When I started my Retro Cooking Series, many kind friends and family members offered to let me borrow some of their precious cookbooks. One of my good friend and co-worker, Marie, promptly brought me her mother’s cookbook, Les Recettes Faciles, by Françoise Bernard, published in France in 1965.
It is a fascinating book and I had a wonderful time looking through it all. Some recipes were extremely simple, such as how to cook an egg, while others were bigger projects, like pâté de campagne. There was also heavy use of leftovers (for example a pasta omelet to make with leftover pasta dishes) as well as ingredients that aren’t commonly found anymore, at least in North America (very specific animal cuts, rabbit, horse,…).
I had a such a tough time picking a single recipe to make that I ended up picking three that would make a good Saturday dinner. I wanted a protein, a vegetable and a carb. In the end, I picked scallops, endives and gougères (Gruyère cheese puffs).
Here are my thoughts on each dish, as well as the recipe, as described in the book…
The gougères were by far my favorite dish out of the three. Think cream puffs (choux à la crème), but instead of being sweet and filled with cream, they are savory and full of Gruyère cheese. The recipe claims to make 6, yet I ended up with 22 puffs so clearly something didn’t go quite as planned but I loved it either way.
Gougère Bourguignonne / Gruyère Cheese Puffs
- 75g of unsalted butter
- 1.5 cups of water
- 1.5 cups of all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs
- 200g of shredded Gruyère cheese (150g shredded, 50g cut into small cubes)
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- In a saucepan, heat the water, salt and butter on medium heat. Once the butter is melted, remove from heat.
- Add the flour and mix well. Put the saucepan back on the burner.
- Continue to stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the dough doesn’t stick to the spoon nor the saucepan anymore.
- Remove from heat and add the eggs, one at a time, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon.
- Add the shredded cheese and stir well.
- Using a spoon, or a piping bag, make balls of dough on a greased baking sheet. Mine were about 1-2 tablespoons in size.
- Place the small Gruyère cubes on the dough balls.
- Bake at 425F for 20 minutes, then at 375F for 25 minutes.
- I used a gallon freezer bag as a piping bag, and cut the lower corner with scissors. Since the piping doesn’t need to be perfect, this works just as well. You could also use an ice cream scoop.
- The original recipe mentioned a crown shape but I got confused (I couldn’t find pictures online to help me gauge what it should look like) so I went for a round puff shape instead. Feel free to try different shapes!
I was intrigued by the endives recipe as they are not something I cook very often but my French co-workers often mention them. It can be a very bitter vegetable so I was worried this recipe could turn poorly quickly. Thankfully, the endives are baked in a sauce Mornay which is basically a Béchamel sauce with Gruyère in it. While my husband refused to eat more than a bite, I very much enjoyed the dish. Possibly because I prepared myself for a very bitter dish, I turned out quite surprised by the subtle flavors.
Endives au Gratin
- For the endives:
- 1 kg of endives, cleaned, hearts removed (it is the most bitter part of it)
- 50g of unsalted butter
- 1 onion, sliced into rings
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt and pepper For the Mornay Sauce:
- 1 tablespoon of flour
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 2 cups of milk
- 50g of shredded Gruyère cheese
- Salt, pepper and nutmeg
- In a Dutch oven (a regular saucepan would do in a pinch), melt the butter. Add the onions and the endives. Mix in the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour. It needs to cook slowly over a long period of time.
- For the sauce: On low heat, mix the flour and the butter. Turn the heat up the medium and whisk in the milk until it starts boiling. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Let it cook for another 5 minutes or until the sauce has started to thicken. Remove from the heat and mix in the Gruyère cheese.
- Place the cooked endives in a baking dish. Cover with the Mornay sauce. Broil for 5 minutes.
I loved the simplicity of the ingredients for the scallops dish. Fresh, fragrant flavors that went perfectly with the delicate seafood. The only downside of the recipe was the cooking time. It seemed a bit long to me, but I decided to follow the recipe anyway. In the end, I was right about the lengthy cooking time. The scallops turned out chewy from being overcooked. The flavors, on the other end, were on point.
Coquilles Saint-Jacques à la Provençale/ Provencal Scallops
- 12 sea scallops, cleaned
- 50g of butter
- 1 tablespoon of flour
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- Fresh parsley, chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Clean the scallops and dry with paper towel. Season them with salt and pepper, then lightly flour them all around.
- In a large pan, on medium-high heat, melt the butter. Once the pan is very hot, sear the scallops on both sides.
- Cook the scallops on medium heat for 10 minutes.
- Add the shallots and garlic to the pan. Cover and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle with chopped parsley, just before serving.
Overall, this was a fun meal to prepare. I definitely enjoyed the flavors on the scallops and plan to continue to cook them with shallots, garlic and fresh parsley, while adjusting the cooking time in the future. The endives were good, although the biggest takeaway was the Mornay sauce, a deliciously cheesy alternative to Béchamel sauce.
The gougères were the biggest revelation to me. I had heard about them one the Great British Bake-Off but never tasted them before. They are such a nice lighter alternative to biscuits. They could be served fresh and warm as an hors d’oeuvres, as well as as a side to a roast, perfect tool to soak in the extra cooking liquid. I would also love to experiment with various flavors: different types of cheese, extra spices or herbs added to the mix…let’s see where I can take this next!
I want to give my friend Marie UN GRAND MERCI for letting me borrow her wonderful family cookbook. It was such a treat to read about traditional French dishes and compare them with their Quebec or American equivalents.