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Cooking with Julia

September 14, 2009

This weekend marks the YSFP’S Festival of Food and Film, with screenings of Julie and Julia, Babette’s Feast, cooking demonstrations, panel discussions, and more. To get ready to watch Julie and Julia, I thought I would prepare a few of Julia Child’s recipes myself. You see, while I can walk into a kitchen and improvise a meal, often a quite good meal, in about thirty minutes, I have less experience than I’d like with following recipes to the letter — to say nothing of recipes with such gravitas as Julia’s.

Embarrassingly, neither the Yale library nor any of my friends owned a copy of her seminal Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but persistent Googling yielded three of Julia’s recipes reprinted on various food blogs: Tomatoes Provençale, a potato galette, and peach clafouti.

I started at farmer’s market on Saturday morning, buying tomatoes, peaches, and parsley from local Connecticut farms. The purple potatoes and shallots came from the Yale farm.

I started with the tomatoes, mixing together breadcrumbs (I’m sorry Julia — I used packaged instead of making my own out of day-old bread!) with chopped shallots and parsley, salt and pepper, and Herbes de Provence.

Meanwhile, I let the peaches macerate in sugar, lime juice, and chopped ginger — wait, what? That doesn’t sound very Julia Child-like. I realized that the clafouti recipe I’d chosen was a reimagination of her original and not the cream-and-egg heavy version itself, but I decided to press on. Dessert is dessert, after all.

Gutting the tomatoes was surprisingly messy, though I ended up with enough tomato insides to make a great salsa later this week. Then it was a matter of filling the tomatoes with the breadcrumbs, drizzling olive oil over the entire operation, and letting it brown in the oven. (The extra breadcrumbs will be sautéed with garlic and stirred into pasta for a quick lunch this week.) The tomatoes went in with the clafouti — the recipe called for a simple batter of flour, sugar, and milk to be poured over the mounded peaches in the pan.

With those things in the oven, it was time to make the galette. I’m a poor college student and not a French chef — I don’t own a mandoline! I cut the potatoes, brilliant blue ones that I harvested myself at the farm, into pieces as small as I could stand and that I thought qualified as the “matchsticks” that the recipe called for:

Here was my second mistake. I shaped the potato pieces into a cake in the pan and drizzled them with endless melted butter, but the pieces just weren’t small enough to form into a cake. I pressed and pressed with a spatula, but the idea of turning the cake out to flip it, much less flipping it fearlessly in the pan like Julia would undoubtedly do, was impossible. My galette was a failure…but could I really be that unhappy with crispy, tender diced potatoes sauteed in butter?

I’m no chef and no expert at presentation, but my Julia Child-themed meal was stunning in both color and taste. The idea of eating breadcrumbs as an entree instead of a coating was decadent, and the tomato shell was neither too thick nor too thin. The potatoes didn’t go as planned, but they were delicious, anyway. And dessert! Unauthentic but refreshingly light (unlike Julia’s would have been).

After my recipe adventure, I’m totally looking into obtaining a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking for myself — I won’t be cooking through it like Julie Powell, but I think we could all stand to cook the classic things every once in a while. I can’t wait to watch Julia and Julia and see how she fares!

Thanks to Jarrett Moran for providing photogaphy.

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