Feeling French

"Here, this is how the French eat strawberries," my mom said to me one day when I was in high school. As she said it, she set down a bowl of whole strawberries, a small cup of sour cream and another small cup of brown sugar. I looked at her incredulously, "Really? Sour cream?" I hated sour cream growing up. If we went to a Mexican restaurant I always completed my order to the waiter like this: "I'll have the (insert dish) without sour cream." It didn't matter if what I was ordering didn't even come with sour cream. I still said it. I could not risk having a glop of it on my food. (If only I knew that I was missing out on lovely Mexican crema, something that I enjoy today.)

Why my aversion to sour cream? I really don't know. I've never been a very picky eater. All I can think is that sour cream is not sweet, and for someone with a sweet tooth, well, sour cream just never made sense to me. That is until my mom had me dip a whole strawberry in the sour cream and then dunk it into the brown sugar, little clumps of sugar sticking to the cream like sand. How could such a simple and strange (to me) combination taste so good?  From then on I decided to give sour cream another chance, and today I love it in both savory and sweet preparations.

You don't need a recipe for this, but here are the basic ratios you can use for two people.

Strawberries with Sour Cream and Brown Sugar

1 pint fresh strawberries (in season and the best you can find)
1/4 cup sour cream (don't be tempted to get light)
1/4 cup brown sugar

Place each ingredient in a separate bowl, and dip the whole strawberries into the sour cream and then the brown sugar.

Continuing on my French theme, I've just finished reading David Lebovitz's book The Sweet Life in Paris. You may remember that I mentioned him when I made his chocolate macaroons last year. Anyway, I gobbled up this book and I can't wait to try all the recipes. 

Speaking of French recipes, I recently received a copy of Jacques Pepin's book Essential Pepin. I also cannot wait to try all the recipes in that book - though wait I must, there are 700 recipes in the book!

I started my journey into that thick book with an easy and classic French dish on the same night we ate the strawberries. Here is Jacques' recipe for quick ratatouille. Basically you can cook most of the vegetables at the same time instead of doing individual batches for each vegetable as is the classic method. It was garlicky and juicy and we happily enjoyed it with a few pieces of fresh baguette on the side. 

Quick Ratatouille

1/4 cup olive oil
3 white or yellow onions, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 eggplant (about 1 pound), unpeeled cut into 1 inch cubes
4 small zucchini, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 garlic cloves, sliced
4 tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup chopped fresh basil
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in large saute pan or dutch oven over high heat. Add the eggplant, bell pepper, onions, zucchini, red pepper flakes, and salt and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes and garlic and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add black pepper to taste. Transfer to bowl and let cool to room temperature. Stir in half the basil. Sprinkle remaining basil over individual bowls when ready to serve.

Serves 6 as a side dish or fewer people as a main course. 

Note: I used a mixture of summer squash and zucchini because that's what I had on hand and it worked well. 

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