffron (page 140) Creamy Lima Bean Gratin (page 98) Strawberry Panachée (page 204)
Sea Bass Gravlax with Cucumber (page 26) Chicken Tonnato (page 148) Summer Salad (page 67) Chestnut and Chocolate Cake (page 193)
Corn and Hominy Chowder (page 53) Red Snapper with Mussels and Chorizo (page 124) Puree of Peas with Mint and Cilantro (page 99) Banana Bourbon Coupe (page 189)
Instant Vegetable Soup (page 46) Halibut on Fresh Polenta with Pepper Oil (page 116) Broad Beans with Shallots (page 88) Hasty Pudding with Apricot Sauce (page 197)
Asparagus Custards (page 85) Slow-Cooked Tuna Steaks with Tomato Relish (page 123) Sautéed Plantains (page 100) Apple Skillet Cake (page 179)
Bow-Tie Pasta with Fried Eggs and Cheese (page 62) Shrimp and Scallop Pillows on Boston Lettuce (page 129) Crusty Tomato Savory (page 101) Grapefruit Gratinée (page 192)
Codfish Brandade (page 20) Chicken Breasts with Garlic and Parsley (page 148) Broccoli Rabe and Pea Fricassee (page 86) Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie Cake (page 194)
Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms and Truffles (page 58) Sautéed Quail with Raita (page 152) Cubed Potatoes with Garlic and Sage (page 109) Pears in Honeyed Wine (page 207)
Scrambled Eggs on Tomato Jus (page 59) Grilled Striped Bass with Pimiento Relish (page 117) Cauliflower with Scallions and Sesame Oil (page 89) Pink Grapefruit Terrine (page 190)
For a Buffet
Asparagus with Croutons and Chorizo (page 84) Melon and Prosciutto (page 43) Oven-Baked Salmon with Sun-Dried Tomato and Salsa Mayonnaise (page 118) Sweet Cheese Medley (page 40) Almond Cake with Berries (page 176)
Soupy Rice with Peas (page 106) Fast Lobster Fricassee (page 134) Broccoli Puree with Brown Butter (page 91) Vanilla Praline Dessert (page 217)
Egg and Tomato Gratin (p...