I wasn’t really naked.  I simply didn’t have any clothes on…
~Joséphine Baker

Gotta love her guile — “I was not really nude, but was clad in nothing.”

Well, welcome to zany Bastille Day (July 14), and the chaos that ensued on le Tour de France on Mont Ventoux today — with the yellow jersey farcically running up the mountain on more than ludicrous shoes with rigid carbon fiber soles and underneath clips. Well done, childish and irresponsible spectators. Mayhem, where it should not be.

I deeply adore lamb shanks, as you might note from just perusing this site.

These opulent, yet bourgeois, lamb shanks somehow remind me of and even obsoletely yearn for  Joséphine Baker’s savory, almost sugary brown legs, loins, oh so fine buttocks and breasts, and my country’s (France’s) mutual passion with her.  I do have an American passport, but call France “home” especially during these baffling and bewildering Drumpfesque days.

Of humble beginnings in St. Louis (born Freda Josephine McDonald), she was a hit in New York City, but sailed to Paris and became a divine, silken, and often sensual even erotic, African American captivating dancer.  Mlle. ou Mme. Baker hit her apex, her pinnacle in Paris and perhaps was bisexual.  She also performed for troops and was even a spy for her adopted land, France, during World War II. She hid weapons and smuggled documents across the border, tucking them beneath gowns and other undergarmets.  After the war, she was bestowed upon with the Croix de Guerre, Rosette de la Resistance, and Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.

Before and after she also took Europe by storm, was adored by so many, often referred to as the Black Venus, Black Pearl and Creole Goddess.  Ernest Hemingway dubbed her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”  Who could forget the Danse Sauvage or the bananas and plumes she so scantily and exotically wore?  Due to rampant racism at home, Joséphine Baker became a legal denizen of France, speaking two tongues, and ultimately gave up her American citizenship. There, she became perhaps the most renowned ex-pats of France.

With so many children (she preceded and far exceeded Angelina Jolie — Joséphine had 12 children.  Baker raised two daughters, French born Marianne and Moroccan born Stellina, and 10 sons, Korean born Jeannot (or Janot), Japanese born Akio, Colombian born Luis, Finnish born Jari (now Jarry), French born Jean-Claude, and Noël, Israeli born Moïse, Algerian born Brahim, Ivorian born Koffi, and Venezuelan born Mara, the group of 12 that was called the Rainbow Tribe along with a harem of monkeys, a chimpanzee, a parrot, parakeets, a pig, a snake, a goat, several dogs and cats and a pet cheetah.  Mme. ou Mlle. Baker (depending on when and with whom you spoke) even benevolently employed some one half of the citizens of the nearby village and had a restaurant built in the neighboring countryside.

Even though Josephine Baker was believed to be then the richest woman in the world, she underwent the shame of bankruptcy at a later stage in life despite help from Princess Grace of Monaco and Bridgette Bardot.  This beloved and dazzling parisian artiste was rudely foreclosed upon at Château des Milandes near Dordogne in the Périgord region by creditors, and she was exploited by so many others.  She was literally locked out of her beloved home by the new owner, little doubt un nouveau riche. Soon afterwards, she died from a cerebral hemorrhage.  Alas, we all die — but, we commonly do not have statues, bas reliefs, sculptures, plaques, places, halls of fame, piscines, parcs, boutiques, hotels, photos, films, and are lavished with so many honors, commendation letters, medals, processions, parades in our honor, named and created for us, upon our demise.  Joséphine Baker did them all.

GRILLED LAMB SHANKS

2-3 lamb shanks, about 1 – 1 1/4 lb each
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C cognac or brandy
1 C port
1 C or so, chicken stock or broth
6-8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled & smashed

1 T balsamica di modena
1-2 dollops of whipping cream or crème fraîche

Combine lamb shanks, port, stock, salt and pepper and garlic in a Dutch oven with some olive oil. Turn heat to medium high or high and bring to a boil. Cover and adjust heat so that the mixture simmers gently. Cook placed downwards, turning about every 30 minutes, until shanks are tender, about 2 hours.

Remove shanks, tent them, and strain the sauce.  Skim fat from top of sauce and preheat a charcoal grill so it makes you restrain your hand from the grill at about 3 seconds: so, medium high.   Then, place the braised shanks on the grill, rolling and moving, until nicely browned and crusted, with a total cooking time of about 15 minutes.  While grilling, heat the sauce from the previous braising by simmering quietly with a dollop or two of whipping cream or crème fraîche, and add red vinegar (balsamica di modena).

Serve sauce with shanks, eat with risotto, egg noodles, smashed potatoes or polenta, and they all go swimmingly well with a fine French côtes du rhône, bourgogne, bandol or Oregon pinot noir.

Pourboire:  nor should callous carnage and chaos ever exist again on the Promenade des Anglais, a storied boulevard on Nice’s coast during France’s national holiday, Bastille night.  Une vraie honteun énorme calamité.   Tant d’enfants sont tués et estropiés.  Quel dommage, pour ne pas dire plus.  Je suis tellement attristé — mon coeur vous tend la main. Mon dieu!

Very much unlike Joséphine Baker, you will be remembered forever as nothing but a psychotic, murderous butcher, especially of children…whatever your name is or will be.

 

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I rebel, therefore we exist.
~Albert Camus

Another resplendent sweet, sort of, well really, actually — a Middle Eastern snack made with phyllo and nuts and drenched throughout with a honey glaze. The textures and tastes are flat supreme.  It is opined by many that Baklava was first savored around the 8th century B.C.E. in northern Mesopotamia, when Assyrians layered thin pieces of dough with nuts, baked the pastries in wood burning ovens, and added honey for sweetness.

But, first let us briefly digress to World War I (1914-1918) الجزائر, Algeria, vast, diverse, luxuriant, and often stark lands in what is known as the Maghreb region of North Africa, somewhat west of today’s Egypt. For baklava has been and is relished in Algeria as well.

The French viewed Algeria (Algérie) as just another “decadent state,” given to sins such as slavery, piracy and tribal anarchy. So, the Code de l’indigénat was a “lawful” scheme creating an inferior legal status for natives of French colonies from the late 19th century to the mid 20th century – making discrimination legitimate and actually legally dispossessing natives. Denizens were never afforded rights as citizens of overseas departments and were assimilated so to create in the colonies integral parts of France.

The Code de l’indigénat has been at the center of now revised thinking about French policies — colonial “indirect” rule.

The loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany in 1871 led to pressure on the French government to make new land available in Algeria for thousands of Alsatian-Lorraine “refugees” or colons who were resettled there.  Pied noirs (“black foots”) they were called and later slaughtered likewise.

The colonial regime imposed greater taxes on Muslims than on Europeans yet the colons controlled the revenues which would be spent. As a result, colon towns had graceful buildings, paved avenues lined with trees, fountains and statues, while Algerian villages and rural areas benefited little. For an example, take a gander at Le Cathédrale du Sacré-Cœur d’Alger which towers over Algiers.

The school curricula were entirely French and afforded zero places for Arabic studies, which were deliberately downgraded even in Muslim schools. Within that generation, educated, gallicized Muslims, les évolués (the evolved ones), were created.

The colons who ran Algeria maintained a condescending dialogue only with the beni-oui-ouis (“yes men”). Later, they deliberately thwarted contact between the évolués and Muslim traditionalists on the one hand and between évolués and official circles in France on the other.  So, no genuine communication existed between the communities — probably only underlying, then direct enmity prevailed.

The first Code de l’indigénat was implemented by the Algerian senate on July 14, 1865 (on Juillet quatorze? in 1865?  Perhaps no one knew, right?). The first article stated:

The Muslim indigenous is French, however, he will continue to be subjected to Muslim law. He may be admitted to serve in the terrestrial and marine Army. He may be called to function and civil employment in Algeria. He may, on his demand, be admitted to enjoy the rights of a French citizen; in this case, he is subjected to the political and civil laws of France.

The Code distinguished two categories of citizens: French citizens (ethnic metropolitans) and French subjects, that is to say black Africans, Algerians, North Africans, et al., who lived there.

French subjects submitted to the Code de l’indigénat were deprived of much of their freedom and their political rights and only retained their personal statuses, religions or origins. As is too often the case, the colonialism practiced in Algeria resembled a kind of slavery of indigenous peoples as they were stripped of their identity.

The Code allowed Muslims to apply for full French citizenship, a measure that few took since it involved renouncing the right to be guided by sharia law in personal matters and was considered a kind of apostasy – a rejection of Islam. The Code de l’indigénat was a bitter anathema to Islamic tenets.

In a sense, World War I has never ended as many Arab peoples are still living its historical, religious, tribal and geographical consequences.  This is a short story, but there is some truth to it.  Blogs.

Baklava (Farsi for “many leaves”) consists of layers of phyllo filled with nuts and spices and drenched in a honey syrup.  Almost seems metaphorical.

BAKLAVA

2 C raw sugar
1 C honey
1 1/2 C water
2 T lemon juice
2 T light corn syrup
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves, whole
1 t cardamon, ground

1 lb pistachios and walnuts, in equal parts, finely chopped
1/4 C raw sugar
1 lb phyllo dough
1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 F

Stir the sugar, water, lemon juice, corn syrup, cinnamon sticks, and cloves over low heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Halt stirring, then increase the heat to medium, and cook until the mixture is slightly syrupy, about 5 minutes. Discard the cinnamon sticks and whole cloves.  Allow to cool.

Combine all the nut and raw sugar ingredients.  Grease a 13″ x 9″ glass baking pan with a stick of butter.

Place a sheet of phyllo in the prepared pan and lightly brush with melted butter. Repeat the butter treatment with more sheets. Spread with half of the filling. Top with more sheets, again brushing each with butter.  Spread with the remaining nut mixture and end with a top layer of several sheets, continuing to brush each with butter. Trim any overhanging edges. Ne pas oublier la beurre!

Just before baking, lightly sprinkle the top of the pastry with cold water to inhibit the pastry from curving upwards. Bake for about 20 minutes. Then, reduce the heat to 300 F and bake until golden brown, for about 15 additional minutes.

Score to form diamond shapes, and then cut through the scored lines. Drizzle the cooled syrup slowly over the hot baklava and let cool for several hours, if not overnight.  Try with some strong coffee.

 

A highbrow is the kind of person who looks at a sausage and thinks of Picasso.
~A.P. Herbert

Merguez, which has Bedouin and then Tunisian and Moroccan antecedents, has some assorted Arabic spellings:  (mirkas (ﻤﺮﻛﺲ), pl. marākis (ﻤﺮﺍﻛﺲ),mirkās (ﻤﺮﻛﺎﺱ), markas (ﻤﺭﻛﺲ) and mirqāz (ﻤﺮﻗﺲ).  After the French invasion, occupation and colonization of the Maghreb (“sunset” or “west”) which are the lands west of Egypt in coastal North Africa, the lamb/mutton or beef piquante sausage naturally spread to France and elsewhere.  The Maghreb was cordoned off from the rest of the continent by the immense Sahara Desert and peaks of the Atlas Mountains also their ports, often built by Phoenicians, look out on the shimmering Mediterranean Sea.  The area was conquered and settled by the Spanish, Italians, French, Arabs, Ottomans, Vandals, Carthaginians, Romans, Phoenicians, Berbers, Islamics, Turks, to name a few at differing times.  Sadly, there is nothing like conquest to make cuisine sublime.

Merquez is often served grilled, with tajines and stews, next to couscous or lentils, and in baguettes or buns with pommes frites — now, the latter is a scrumptious charcuterie and street food both.

Not that there exist constraints or restraints by any of these culinary means — with the exception of personal imagination.

A must.

MERGUEZ

1/4 C+ extra virgin olive oil
4 pounds spinach, stems removed, washed and dried well

2 medium onions peeled and cut into small cubes
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 T fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 T harissa
Freshly ground black pepper
2 t  quatre epices (recipe follows)

2 C water
2 C chicken stock
A splash of dry white wine
1/2 lb dried garbanzo or cannellini beans, drained

2 lbs fresh merguez sausage
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 300 F

Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the spinach and cook, stirring throughout, until all the spinach has wilted and browned slightly and all the liquid has evaporated, about 20-30 minutes.

Add the onions, garlic, mint, cilantro, harissa, black pepper, and quatre epices and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.

Pour in 4 cups water and stock and a dollop of dry white wine to the mix above, then add the garbanzos or cannellini beans. Stir, bring to a quiet simmer, and cover. Braise gently in the oven for 2 hours, or until the beans are nearly tender.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 T extra virgin olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Sear the merguez on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain well.

Stir the lemon juice into the beans and place the seared merguez on top. Cover and continue to braise until the beans are tender and the sausage is cooked through, about 30 minutes more. Season with salt to taste.

Quatre Epices
1 T allspice berries
1 T whole cloves
1 T nutmeg, freshly grated
1 T ground cinnamon

Grate the nutmeg. In a coffee mill or spice grinder, grind the allspice and cloves. Combine all of the spices in a bowl, stirring to mix. Use as needed, then store remainder in a tight, glass container in the cupboard.

Bon appetit!

The more you approach infinity, the deeper you penetrate terror.
~Gustave Flaubert

ParisLa Ville Lumière, le Paname…an eternal, perpetual place in many psyches (including mine).

A psychotically surreal Friday the 13th evening. I admit to feeling empty, melancholic, enraged, mournful, abhorrent, sorrowful all at the same time — no way to view a match at the Stade de France, savor a meal at lieux like Le Petit Cambodge, La Belle Équipe café, Le Carillon, Café Bonne Bière, Sushi Maki, La Cosa Nostra and La Petit Balona, or revel in a concert at the Théâtre de Bataclan.

Yet, I feel somehow staunch and resolute en même temps. A bewildering mélange of emotions…confused thoughts, but by no means nothing like the victims’ loved ones whose souls suffer and agonize. The outpouring of empathy has been overwhelming. My sincere condolences and thanks, that simple.

The etymology of the word “terror” is sadly and Frenchly ironic. Terror (n.): from the early 15 century late middle English “something that frightens, causes fear and dread” is derived directly from the Old French terreur (14 century), earlier from the Latin terrorem or “fear, fright, dread, alarm,” from the Latin verb terrere “to make fearful, frighten.”

The term “terrorism” itself was coined in Paris during the wake of the 1789 revolution as a term to describe the government’s bloody campaign against counter revolutionaries. The Reign of Terror also known as Le Régime de la Terreur, a ruthless movement begun after the execution of Robespierre by guillotine in the late 18th century, was meant to purge the country of enemies of the French Revolution. The Reign was incited by competing legislative bodies, the moderate Girondins, also called the Brissontins, and the militant Jacobins, and was marked by political repression and mass executions of purported rivals.

Now, one must perplex at what W (who held hands longingly with a theocratic “royal” Saudi prince), Cheney and Rumsfeld have recently wrought upon the world. Once a country piques or provokes a tribe what other tribes, caliphates or sub-tribes are created? There is little doubt that simple hypothesis was not lucidly thought through at high places.  If not or if so, for shame.

In any event, just wonder aloud, openly discuss, and consider the calamitous precedents before invading other countries with boots on the ground.  Forget not l’Arabie saoudite as have W and his friends, confidants so conveniently done.  Please do not overreact with bellicose language, saber rattling and hawkish behavior as was done after 9.11 and the “War(s) on Terror” which have destabilized the Middle East and have spawned the now thriving Daesh, Dai’sh, Islamic State, ISIS, and/or ISIL. Whatever their nomenclature du jour may be.

This is dire reality not a time for spewing knee jerk, xenophobic and visceral, wrong headed, rash polemic and panic.

You know the drill well, Parigots — stay steady, resolute and resilient, do not deny your lifestyle or rituals, embrace your senses and those about you, rebound however maimed, cherish the ephemeral nature of life, and remain quietly vigilant yet defiant of the malefactors.  No doubt it may prove cursive to feel vulnerable and doubtful, but please keep all in perspective. Please do not allow delirium to trump reason and forever remember those words:  liberté, égalité, et fraternité.

The word “terrorism” has a somehow slightly different, peculiar sense but still maintains the same hues, although the meaning stays insidious. It usually means the “use of violence to human life, fear, coercion or intimidation in pursuit of political or religious aims.” It often is an abhorrent, indiscriminate act of violence against innocent humankind, against society. But, the word still retains its blurred vernacular and semantic ambiguities — for instance, is it mere lunacy?  Who terrorizes, intimidates, displaces another? What constitutes such an act?  While no one definition of “terrorism” has gained universal acceptance or precise use, it does remain an emerging combined military and political-religious word and applies to varied circumstances.

But, the “definition” and “history” of terrorism aside, there remains zero doubt about who should take responsibility for the deaths of blameless victims this Parisian weekend.  The same arcane, cruel and oppressive jihadist bunch that has an apocalyptic black flag and severed head for emblems. Non-believers? Really?

And enough of your false and deceptive misnomer, allahu akbar, bros, as you ruthlessly carve off kidnapped heads with bound hands and fanatically kill and maim innocents with AK-47 assault rifles at close range.   In no way can this horrific carnage be affirmed by any contorted interpretation of the Holy Qur’an or any other known sacred scriptures.

Bistro fare often comforts on dark days. Please slowly dine on this sauté + ragoût with family and friends, preferably with bare feet.

CHICKEN FRICASSEE + LENTILS

2 lbs local chicken wings, legs, thighs (perhaps more goodies, like gizzards)
Some chicken stock, a couple tabs of unsalted butter & extra virgin olive oil

2 medium carrots, peeled and carved into 1″ pieces
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into thin disks
1 medium turnip, peeled and carved into 1″ pieces
4-5 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, and coarsely chopped
1 t dried herbes de provence
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 t dried oregano
2 dried bay leaves

1 lb dried lentilles du puy
3 C water and chicken stock, combined in equal parts (1 1/2 C each)

Splash of apple cider vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Grated parmiggiano-reggianno & tarragon

Put the wings, legs, thighs, etc. into a large, heavy, Dutch oven or sauté pan with some chicken stock, butter and olive oil. Cook over medium high heat for about 5 minutes per side, until the chicken is browned.

Add the carrots, onion, turnip, garlic, oregano, thyme sprigs, herbes de provence, and bay leaves to the Dutch oven or sauté pan and cook for about a minute or two.  Do not burn anything.

Then, add the lentils du puy, water, salt and pepper, apple cider vinegar, and reduce the heat but still boil gently, covered, for some 30 minutes. Assure that the lentils are quite tender and, of course, most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaves.  Serve in shallow soup bowls with chicken atop, and finish with fresh tarragon leaves and a fresh grating of parmiggiano-reggiano.

…a tight hard little woman humorless as a chicken.
John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Or is the proper spelling high falootin’?

Either way, calling these birds rock Cornish game hens just sounds rather pretentious, so hoity-toity. Not a game bird, it is simply an immature (barely a month old) breed of bantam, hybrid chicken which the French often label poussin which is either female or male, under two pounds, usually one plus. Tender, moist and amatory fare, though.

Given my leanings (I stay in the States, but my soul resides in France), this is somewhat of a French take.

CORNISH GAME HENS OR POUSSINS

2 (1+ lb) Cornish game hens or poussins

3-4 T unsalted butter, room temperature
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
Herbes de Provence
Thyme sprigs
Rosemary sprigs
Dried prunes or apricots (optional)

1 head fresh, plump garlic, cut transversely

2 shallots, peeled and sliced
1⁄2 lb mushrooms (cèpes, crimini, et al.), bottoms trimmed and quartered

3-4 T cognac or brandy
3-4 T chicken stock

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Allow the game hens (after unfreezing) to rest at room temperature for at least one hour. Pat birds totally dry, thoroughly rub the chicken inside and out with butter and season inside the cavity and outside with salt, pepper and dried herbes de Provence. Place rosemary and thyme sprigs inside the cavities as well as the optional dried fruit. Then, truss the birds and place them in the roasting pan breast side down. Strew each cut garlic half around them and cook them about 15 minutes. Baste throughout.

Reduce heat to 375 F.

Turn the hens breast side up for a total cooking time of around 50 minutes. As the birds roast, strew shallots and mushrooms onto the roasting pan around the chicks. Baste throughout.

Place an overturned soup bowl under one end of a platter or cutting board so it is tilted at an angle. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and turn the game hens so that the juices in the cavity are emptied onto the pan. Then, transfer the hens to the angulated platter or board, with breast side down and tail in the air. Cut the trussing string free and remove.

Meanwhile with a wooden spatula, scrape bits stuck to the surface of the roasting pan. When the pan is hot, add brandy to deglaze and, then stock, bringing to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer several minutes until thickened, when it coats the spatula.

Loosely tent the poussins with foil and let rest on the incline around 10 minutes. It will actually keep cooking some, and the juices will disperse evenly throughout the meat. (The birds are cooked when the juices run yellowish when pierced.)

Serve each bird on or over a plate with couscous, Israeli couscous, rice pilaf, basmati or jasmine rice, wild + white rice, new potatoes, pasta, a baguette, asparagus, peas, green beans, chinese peas, snow peas or a funky salad — with sauce and companions spooned atop.

No carving required.

There is nothing better than picking up sun warmed tomatoes and smelling them, scrutinizing their shiny skins for imperfections, thinking of ways to serve them.
~José Ramón Andrés Puerta(a/k/a José Andrés)

So little to be said about this sublime salad from the Island of Capri, found in the Tyrrhenian sea off the Sorrentine peninsula, on the south side of the gulf of Naples — a timeless tricolored culinary classic (sometimes).

INSALATA CAPRESE (CAPRESE SALAD)

2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4″ thick
1 lb fresh mozzarella (di bufala if possible), sliced 1/4″ thick
1/4 C packed fresh basil leaves

3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

On a platter, alternately arrange fine quality tomato + mozzarella slices + basil leaves, overlapping them. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Pourboire: subtly shower with aged balsamic vinegar in lieu of extra virgin olive oil or better yet with the EVOO even though the two will not meld. Then again, add a few slices of fresh avocado or eggplant or try substituting arugula (with fresh oregano), kale, swiss chard, pesto, or watercress for your green.

TOMATO COULIS

1 lb red & yellow heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded and sliced
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and cut
Sea salt, to taste

1-2 TB extra virgin olive oil
Apple cider vinegar
Raw sugar (turbinado)

Peel, seed, and slice the tomatoes into 2-3″ wedges, and drop in a food processor fitted with a steel blend or simply a blender. Process or blend on high speed with cut garlic until smooth. Pulse the food processor or turn the blender to low, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Add salt, wine vinegar and raw sugar in dribbles as needed and pulse or blend low. Do not strain and refrigerate, if necessary, until ready to serve.

Commonly, tomato coulis is served underneath grilled, roasted or sautéed meats, fish or vegetables or even used as a dip for fritters, sandwiches or other finger fodder. Just a slightly subtle divergence from an earlier post.

No matter how you prepare it, the root is tasteless and starchy. It cannot be regarded as an enjoyable food, but it provides abundant, reasonably healthy food for men who want nothing but sustenance.
~Denis Diderot, Encyclopedia (1751-1765)

So the tale goes…the potato, solanum tuberosum, a starchy, herbaceous, tuberous crop from the perennial nightshade family indigenous to the Andes was brought from the New World to Europe by curious Spanish mariners around the second half of the 16th century. The origins of the potato can be traced to the highlands of the Andes mountains on the border between Bolivia and Peru around 8,000 BCE. The beginnings were far from humble as the Andes are the lengthiest mountain range on earth running some 5,500 miles with peaks exceeding 22,000 feet — an often harsh territory where temperatures fluctuate wildly, and which proves seismically intense, rift with geographic faults, earthquakes, mudslides, and often active volcanoes.

Somehow, the potato made it to French shores and burrowed inland, introduced to the Franche-Comté, the Vosges of Lorraine and Alsace. At first, the French were so suspicious that in 1748 the government issued an edict forbidding their growth, as it was foolishly rumored that potatoes caused leprosy in humans. Later, the tuber was allowed to be used only as animal fodder.

Enter Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737-1813), a trained French pharmacist and veteran of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) having been captured by the Prussians no less than five times. To most in North America this conflict is known only as the French and Indian War, but the strife was quite global in scope affecting Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines. France, Austria, Saxony, Sweden, and Russia were aligned on one side against Prussia, Hanover, and Great Britain and their respective overseas colonial territories on the other. In the end, Britain established as a distinct colonial power, with control over India and North America seemingly secured, while Prussia emerged as predominant force in Europe, and the preponderant voice within Germany. While imprisoned, Parmentier quietly subsisted on potatoes which led to his devotion to the spud as a staple for his homeland.

It should be remembered that regional and national French famines had become routine in the preceding centuries. The country simply could not feed itself. So, soon after he emerged from Prussian prison, Parmentier exalted the potato, laboriously aspiring to scrub the tot’s bad pub. He wanted potatoes to become an integral part of the French food supply, a staple. He went on a barnstorming tour of sorts hosting dinners at which potato dishes were featured prominently and guests included such luminaries as Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Lavoisier.  In Examen chymique des pommes de terres (1774), Parmentier touted the potato’s prodigious nutritional prowess.  About this time, some say that Marie Antoinette even adorned her hair with potato blossoms while her husband, Louis XVI, put one in his buttonhole as part of an attempt to persuade French farmers to plant and French diners to consume S.tuberosum. Other members of royalty and aristocratic wannabes followed suit, strutting about in tuberous bouquets. Finally, the Paris Faculty of Medicine declared that potatoes were edible.

This opened the French culinary sluices with such classics as pommes Anna, gratin dauphinois, pommes de terre sarladaises, pommes aligot(e), pommes de terre boulangère, pommes purée, etc. A recipe for pommes duchesse even appeared in a cookbook, La Nouvelle Cuisinière Bourgeoise in 1817.

(M. Parmentier was entombed in the renowned Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, and both a Parisian avenue in the 10th and 11th arrondissements and a station on the Paris Métro bear his name.)

Pommes Duchesse are simply an exalted spud rendition. They are dollops of mashed potatoes with butter, eggs, cream and nutmeg that are shaped in a way that resembles meringues. The textural variances are sublime. Once baked, the interiors of the potatoes remain soft and creamy, while the edges of the contoured tops become crispy.

POMMES DUCHESSE

2 1/2 lb russet potatoes

4 T unsalted butter, softened
2 egg yolks, plus 1 egg mixed with 1 t heavy cream, lightly beaten
1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 eggs, whisked

Preheat oven to 400 F

Using a fork, prick potatoes all over and place on a baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 1-1 1/2 hours, allow to cool, then peel and pass through a food mill or ricer.

Mix potatoes, butter, yolks, egg, cream, nutmeg, salt, and pepper in a glass or metal bowl and transfer to a piping bag fitted with a 3/4″ star tip. On a parchment paper lined baking sheet, and working in a tight circular motion, pipe twelve 2 1/2″ in diameter rosettes — first fill the pastry bag in one corner with the riced potato mixture to squeeze out any air bubbles, while exerting steady pressure from the top with one hand while guiding the flow of the mixture with the other make a solid foundation, then carefully pipe a tight spiral, build a cone shaped mound and finish with a slightly pointed tip until each potato is about 2″ in height.

Brush with egg and then bake until golden brown, about 40–45 minutes.