Authors: Dorie Greenspan
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-×-4½-×-2¾-inch loaf pan—a Pyrex pan is perfect here. If your pan is slightly larger, go ahead and use it, but your loaf will be lower and you'll have to check it for doneness a little earlier.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and white pepper together in a large bowl.
Put the eggs in a medium bowl and whisk for about 1 minute, until they're foamy and blended. Whisk in the milk and olive oil.
Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and, using a sturdy rubber spatula or a wooden spoon, gently mix until the dough comes together. There's no need to be energetic—in fact, beating the dough toughens it—nor do you need to be very thorough: just stir until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in the cheese, grated and cubed, the herbs, and the walnuts, if you're using them. You'll have a thick dough. Turn the dough into the buttered pan and even the top with the back of the spatula or spoon.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the bread is golden and a slender knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and wait for about 3 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the pan and turn the loaf over onto the rack; invert and cool right side up.
MAKES 1 LOAF OR ABOUT 8 SERVINGS
The bread can be served when it is still slightly warm, but I think it tastes better when it has cooled completely. If the bread is keeping company with drinks, cut it into 8 slices, about ½ inch thick, and cut the slices into strips or cubes.
Well wrapped, the loaf will keep for about 2 days at room temperature or for up to 2 months in the freezer (thaw in the wrapper). This is not a very moist loaf—it's not meant to be—so it may seem a little dry after a couple of days. At that point, it's good to toast the slices.
You can use whatever hard cheese you like most or whatever combination of cheeses you have on hand. You can vary the herbs just about any way you wish—I really like this with basil or a mix of herbs that includes basil—or you can skip the herbs. And you can have a field day with add-ins; for example, you can mix in diced ham, bacon bits, toasted chopped nuts, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, minced shallots, or small pieces of cooked vegetables.
Bacon, Cheese, and Dried Pear Bread.
For this bread, you'll need 5 strips of bacon, cooked until crisp, patted dry, and chopped into thick bits, 1 cup finely chopped moist dried pears (about 3½ ounces), and 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage instead of the chives, stirred in just before the dough goes into the pan. I think the toasted walnuts are a must in this one. If you really want to change things up, instead of adding cubes of Gruyère or other hard cheese, fold in a blue cheese, like Roquefort, Fourme d'Ambert, or Gorgonzola.
Shortly after we'd moved into our first Paris apartment, I went shopping in one of the city's most esteemed cheese shops. It's very narrow, with barely enough room for the salespeople and a couple of customers to maneuver. It's not an easy place for a beginner because the lines are long and when it's your turn, it's not just the person behind you, but the salesperson as well, who wants you to be snappy about making your choices.
One day, I was having six people for dinner and needed some help choosing an assortment for my cheese platter. I asked for
(some advice) and made it as clear as I could that I wanted everything to be absolutely perfect, meaning the cheese had to be at its prime, no leaving it under a dome for a day or two or microwaving it to "age" it.
It turned out to be my lucky day: the saleswoman was patient, and after discussing each cheese and giving me a taste of those I didn't know, she handed me my purchases and wished me
une très bonne soirée.
And the evening really was very good and the cheese was terrific—everything except the Brie, which was just shy of ready and probably would have benefited from a quick spin in the microwave, if only I'd had the nerve.
The next day, with four more friends expected for dinner, I was back in line for cheese, and, as it happened, I ended up with the same saleswoman. She greeted me warmly—show up twice to the same store and you're almost a regular—and asked how my dinner had gone. I told her everything was great and then I sheepishly mentioned that the Brie wasn't as creamy as I thought it should have been: it was white at its heart. You'd have thought I'd told her she was responsible for the collapse of the Eiffel Tower. Such regret. Such desolation. Such profound sadness. (The French can be charmingly overdramatic.)
This was a little overwhelming, since I'm the person who thinks that when I get home from the market and find that the milk's sour, it's my fault. But it seems that diffidently mumbled disappointment conformed to the rules and, after all the apologies, the saleswoman helped me choose a new assortment, then declared, "Tonight's cheese will be
" And it was.
Having caused a fuss, I thought it was only right to return to compliment her on her choices. So, there I was, in line for the third time in as many days. When I hit the front of the queue, it was a gentleman salesperson who started to offer his services. However, after seeing me, he stopped his standard, how-may-I-help-you greeting and said, "Ah, you're the American who is Janine's customer.
I'll get her."
Now, after three days, I wasn't just a regular, I was someone with my own personal cheese coach. And why? Because I'd complained. Months later, I checked with Janine to make sure I had it right.
Yes, it was because I'd complained—nicely. By doing this, I scored a point for Americans, assured myself a steady supply of the finest cheeses, and learned something important about cultural differences: in America, if you complain, you're a crank; in France you're a connoisseur.
OU CAN FIND TARTINES IN MOST
every café, certainly in Paris, but it's rare anywhere to find a place like Cuisine de Bar, a casual restaurant that devotes itself entirely to tartines. Rare but inspired—it's next door to the famous Poiláne boulangerie (see
) and is owned by the same family. Who better to make great tartines than the bakery that makes the most perfect tartineable bread in the country?
At Cuisine de Bar, there is, in fact, a bar at the front of the restaurant and it's there that the cooking—if you can call it cooking—is done. The ingredients for the tartines are on or under the wood bar, and to the back of the bar are the ovens: a battery of toaster ovens, ideal for grilling the large slices of bread.
or diet tartine, is extremely popular among ladies-who-lunch in Paris, since it is filling but not fattening, pretty but not precious, and fine for any season. In Paris it is made with nonfat fromage blanc, a creamy cheese slightly more fluid than our sour cream. You can find it in many American markets, or you can make a mix of cottage cheese and sour cream, both nonfat, of course. The tartine is finished with cubes of cucumbers and tomatoes, but, depending on the season and what's in your vegetable bin, you can scatter any combination of diced vegetables and herbs over it. (I like it with paper-thin slices of radishes and some scallions.) You can drizzle the finished tartine with some fruity olive oil—it will make it a little less dietetic and a little more flavorful.
Obviously pain Poiláne is the bread of choice here, but a hearty farm bread, sourdough or not, makes fine tartines, as does a baguette, sliced the long way, rye bread, or thick-sliced firm white bread. This is a casual dish, so go with what you've got. It's what the French do daily.
|1||large slice country bread, about ⅓ inch thick|
|½||cup nonfat fromage blanc or nonfat cottage cheese thinned with nonfat sour cream (about 6 tablespoons cottage cheese to 2 tablespoons sour cream)|
|Salt and freshly ground white pepper|
|⅓||seedless cucumber, peeled and diced|
|1||small tomato, preferably peeled and seeded, diced|
|Chopped fresh chives|
|Herbes de Provence (optional)|
Lightly grill one side of the bread or toast it on one side in a toaster oven. Place the bread toasted side up on a large plate, spread with the fromage blanc, and season with salt and white pepper. Or whisk the cottage cheese and sour cream together vigorously (or, if you'd like a smoother blend, pulse them a few times in a mini processor or with a handheld blender), spread on the bread, and season. Toss the cucumber and tomato cubes with salt and white pepper and spoon them over the tartine, paying no attention to what spills over onto the plate. Sprinkle with chives and a tiny pinch of herbes de Provence, if you're using them. Leave the slice of bread whole or cut it in half; serve immediately.
MAKES 1 SERVING
If you're using a mix of cottage cheese and sour cream, you can get the blend together the night before and keep it covered in the refrigerator. Otherwise, as with salads of any kind, this is meant to be put together and eaten within minutes.
a black truffle sandwich to go
The last thing I said to my husband one winter morning in Paris when he was leaving for the airport was, "I put a little snack in your computer bag." The first thing he said to me when he called from New York was, "I wish you could have seen the faces on all the French passengers when I opened my snack! The second I removed the plastic, everyone turned in my direction, and the flight attendant came over to my seat almost immediately—she was so envious that I gave her a bite." The snack that caused the fuss was a black truffle sandwich. It's not that everyone could see it—they didn't have to: the smell of truffles is so powerful and so distinctive that it's immediately recognizable to those who know and love them, a group that includes almost everyone in France.
Black truffles are rare and expensive, and it's not often that I've got them. But one winter (the season for truffles runs from about November to March, with the holidays being prime time), I went in with a couple of friends on a truffle buy and ended up with two beautiful truffles, each fresh, fragrant, and the size of a small walnut. I hoarded my supply, using the fungi judiciously to make the pleasure last.
Since the less you do with truffles, the better—you don't want to really cook them, but you do want to warm them to bring out their aroma (which is a major part of their draw)—I used a few slices in coddled eggs (
), a few with sautéed potatoes, and a few (well, more than a few) raw, with aged Comté (a truly sublime combination). And I stashed some away so that I could make Michael's surprise snack.
Michael's sandwich was my version of one almost synonymous with Michel Rostang, the Michelin-starred chef. In Rostang's mythic creation, two slices of country bread (such as pain Poilâne; see
) are spread with salted butter and thickly sliced fresh black truffles—an entire ounce of them! The sandwich is wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for two days so that the bread and butter are thoroughly infused with truffleness. Right before the sandwich is served, it's heated. Chez Rostang, it's run under the broiler, but it could be warmed in a buttered skillet.
So Michael's snack was a shadow of Rostang's. His didn't have an ounce of truffles, and it wasn't warmed, but it was still the best sandwich he'd ever had—and the only one he still talks about.
OR TEN YEARS, I LIVED DOWN
the street from the Chai de l'Abbaye and it was
café—also, at times, my living room and office. It was the place I went to meet friends, do work, and have meetings. And often it was the place I went for lunch. If I walked in at lunchtime, Rabat, my favorite waiter, would hold the menu out and say, "Do you need this, or are you having
une tartine de viande des Grisons?