When the Side Dish is the Star

Broccoli Potato Puree from Paris 1 3718x2885When I am eating out, iIt’s not often that I pay more attention to a side dish than to the main course or dessert. But, during our last week in Paris this January that is exactly what happened. At the left bank Café Varenne on rue du Bac, I ordered a roasted bass with a broccoli and potato puree. It was the fish on the menu that had sounded so delicious, but it was the simple vegetable garnish that grabbed my attention.

The light green puree flecked with bits of verdant broccoli was smooth, light, and perfectly seasoned. When our waiter passed by later, I didn’t waste time asking him how it was prepared. He explained that both cooked yellow-fleshed potatoes and broccoli florets were puréed, and then enriched with a modest amount (for the French!) of crème fraîche and butter. Très facile, I thought! Continue reading

Kale—A Quick and Colorful Fall Side Dish

Kale Sauteed with Apricots, Walnuts, and Feta 1 1728x1334Everywhere you turn there are newspaper articles, blog posts, and tv clips imploring us to add healthy greens to our diet. Kale, collards, and chard are among those mentioned most, so lately I’ve been incorporating these nutrient-charged foods into meals. What I’ve learned is that many of my favorite recipes for these greens require slow cooking (like the collards and kale I simmered in a Beans and Greens Soup in a recent post). And, even when I use these vegetables in sautés, it takes time to trim the tough stems and bases from the leaves. Imagine then my delight when I discovered tender baby kale in two of my local markets this month. Packages filled with small, tender verdant leaves of kale were being sold cleaned and ready for cooking. Irresistible! I put several in my cart.

At home, I devised a simple and quick way to cook the baby version. A few handfuls at a Kale with Arpicots, Walnuts, and Feta in a Skillet 1 1824x1368time, I sautéed the kale in olive oil until wilted, and then stirred in finely diced dried apricots, chopped walnuts, and feta. A good pinch of red pepper flakes and some balsamic vinegar rounded out the seasonings.

This dish makes an exceptionally colorful autumn side—the dark green kale canvas with pops of orange, snowy white, and brown from the fruit, cheese, and nuts—is inviting. Count on 15 minutes from start to finish, and serve this vegetable with a rotisserie chicken, pan-seared lamb chops, or grilled sausages for a fast and easy supper.

When the Side Dish Takes Center Stage in Brittany

House in Brittany Sea View 1 1824x1368My husband and I have left Paris with our son and his family to spend a few days on the northern coast of Brittany. We’ve rented a house with an incredible view of the Atlantic, marveling each time we gaze at the ocean through its picture windows. Although the sun has been out almost every day, brisk winds have kept us from spending time on the pristine beaches.

Boucherie (the butcher's)

Boucherie (the butcher’s)

So, we’ve turned to cooking instead, taking advantage of the many marchés and food stores in the area. Huge artichokes (a specialty of Brittany), plump cherries, juicy peaches, and sweet melons are temptingly displayed, and, of course, there’s plenty of seafood—oysters, mussels, crab, lobsters, cod, and monkfish, caught fresh and sold the same day. We’re enjoying Bordier butter (one of France’s most celebrated butters and another specialty of the region) as well as local cider.

Poissonerie 1 1153x1040

Bordier Smoked Salt Butter

Bordier Smoked Salt Butter

We’ve bought chicken, sausages, and beef for grilling, and fresh white fish fillets for sautéing. And for sides we’ve made simple salads and a special curried rice scented with crème fraîche and summer herbs. In fact, this golden-hued rice has been so versatile that we’ve paired it with our entrees for the past three days. Continue reading