Her mission to bring the good flavors and practices of the continent to the English-speaking world is documented in her several cookbooks on cooking in Italy and Provence. Today this effort has some notable victories, but bistro fare is still not as well understood in the English speaking world as it deserves to be. In fact, we may not be defining the term in a way that is completely consistent with the Parisian term, especially now that bistro has become trendy.
Meat is used in most dishes, but there is much more emphasis on beans and vegetables. Fresh produce is used when possible; so food is highly seasonal. Foods are presented with sauces, but the sauces are typically integral. They are produced naturally as part of the cooking process. Presentations are simple, straightforward, never contrived.
In my own mind, Bistro food has these qualities:
1) It is relatively straightforward to prepare. A modest number of simple steps and ingredients are involved.
2) Bistro fare scales farely well. This means that it is only slightly more work to prepare servings for two, three, or four people than it is for one.
3) Bistro fare is inherently well-balanced because fresh vegetables play a crucial role in most dishes.
4) Cooking is typically slow, so timing is not critical as it is with many modern dishes. This also means that it reheats well.
5) In the cooking process the food makes its own integral sauce which is crucial to the success of the dish.
This fricassee is typical of what I'd expect of bistro-style food:
1) Saute five diced carrots, three sticks of celery, and a chopped onion in a 5 quart enamelled pot over medium heat, stirring frequently until the onions are translucent. Add salt, pepper, bay leaf, thyme, and dried parsley.
2) In the mean time, lightly brown a cut-up fryer chicken, about 3 minutes per side over high heat. Place the chicken on the vegetables and place uncovered pot in a 400F oven.
3) Cut up two pounds of potatoes and lightly coat with olive oil, drain a can of quartered artichoke hearts, puree a jar of roasted peppers. Mix the puree with a can of garbonzo beans, add pepper and a little olive oil & heat in a microwave for three minutes.
4)Toss this mix over the chicken. Add the artichoke hearts & 1/4 cup of liquid, and arrange the potatoes over the top in a single, continuous layer.
5) Bake for 50 minutes.
This fricassee is great served with crusty bread. It is packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Because I cook it differently each time, I never tire of it.
For whatever reason, the sausage is looked down upon by the high nobility as unfit for serving to company. But we find that sausages are foods engineered to taste better than simple plain meats, and we cook them often. A much simpler bistro style meal might be made from them.
1) Brown a pound of sausages using medium hight heat. Your favorite brand of Italian sausage would work. So would turkey sausages, if you need a lower fat dish. Or if you are adventuresome, use the sausage stuffer attachment of your stand mixer to make your own sausages.
2) After the pan has accumulated some brown material, add a chopped up onion and use the onion to scrape up the brown material. Add a little olive oil if this helps.
3) Add 6 oz mushrooms and cook until soft.
4) Add a can of cannelini beans with some of the liquid, a tablespoon of tomato paste, a couple dashes of worcestershire sauce, some dried parsley, salt, and six grinds of pepper. Cook a few minutes longer.
5) Serve with a green salad or spinach with garlic.
Bistro cooking is simple, flavorful, forgiving, nutrious, and not overly costly. It is home cooking done well. This is a world of delicious cuisine that deserves more attention
Eat well, and prosper.
Copyright S.R. Brubaker 2002 - 2006.