If it seems cliché for me, a girl learning to cook, to want (and receive) a Julia Child book for Christmas, well, maybe it is. But, you know, not all clichés are bad. That one about how a penny saved is a penny earned? I kind of like that one. And you’re only young once? That’s true, too. Maybe you’re thinking up some new year’s resolutions: Get in shape? Save more money? I say, What the heck. Let’s all embrace clichés.
Julia Child is kind of The Great Famous Chef, the one who brought French cooking to American domestics, who seemed so excited, so full of gusto, she made you believe you could cook what she could, even from your little kitchen. (And that voice! Was there anything so endearing?) So I wanted Mastering the Art of French Cooking, like millions of home cooks have before and millions will after.
To begin, I opened to the first chapter and set my hopes on potage parmentier or, leek and onion soup. Julia—we’re on a first-name basis now—says yellow onions are fine, and that’s what I had, so that’s what I used. This is French food at its most economical. I would suspect you have all the ingredients already, and surely you could make some time to cook them. The result will be worth it: a creamy, comforting, hot-on-your-throat soup with small flecks of soft potatoes throughout. Julia says adding extra vegetables is fine, so I threw in half a bag of baby carrots, chopped into small bits. This gave my soup a pretty, orange color reminiscent of pumpkin soup, and, topped with a little parsley to serve, this stuff looks as nice as it tastes. I ate two bowls immediately, and the next day, my family finished the rest.
In fact, though freshman year French class may be worlds away, Monsieur Shelbourne would be proud, bless his heart, that something’s finally clicked. With Julia, suddenly everything French is fascinating. Like this little girl with big brown eyes who tells a story about hippopotame and fantomes. Like the movie, Ratatouille. Like French macarons and French restaurants and the fact that my friend Becky is going to Paris in February.
Turns out, I didn’t need to make the life-size flag poster with black and white photos of Montmartre. If we’d only known then what I know now: just give this girl a cookbook.
New Year’s Resolutions: I didn’t break any from last year, but that’s only because I didn’t make any. Better odds, that way, you know? This year, I’m resolved to work my way through Julia’s cookbook, as well as exercise regularly and, well, the two should go together.
Potage Parmentier or, Potato & Onion Soup
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child
3 to 4 cups or 1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
3 cups or 1 pound yellow onions, thinly sliced (or, of course, leeks)
1/2 bag of baby carrots (or whatever amount you’d like)
2 quarts water
1 Tablespoon salt
4-6 Tablespoons whipping cream
1 Tablespoon softened butter
2-3 Tablespoons minced parsley or chives
1. Dump the potatoes, onions, carrots, water and salt into a three- or four-quarter saucepan or a dutch oven. Simmer the mixture, partially covered, 40-50 minutes until vegetables are tender.
2. After it’s all heated, mash/puree the vegetables in the pot with a fork or a potato masher. I chose to use a stick blender, which was fast and easy. The only thing I’d do differently next time is blend for a little less time; you want there to be small chunks throughout for more flavor. Correct seasoning by adding salt and pepper to taste.
3. Off heat and just before serving, stir in cream or butter by spoonfuls. Pour into a tureen or soup cups and decorate with the herbs.
The following may be simmered with the potatoes and leeks at the start: Sliced or diced turnips; peeled, seeded or chopped tomatoes or strained, canned tomatoes; half-cooked dried beans, peas, or lentils, including their cooking liquid.
The following may be simmered for 10 to 15 minutes with the soup after it has been pureed: Fresh or frozen diced cauliflower, cucumbers, broccoli, Lima beans, peas, string beans, okra or zucchini; shredded lettuce, spinach, sorrel, or cabbage; diced, cooked leftovers of any of the preceding vegetables; tomatoes, peeled, seeded, juiced and diced.