This month's Cook the Books book club selection is Peter Mayle's French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew, as chosen by Food Junkie not Junk Food.
If you haven't read any of Peter Mayle's books, you are in for a treat. He has an easy, witty, and intelligent style of writing, and his books are like small vacations in themselves. The author is an Englishman who long ago fell in love with his adopted country and writes both fiction and non-fiction books situated in his beloved France.
In this particular book, Mayle recounts a year of attending festivals and celebrations of food and wine all over the French countryside. In the chapter titled "The Thigh Tasters of Vittel", he recounts his experience as a confreres at a frogs legs tasting event. One particular aspect of the event struck me as especially tickling, Peter's experience of early morning wine pairings.
"Alcohol with breakfast is dangerously pleasant. My first experience of it had been some years before as a guest of the mayor of Bouzy, a village in the Champagne region. There had been two different wines to accompany the food, and politeness obliged me to sample them both. They were cool and invigorating, slipping down easily despite the earliness of the hour, and I was in a happy haze by 9:00am. Lunch-and more wine, naturally-had been served just in time to prevent a return to sobriety, and I ended the day in disgrace after falling asleep at dinner. Since then, I've done my best to stick to coffee in the morning."
So for my dish inspired by the book, I have made a French breakfast worthy of a fine wine, Crepes aux Epinards et Fromage.Crepes aux Epinards et Fromage
Spinach and Cheese Crepes
Bistros and Brasseries, CIA
12 crepes (recipe below)
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 lb spinach, washed and stemmed
1 cup Mornay sauce (recipe below)
Nutmeg as needed
Salt and pepper as needed
1/2 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1. Preheat the oven to 450F or preheat the broiler.
2. In a large skillet, heat the butter and add the spinach. Saute over high heat until the spinach is wilted, about 4 minutes. Pour the cooked spinach into a colander and push out the excess water with a wooden spoon. Place the spinach in a medium bowl and cover to keep it warm.
3. Pour four-fifths of the sauce onto the spinach and mix thoroughly. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste. Spoon 4 tbsps of the mixture onto each crepe and roll them up into cigar shapes.
4. Place 2 crepes per person into buttered gratin dishes. Smear the crepes with a little of the remaining Mornay sauce and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Place the crepes into the oven or under the broiler. Remove when they're a golden brown and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve immediately.
Wine recommendation: a St. Veran, from the Macon region.
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups milk
2 large eggs
1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
Melted butter or vegetable oil to coat pan, as needed
1. Sift the flour and salt together into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.
2. In a separate bowl, blend the milk, eggs, and butter. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and stir by hand just until the batter is smooth. Let the batter rest in the fridge at least 1 and up to 12 hours before preparing the crepes. Strain the batter if necessary to remove lumps before preparing the crepes.
3. Heat a crepe pan or small skillet over medium-high heat. Brush with melted butter. Pour about 1/4 cup batter into the crepe pan, swirling and tilting the pan to coat the bottom with batter. Cook until the first side is set and has a little colour, about 2 minutes. Adjust the temperature under the pan if necessary. Use a thin metal or heatproof rubber spatula wot lift the crepe and turn it over. Cook on the other side until the crepe is cooked through, 1 minute more.
A Mornay sauce is just a bechamel that has a little Dijon mustard, Gruyere, an egg yolk and nutmeg added.
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk+
Salt and white pepper as needed
Nutmeg to taste
1. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the flour and cook for 30 seconds on low heat to make a roux. Take the pan off the heat and add the milk. Whisk until the roux is dissolved and there are no lumps. Return the pan to medium heat, and stir the sauce continuously with a wooden spoon. The sauce will thicken as it comes to a boil. Simmer and stir the sauce and thin with milk if necessary, a little at a time. Season to taste.
2. To turn your bechamel to a Mornay, add 1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, and 1 large egg yolk. Whisk until smooth.
I have included French wines for my French Lessons book club selection, but truth be told we are committed to our local Niagara wines. We buy VQA, to support our wonderful Ontario grape and wine producers.