It’s no secret that one of the reasons travelers choose France as their destination of choice for the food. French gastronomy has been one of the world’s most renowned for centuries. It has provided the backbone for most of what today is Western haute cuisine. Though famous for stereotypically decadent recipes and complex preparations, French cuisine is incredibly regional and diverse. Simple, hearty food is what you will find most often on tables at homes in most of the country.
As the seasons change in France, so do the ingredients. Summer fades to fall, and we see more filling “comfort” food make its way onto the French table. Once, these hearty dishes were thought to give more strength to farmers during the harvest. Now the cooler weather means that a warm, generous plate of country food is appreciated even for the many of us who aren’t out plowing the fields. This week, we’ll share some of our favorite fall French comfort food with you. Perhaps you’ll find some ideas you’d like to recreate to bring a piece of France to your home as you wait for your next tailor made vacation!
The quintessential comfort food, this dish is said to have originated in the town of Castelnaudary. It has become incredibly popular in the neighboring towns of Toulouse and Carcassonne. Although, each of have their own twist on this fall dish. No matter where you are sampling this plate, white beans are a must. Confit of duck or goose (confit means cooked in its own fat), additional meat like duck, partridge or mutton (wild bird coincides with the beginning of the fall hunting season) depend on what local variant you are trying.
For those who truly wish to fully immerse theirselves in this dish, Castelnaudary takes it incredibly seriously. They even have a “great brotherhood” fraternity of the tradition. Their “Cassoulet Route” is a circular trail. It runs over 110 miles in the area which takes you through farms that produce each of the ingredients (local white beans, ducks, geese, pigs). In addition, there are local artisans and traditional restaurants. For those fanatic about French gastronomy, it’s a fun (and delicious) trip in the autumn.
Bouillabaisse had its origins as a hearty stew made by fishermen who were unable to sell the more bony rockfish. It is typically served as a bowl of flavorful broth with rouille (a homemade mayonnaise with saffron, garlic, sometimes cayenne pepper) and crusty bread. The fish from the broth is then served as a second course on a separate plate. The recipe is hotly contested in Marseille and changes from family to family and restaurant to restaurant. What makes it truly stand apart is the mixture of Provençal herbs and spices in the broth. For example, saffron, wild fennel and thyme, and the use of these lean, bony fish are sometimes used.
A group of local restaurants gathered together in the 1980’s to put together an official list of what is in the dish (called, endearingly, the “bouillabaisse charter” – we weren’t kidding when we say that the French take food very seriously). An authentic Marseille bouillabaisse must include fresh rockfish such as rascasse, congre and grondin, local olive oil, and saffron. This comforting and flavorful French soup is a staple of French gastronomy. And we think, the perfect way to warm yourself up the Provençal way.
Bœuf à la Bourguignonne, (Burgundy)
Another quintessential comfort food in French cuisine is found frequently on the menu of a neighborhood bistro in Paris, but perhaps not typically from the region Burgundy. Theories tend towards the origin of the name coming from the addition of (in some recipes) a whole bottle of red burgundy wine. Regardless, it would make sense to prepare this savory recipe in Burgundy, which is famous for the quality of its beef.
After braising beef in Burgundy wine, it’s slow stewed with potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, garlic, and seasoned with herbs. Variations include mushrooms and pork fat. In some cases, it is indicated to stew the dish for up to two days to tenderize the meat. This is one of the best dishes to warm up on a cool fall day. It relatively easy to prepare and a wonderful way to introduce yourself or your family to french cuisine!
Soupe à l’oignon, throughout France
Perhaps as famous in the United States (thanks to Julia Child and the 1960’s trend towards French gastronomy and dishes), baked french onion soup is a plate we are all most likely familiar with but perhaps one that we have never attempted to make at home. Fortunately, like most of these special french fall comfort foods, it is easy, inexpensive and hearty. Onions were typically a “poor mans” peasant food. They are slow sautéed with butter and deglazed with wine (or in some recipes, something stronger like cognac). The soup is usually topped with hearty toasted bread and melted comté cheese. It’s a bowl of soup that takes you immediately to a different place, a fall holiday in France – and warms you up at the same time.
These French fall comfort foods are great ideas to try your hand at at home. We suggest over a French film and with a great bottle of French wine! It is wonderful additions to your gastronomic checklist for your future fall holiday in this amazing (and amazingly delicious) country.