Mushrooms sautéed in champagne, fish in papillote, souffles – this sort of fancy French food is not usually my style. But a few years back, I had a Julie and Julia-esque French cooking revelation moment of my own. Though her last name does sound a bit like ‘julie,’ my inspiration was a much more modern French cookbook author.
Former president of the US branch of the pricey Veuve Clicquot wine label, Mireille Guiliano has spent years transforming French lifestyle ideals for American consumption. I’m not sure how she kicked off her writing career, but with French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, she has become the head of the newest movement to introduce a Mediterranean-style diet to the U.S.
Her initial foray into book publishing focused more on lifestyle attributes, but her offerings have changed as the public demanded more and more recipes. While French Women Don’t Get Fat was written more as a diet book with case studies and occasional recipes, the widely popular French Women for All Seasons is more of a recipe book, organized by the prominent fresh foods of each season. Last month she released a new cookbook organized by meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) with extra wine and entertaining tips.
Though I unfortunately have not had the opportunity yet to check out the new book, French Women for All Seasons serves as a continuing inspiration. These recipes have all of the critical ‘e’ elements: Ease, Elegance, Enjoyment. Unlike Julia Child’s famed Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Mireille writes the easiest French recipes I have ever seen. Most importantly though, there is something about this dishes that makes you feel special and chic – whether it is the taste, ingredients, or simply that certain je ne sais quoi about French food – and it is a pleasure to make, serve, and eat such cuisine.
So without any further reverent rambling about my favorite French cookbook writers for modern cooks, here is an incredible easy and elegant menu of my favorite “French Women”-inspired foods for you to enjoy. Not all of these recipes come from Mireille’s cookbooks, but they are so in her style that I would not be at all surprised to stumble across something similar in her new volume.
A “French Women” Menu for Spring
- Fresh Fennel and Parmesan Salad
- Capellini with Fiddlehead Ferns
- Lemon Pepper Tilapia
- Secret Chocolate Mousse
Though the meal has multiple courses, the foods are very light and should not overwhelm your family or guests. Keeping the portions small (i.e. one tilapia fillet, a six inch plate of pasta, an espresso cup’s worth of mousse) is also important both for the sake of your guests’ stomachs and the elegance of the meal.
To ensure that all of the courses are served fresh and piping hot, I have separated out the cooking that needs to be done immediately before the dishes are served.
Before your guests arrive
- mins 1-10: Make the chocolate mousse and steam the ferns.
- mins 11-14: Make the pasta sauce.
- mins 15-18: Assemble the salad and dressing (but keep separate for now).
- mins 19-20: Marinate the tilapia.
When you start dinner
- min 21-22: Pour the dressing on the salad and toss to coat. Set a large pot of water on high heat.
When the salad is winding down
- min 23: Take the fish out of the fridge and cook the capellini. Set the sauce over medium-low heat.
- min 24-25: After three minutes, strain the pasta, coat with sauce and serve.
When the pasta is winding down
- min 26: Pour the fish marinade into a large flat pan and set to medium heat.
- mins 27-30: After a minute or two, add the tilapia filets to the pan. Cook for a minute and a half on each side and serve.