Picture for a moment a package of salmon steaks wrapped in plastic, labeled with a price sticker, and put out on display with the rest of the shrink-wrapped seafood in your neighborhood giant supermarket. Or for that matter, picture yourself racing through the supermarket, getting the food shopping over with as quickly and as sanely as possible. This is the opposite of Michael Roberts' Parisian Home Cooking, a cookbook as much about attitude as actual food.
Through artful recipes and engaging street photography, Roberts brings to life a culinary Paris found in private homes, a cuisine with a different sense of rhythm than anything American. Lunches are longer. Dinners are later. Shopping for the best ingredients imaginable is an interpersonal experience to be savored. "The charm of a French meal," Roberts writes, "is their insistence on quality ingredients and balanced flavor, in respecting those ingredients by not overcomplicating the cooking...."
To take this book to heart in an American city, Roberts suggests we "make marketing an adventure." To this end he finds himself making full use of ethnic markets and groceries, buying fish from Japanese markets, fresh poultry in Chinese markets, and so on. "The Indian grocery is where I buy chickpea flour for making socca, a Niçoise crepe.... Don't think that you need access to a French market or gourmet emporium to cook French food."
That said, prepare for the likes of Senegalese Salt Cod Fritters, Cream of Sorrel Soup, Escarole Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette, Green Beans and Morels, Scallops with Noodles and Basil, Turkey Cutlets with Sage and Lemon Butter, Braised Rabbit with Mustard and Calvados, Roasted Turnips with Sage, and Spiced Poached Peaches.
Roberts divides his book into the traditional courses of a French meal, starting with little things to nibble and encourage an appetite, and ending with dessert. Traveling the pages in between takes the casual visitor deep into the heart of Parisian markets, then back home to a small kitchen filled with the heart-healing aromas of a simple, divine meal, Parisian style. --Schuyler Ingle