Would it be horribly uneducated of me, or perhaps just plain shamefully ignorant, to say that I had never heard of Julia Child until shortly after moving to the U.S. when someone looked at me with eyes the size of big round crêpes and guffawed You’re French and you don’t know who she is?
Phew! Glad we got this out of the way. More on that later…
For my fellow francophone readers – Julia Child is an American culinary icon and she would have turned 100 years-old this year on August 15.
For Julia, a simple lunch of sole meunière - her first meal in Paris – was life changing and inspired her 40-year love affair with food and the start of a cooking revolution in America.
This is why in her honor, YC Media and Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., launched the JC100 national campaign involving restaurants, chefs, bookstores, and bloggers, all celebrating Julia and her legacy.
Their goal is to raise one million voices in tribute to Julia, and I am extremely honored I was asked to participate.
A panel of culinary luminaries, including celebrity chef Thomas Keller and food writer Amanda Hesser, has selected their most beloved 100 Julia Child recipes and since May 7th, one of her many recipes is highlighted every Monday.
This week (Week 11), Julia Child’s ratatouille recipe was chosen.
A simple and delicious side dish.
And with the first fresh tomatoes, zucchini and herbs recently picked from the garden, what a wonderful way to cook with them and bring her culinary spirit into the kitchen with her ratatouille – or as she used to say “perfume the kitchen with the essence of Provence”.
Non, je ne connais pas Julia Child !
This was the sentence I never thought would create such bewilderment.
But if you think about it, why would an American chef with a TV show called The French Chef teaching Americans how to cook French with a goal to introduce the basics of French cooking to American homes as an option for home-cooking when it was still considered high-end cuisine be well-known in France?
I never grew up with Julia Child. And nor did my parents or my grand-parents.
Always a challenging realization for Americans when their cherished thoughts that the French also lived glued to their TV sets watching Julia cook with her energetic confidence got crushed.
All the more reasons for me to catch up with lost time and discover who Julia Child was.
Julia Child is the All-American French Chef.
She loved Paris. She loved France.
She had an extensive knowledge about French cooking and food that she shared with Americans on TV as early as 1962.
When I asked my friends about their memories of Julia Child, the recurrent answers were:
her legendary good humor and joie de vivre
an American icon
her low-key bloopers and delightful personality
Queen of the kitchen
French food made easy for everyone
family time learning how to cook French in front of the TV
a real person
Julia Child – still very much relevant today as people remember her and her tremendous achievement as she singlehandedly revolutionized Americans’ perception of what cooking, good food and French cuisine are all about.
What I find even more extraordinary is that her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking was and still is a staple item in American kitchens – including my foodie friends – who continuously refer to Julia’s recipes.
The Bible of all cookbooks.
A book made so easy and clear to follow, anyone can cook.
And everybody should cook.
Just follow Julia Child.
C’est simple !
So I would like to ask you, what is your fondest memory of Julia Child?
How has she changed your views on cooking, on using fresh ingredients, and on French cuisine?
Do you own her book? Do you still cook with it?
Feel free to comment about Julia Child and her life’s work in the comments section.
And for my francophone readers who never had the pleasure to watch her in action, this video should do the trick.
And since she lived 4.5 miles (7 km) away from me, I couldn’t not go take a walk in her neighborhood in Cambridge, MA near Harvard Square and take a picture of her old house.
I don’t know if I was still smelling her ratatouille from my kitchen but it almost felt like scents of Provence were still lingering around her old stomping ground.
The ratatouille is Julia Child’s recipe from her book.
I have added the converted measurements for those who do not cook with pounds and cups.
The ingredients and instructions in bold and italics are Frenchie and the Yankee’s own additions to her already fantastic recipe – to put a spin on it.
I like my ratatouille with a lemony spicy taste and the addition of the lavender sugar makes for a sweet floral kick reminiscing of the lavender of Provence floating in the air.
And as she would have said herself: Bon appétit !
Follow the JC100 campaign on:
Julia Child’s Ratatouille
Excerpted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child.Copyright © 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf.
Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
For 6 to 8 people
1 lb. (0.4 kg) eggplant
1 lb. (0.4 kg) zucchini
A 3-quart (2.85 l), porcelain or stainless steel mixing bowl
1 teaspoon salt
Peel the eggplant and cut into lengthwise slices 3/8 inch (9.5 mm) thick, about 3 inches (7.62 cm) long, and 1 inch (2.54 cm) wide. Scrub the zucchini, slice off the two ends, and cut the zucchini into slices about the same size as the eggplant slices. Place the vegetables in a bowl and toss with salt. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain. Dry each slice in a towel.
A 10- to 12-inch (25.4 to 30.48 cm) enameled skillet
4 tablespoons olive oil, more if needed
One layer at a time, sauté the eggplant, and then the zucchini in hot olive oil for about a minute on each side to brown very lightly. Remove to a side dish.
1/2 lb. (226 g) – about 1.5 cup – thinly sliced yellow onions
remove some of the yellow onions to add thinly sliced half a red onion and 1 shallot
2 (about 1 cup) sliced green bell peppers
only 1 green pepper but add 1 orange pepper
2 to 3 Tablespoons olive oil, if necessary
2 cloves mashed garlic
salt and pepper to taste
In the same skillet, cook the onions and peppers slowly in olive oil for about 10 minutes, or until tender but not browned. Stir in the garlic and season to taste.
1 lb. (0.4 kg) firm, ripe, red tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and juiced (makes 1.5 cups pulp)
grated zest of 1 organic lemon
1 teaspoon of lavender sugar (or use regular blonde cane sugar or light brown sugar instead)
salt and pepper
Slice the tomato pulp into 3/8-inch (9.5 mm) strips. Lay them over the onions and peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the skillet and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, or until tomatoes have begun to render their juice. Uncover, baste the tomatoes with the juices, raise heat and boil for several minutes, until juice has almost entirely evaporated. Finely grate the lemon zest and sprinkle with the sugar over the tomatoes. Mix.
A 2.5 quart (2.37 l) fireproof casserole about 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) deep
3 tablespoons minced parsley
3 tablespoons minced basil
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons minced oregano
a pinch of hot red pepper flakes
Place a third of the tomato mixture in the bottom of the casserole and sprinkle over it 1 tablespoon of parsley. Add 1 tablespoon of basil as well. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, then half of the remaining tomatoes and parsley plus basil. Put in the rest of the eggplant and zucchini, and finish with the remaining tomatoes and parsley/basil.
Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover, tip casserole and baste with the rendered juices. Correct seasoning, if necessary. Raise heat slightly and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes more, basting several times, until juices have evaporated leaving a spoonful or two of flavored olive oil. Be careful of your heat; do not let the vegetables scorch in the bottom of the casserole.
Set aside uncovered. Reheat slowly at serving time, or serve cold.
I served my ratatouille in individual containers.
Sprinkle with oregano and red pepper flakes on top before serving.