I am in a state of devouring any book with the word “France” in it … I’m counting down the days until I leave for France. It will be a super quick trip this time but enough to satisfy my obsession until we move there in December. I have just finished reading My Life in France by Julia Child and her nephew Alex Prud’homme. I had seen the movie Julie and Julia before but I watched it again whilst I was reading the book, and it almost sent me over the edge!
If you don’t know what I’m all worked up about, it’s the true story of an American lady who moves to Paris after WWII because her husband is posted there for work. She goes from being a “loud, uncultured yank” to the english-speaking authority on French cooking after she learns to cook at the Cordon Bleu. The movie, released in 2009, follows Julie, a down-and-out writer in the present day who decides to reinvigorate her love of writing by committing to blog everyday about Julia’s mammoth cook book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (first published in 1961). She cooks every one of her 524 recipes in 365 days. No easy feat if you know anything about this 2 volume encyclopedic-offering.
Reading about Julia Child’s arrival in Paris in 1946 had a profound effect on me. Her words literally brought Paris to life and I had a sense that despite reading about it nearly seventy years later, the city hasn’t changed much at all. I found myself reading about Julia’s first meal in France through tears! She ate at a restaurant called La Courronne (The Crown) in Rouen – this was the city I first visited at the age of 16 when I stayed with a family on school exchange. So I could vividly see the market square and Joan of Arc Memorial she was describing and in my 2012 edition of the Michelin Restaurant Guide, I even looked up the restaurant to find it still exists today! Imagine the state I’ll be in when I retrace her steps next year and eat at the same restaurant … I’ll have to order the Sole Meuniere (in Julia’s words “a morsel of perfection”) … more (happy) tears probably.
After all this inspiration, I took myself off to the kitchen to create something Julia-ish. She loves her fish but I have a husband who is not a huge fan of white fish. So I chose monkfish – my mission was to convert him by serving up this very meaty, man-friendly fish. Monkfish itself is a fairly bland fish (it’s best asset in my opinion is its texture) so I whizzed up an olive tapenade and served it with lashings of creamy sweet potato mash … and I think I won him over.
Tip: To avoid broiling the fish, salt it for an hour or so before you cook it to draw out its milky juices. Pat dry with kitchen towel before cooking.
Lightly brush each fillet with melted butter or olive oil (or both!), season with salt and pepper and sear each side in a hot pan for 30 sec – 1 min before roasting in a hot oven (220 degrees) for 6-8 mins depending on the thickness of your fillets.
I used a Thermomix to create the tapenade but a good-quality food processor would do just as well.
150gms good quality black kalamata olives, pitted
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
few sprigs rosemary
juice of 1/2 lemon
Pulverise on speed 5 for 3-5 seconds for a coarse consistency.
Scrape down the sides and mince again for 3 seconds if you prefer a smoother tapenade.
Taste – you may like to add a splash of balsamic vinegar to balance the flavours. Tapenade is fairly forgiving so play around with it to create your own flavour.
Creamy sweet potato
Again, I used my Thermomix to create a really smooth consistency, but you can always use a good ol’ hand masher.
1 large sweet potato, peeled and roughly chopped (this was enough for 2 adults and 3 kids)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2-3 tbsp pure cream
salt and pepper to taste
Cook sweet potato in 900gms water at 100 degrees on speed 2 for 15mins. Check if soft through – you may need to cook for a few more minutes. Once cooked, drain and return potato to the TM bowl.
Add butter, cream and salt and blend on speed 5 for 7 seconds. Scrape down the bowl and repeat until desired consistency is achieved. Leave in TM bowl to keep warm until you are ready to serve.
In a large bowl, dress 100gms baby rocket with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Divide rocket onto plates. Serve the monkfish on top of the rocket. Dollop olive tapenade on top of fish and serve with a side of sweet potato mash … voila!
Julia, your legacy lives on … what an inspiration. As she would say … Bon Appetit!!
With grace and gusto,