It's no secret that Dorie Greenspan is a bona fide Francophile -- the cookbook author has had a 30-year love affair with the country's people and its food.
Her new cookbook, Around My French Table, is the result of the many meals she's had with her friends in France, and the many meals she's made for them. It's full of enticing recipes, savvy tips and delicious cultural tidbits, like: The French eat asparagus with their fingers. The French peel their tomatoes. And French home cooks, who are just as busy as their American cousins, take shortcuts. They just don't talk about them as loudly as Americans do.
"You go to someone's home for dinner and you say, 'That tomato sauce you made was so great. How'd you make it?' " Greenspan tells NPR's Michele Norris. "Well, they kind of take you over to a corner and just about whisper in your ear, 'I started with canned tomatoes. And then I added just a little seasoned salt, and at the last minute I put in fresh tomatoes.' So you discover, what they've done is mixed convenience food with fresh food, and it's kind of something only your best friend will tell you."
Taking shortcuts fits in well with Greenspan's own no-fuss cooking philosophy. While making hachis Parmentier in Norris' Washington, D.C., kitchen, she admitted to sometimes adding frozen peas to the dish "for some sweetness and color." And hachis Parmentier, a French version of shepherd's pie, is a classic "no-fuss" dish.
"Usually, it would be made from leftover stew ... a pot-au-feu boiled dinner, so that whatever was left over would be shredded, and that would be the bottom layer, and mashed potatoes on top," Greenspan says.
That is, mashed potatoes that some home cooks might make from frozen potatoes to save time on peeling, cutting and boiling. But Greenspan's hachis Parmentier recipe is written for those who might not have leftover stew or frozen potatoes, or easy access to cheeses like Gruyere or Comte. And she includes a nontraditional ingredient: sausage.
"I've played with the dish a little bit," she says. "I feel that as an American and writing a book like this, I'm allowed to play with the food because I'm making it on American soil with American ingredients. What I like is that any one of my friends would give me permission to play. Some people may feel that French food is strict, actually codified. But, in fact, it can be a fun, easy-going way of cooking. This dish is like that. It's a family dish."