Mastering the Art of French Cooking

by Charles G. Thompson
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Growing up my mother had the usual cookbooks a housewife in the ‘60s owned like the ring-bound Betty Crocker, and Better Homes and Gardens. Books that were useful but hardly high cuisine. My first cookbook was Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck. I bought the book at age eighteen after returning from living in rural France for a year. I was an au pair, also known as a ‘mother’s helper, and worked for a French family in the Alsace region of France. My duties included caring for four children, light cleaning, and shopping and cooking. Madame Zundel, an American married to a Swiss Frenchman, owned Mastering the Art of French Cooking, as well as all the needed American measures to cook from it.

I can say with absolute certainty that Mastering the Art taught me to cook. Madame Zundel and I used it together. She also taught me a lot about French cooking. It was the highlight of my time in France – creating a menu, shopping for the ingredients, and cooking the family meal using Mastering the Art. When I returned to the States I immediately bought my own copy and have been cooking from it ever since. It holds a special place amongst my cookbook collection. I recently added Volume II by Julia Child and Simone Beck. Those two books are my food bibles. I use them often, and with reverence. My experience of learning to cook in France using Mastering the Art started me on a food career both personal and professional that has lasted to this day. One of my favorite recipes to cook from the book is Ratatouille. 

Bon appétit!

RATATOUILLE
From 'Mastering The Art of French Cooking'

Serves: 6-8

Preparation time:  3-4 hours

Ingredients:

1/2 lb. of eggplant
1/2 lb. of zucchini
7 Tb of olive oil, more if needed, as directed
1/2 lb. of yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 (about 1 cup) green bell peppers, sliced
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1 lb. firm, ripe, red tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and juiced
3 Tb parsley, minced
Salt and pepper, as directed

Peel the eggplant and cut into lengthwise slices 3/8-inch thick, about 3 inches long, and 1 inch wide. Scrub the zucchini, slice off the two ends, and cut the zucchini into slices about the same size as the eggplant slices.  Place the vegetables in a 3-quart, porcelain or stainless steel mixing bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon salt. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain. Dry each slice in a towel.

In a 10- to 12-inch enameled skillet sauté, one layer at a time, the eggplant, and then the zucchini in hot olive oil for about a minute on each side to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish.

In the same skillet, cook the onions and peppers slowly in olive oil for about 10 minutes, or until tender but not browned. Stir in the garlic and season to taste.

Slice the tomato pulp into 3/8-inch strips. Lay them over the onions and peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the skillet and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes have begun to render juice. Uncover, baste the tomatoes with the juices, raise the heat and boil for several minutes, until juice has almost entirely evaporated.

Place a third of the tomato mixture in the bottom of 2 1/2 quart fireproof casserole and sprinkle over it 1 tablespoon of parsley.  Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, the half the remaining tomatoes and parsley. Put in the rest of the eggplant and zucchini, and finish with the remaining tomatoes and parsley.

Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.  Uncover, tip casserole and baste with the rendered juices.  Correct seasoning, if necessary. Raise heat slightly and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes more, basting several more times, until the juices have evaporated leaving a spoonful of flavored olive oil. Be careful of your heat; do not let the vegetables scorch in the bottom of the casserole.

Set aside uncovered.

Reheat slowly at serving time, or serve cold.

 

Charles G. Thompson is a Los Angeles-based freelance food writer, whose reviews and stories can be found at his blog 100 Miles, an exploration of local sustainibility.

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