The Country Cooking of France, by Anne Willan

The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star.
-Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste

This cookbook is far more than a new dish, or a new star. It's a little bit of both. If I could sum it up in a nutshell, I would call this cookbook a modern and slightly condensed take on Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  (In fact, Willan is known for starting a cooking school with Julia Child and James Beard.) Besides the recipes and techniques, which focus on country cooking (as opposed to Parisian cuisine), The Country Cooking of France is complete with breathtakingly mouthwatering photographs of many of the recipes contained within its pages, as well as scenes of life in the French countryside.

Besides gorgeous photographs, this cookbook has several vignettes in each chapter - about types of food, chefs, locations, and agriculture in the French countryside. I learned a lot from these little accounts, like the reason cheese gets stringy - the protein and fat get too hot.  Or that some cheeses have AOC status - just like wine - and the requirements for the prestigious labels are stringent, like requiring the cows' diet to consist entirely of summer grass and no grain-feed. No wonder the French are obsessed with cheese!

Starting on Sunday, and with the exception of Monday, we've eaten one new recipe from this cookbook every day this week. I was even inspired to have French-style fruit and cheese plates for lunch, complete with a single square of dark chocolate. I haven't fixed tonight's meal yet (Tian de Courgettes), but so far every single meal has been nothing short of spectacular.

How do you follow a recipe when you cannot eat one of the main ingredients (wheat) the cookbook celebrates? Well, first of all you choose recipes carefully, unless you're an expert. I picked recipes where I knew I could make substitutions, or where none were required at all because all of the ingredients were naturally gluten free. The Boeuf Bourguignon, for example, used flour as a thickener. Instead, I used an all-purpose gluten free flour blend, which did the trick just fine. Just to get in the mood for the week, I made gluten free French rolls, which I used for bread whenever it was called for in a recipe.  And for the Quiche Lorraine, I found a recipe for a gluten free pie tart elsewhere. It may be a little bit of extra work, but in my mind it's well worth it. 

Here's a recipe I made which is loosely based on a recipe in the cookbook. Give it a shot! It's excellent for a light meal, or as a first course.

My French Cooking Week Bonus  -  Salade au Gambas Grilles (Salad with Seared Shrimp) 

Let me make a confession: somewhere along the way, I lost my love of shrimp. When I was a kid, I lived for steamed shrimp, fried, shrimp, shrimp scampi, shrimp salad ... you know, I just loved shrimp. At some point though, shrimp lost their magic. So when I stumbled across a recipe for seared shrimp, I hesitated. But the pictures were so tantalizing, and there was shrimp in the freezer, so what did I have to lose?

Oh, boy, am I glad I gave this recipe a try. As I'm wont to do, I made up some twists along the way, turning simple shrimp into a whole salad for dinner.  Try your hand at it, and let me know how it goes for you! 

2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, more if needed
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
10 baby onions, peeled
2 cloves garlic, crushed
5 ounces lettuce
Juice of half a lemon
1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on
1/4 cup cornstarch (Argo is gluten free, but be sure to double check)
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1/2 ounce Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic in a shallow baking dish. Toss with one tablespoon olive oil. Cut one tablespoon of butter into quarters, and tuck in to the dish. Cook for an hour, or until the tomatoes are bursting and the onions and garlic are soft. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Divide the lettuce among four plates. Spoon the tomato mixture evenly among the plates, reserving any cooking oil in the bottom of the pan. Whisk the reserved cooking oil with the lemon juice. 

Add the remaining butter and oil to a large skillet. Combine the sea salt and cornstarch in a bowl, and toss in the shrimp to coat. Heat the skillet over medium heat until nearly smoking, then add the shrimp in a single layer. Weight the shrimp with a heavy pan and cook for a minute or two. Remove the weight, turn the shrimp, reweight, and cook another one or two minutes. Remove from heat.

Divide the shrimp equally among the four plates. Top with shavings of Parmesan cheese, the lemon vinaigrette, and the pepper.

Serve immediately. 

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