How To Cook French, With Shortcuts In Around My French Table, cookbook author Dorie Greenspan revels in the idea that French home cooks take shortcuts just like Americans do -- they just don't talk about it as loudly. She demonstrates how people can make a French version of shepherd's pie -- with and without shortcuts.

How To Cook French, With Shortcuts

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

(Soundbite of boiling water)

NORRIS: Today we're at a rolling boil on the stove in my kitchen with an old friend.

Ms. DORIE GREENSPAN (Author, "Around My French Table"): Okay, so I have water and carrots and celery and garlic and onions, bay leaf, parsley. Did I say parsley? There is it. It's in there. And the beef.

NORRIS: Dorie Greenspan is back. She's a cookbook author, a self-described baking evangelist. And every fall, Dorie cheers us on as we try something new in the kitchen. But this fall, it's not your sweet tooth she's after, it's the savory one. Dorie's making beef bouillon, a broth. It's the foundation of a recipe called hachis parmentier.

Now, that sounds fancy, but it's pretty much a French version of shepherd's pie. Beef stew on the bottom, mashed potatoes on the top. And it's deceptively easy. And inspired by a friend, like many of the dishes in Dorie's new cookbook, "Around My French Table."

The friend in this case is Daniel Boulud. And after eating at one of his New York restaurants, Dorie asked the French born chef what he was having for dinner.

Ms. GREENSPAN: And he said, I'm having hachis parmentier. And I said, oh, it's so simple compared to what we had. And he said, and it's so delicious and I love it. And he says, for me, this is a great meal. It's a meal that I had at childhood and it's a meal that I love having now.

NORRIS: Now, a little vocabulary lesson for us. Hachis.

Ms. GREENSPAN: Means to mince, to chop, from the verb hache(ph).

NORRIS: And parmentier?

Ms. GREENSPAN: When you see that word on a dish, you know that potatoes are involved. And parmentier is actually the name of a French scientist who's associated with popularizing potatoes in France. Potatoes were considered animal feed the way - actually, the way corn is in France still.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Hachis parmentier is everyday elbow-on-the-table food in France and it's a perfect example of Dorie Greenspan's philosophy about food. Her book, "Around My French Table," is about her three decade love affair with France and its cooking. She tells stories about the meals she's had with her friends there. And the meals she's made for them.

She includes some interesting cultural tidbits. Take for example, the French eat asparagus with their fingers. They peel their tomatoes. And they're very particular about their cheese. Okay, well, maybe we knew that.

Now, craning over the steam from the pot, Dorie checks her beef bullion and reveals another delicious tidbit. The French are not above taking shortcuts.

(Soundbite of boiling bullion)

Ms. GREENSPAN: Mm. It's good. It has a lot of flavor. A little sweet from the carrots, which is nice. I'm going to give it a typically French boost. Half a bullion cube.

NORRIS: The French use bullion.

Ms. GREENSPAN: All the time. All the time.

NORRIS: Hear that? The French cheat, too. Dorie says French home cooks are just as pressed for time as Americans. So be it bullion cubes or frozen potatoes, they gladly marry convenience foods with the fresh produce and meat they get from the markets.

Ms. GREENSPAN: It's like wearing Gap jeans with a Givenchy top.

NORRIS: Which is just fine.

Ms. GREENSPAN: Which is fabulous. I think it's very stylish.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Now, Dorie's version of hachis parmentier is both thrifty and somewhat posh. The bottom layer, the beef stew, is usually a leftover from the night before. Today, though, we're making it from scratch. We drain the bullion and then set it aside. And then we chop up the beef, but we're bucking French tradition by keeping the carrots.

(Soundbite of sauteing)

NORRIS: Mm, we cook sausage, another Dorie twist for this French version of shepherds pie, then return the bullion and our cutup beef to the pan.

Ms. GREENSPAN: Add a little tomato paste.

NORRIS: A teaspoon of tomato paste from a can. It's a trick for adding flavor, something she learned from a French woman while standing in line at the grocery store. Dorie has a knack for sopping up wisdom wherever she finds it.

With the bottom layer finished, we move on to the mashed potatoes.

Ms. GREENSPAN: Boiled them in salted water.

NORRIS: Whole milk, heavy cream - always heavy cream - butter, some elbow grease, and another story.

Ms. GREENSPAN: I remember going to the market in Paris and going to buy potatoes and the vegetable man said, well, what are you using them for? I said, well, I'm going to mash them. He said, no, these aren't the potatoes you want. I don't have the potatoes you want. The vendor across the way has them. I'll take you there. And he actually took by my hand to introduce me to another vegetable vendor who had just the potatoes that were right for mashing.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Now, stay with me, because it's time to do some assembly. We put our beef, sausage and carrot mixture into the bottom of a buttered casserole dish. Mashed potatoes on top of that. Then the coup de grace, or in this case, the coup de gratine(Ph). I couldn't help it, sorry. Cheese - shredded cheddar and parmesan. Dorie says this will make a brown and melty crust after 30 minutes at 400 degrees in the oven. And she's right.

Ms. GREENSPAN: So, get spoons and we're ready. I just got some of the heat from the sausage.

NORRIS: I love this. I think it's perfect. And the Andouille was a very nice choice. What reaction do you get when you serve this at your table?

Ms. GREENSPAN: You know, it's so funny. I made this for a dinner party in Paris. I had gone out that day and bought little individual ramekins. And so I made individual hachis parmentier. I made 10 of them for everybody. So I had this real food group, all French, and decided to make something that would really be - to make this dish, which would really normally be a family meal. I had never seen such happy eaters.

NORRIS: Dorie should've stayed at my house for dinner, because when I served hachis parmentier, my family dove in and tore it up. Happy eaters, indeed. Try it with your family. You can find the recipe at Dorie Greenspan's new cookbook is "Around My French Table." And she'll be back on Friday with another fun autumn recipe - pumpkin stuffed with everything good.

Ms. GREENSPAN: Everything that you can find that you love. So we have little cubes of dried bread, chopped up bacon and cubes of cheese. I love making this.

NORRIS: I was skeptical about this one, but you know what? It's really good.

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