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About the Author
The winner of sixteen James Beard Awards and author of twenty-nine cookbooks, including A Grandfather’s Lessons, Jacques Pépin Heart & Soul in the Kitchen, and Essential Pépin, JACQUES PÉPIN has starred in twelve acclaimed PBS cooking series. He was awarded France’s highest distinction, the Legion of Honor.
Read an Excerpt
Yes, I was born and kitchen-trained in France. But even after having spent more than four decades in the United States, people still think of me as a French chef and associate me with French cuisine. They also have the impression that French food or any of my cooking requires long, elaborate preparation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
More often than not, I prefer simple, straightforward food that can be prepared quickly. My wife, Gloria, and I often go out together to do errands or shopping, which usually takes longer than we planned. So we come home hungry. The first thing I do is put a pot of water on to boil. Only then do I take off my jacket and raid the refrigerator for vegetables. By the time I’ve grated some zucchini, carrots, and onions—and whatever else I might find—the water is boiling. The grated vegetables cook in moments; I add some instant grits and chopped salad greens for body, and presto: we have homemade soup. Dishes like this—you’ll find the recipe for Instant Vegetable Soup on page 46—are comforting for a family and elegant enough to serve guests.
This book pays tribute to a very simple cuisine—my “fast food.” Some of the recipes are not necessarily quick but none requires much work, and all fit nicely into today’s fast-paced lifestyles. Take a look at my Oven- Baked Salmon on page 118. It takes only moments to season (you can do this in the morning, if you’ve planned ahead), and you put it in a low oven on the same platter you’re planning to serve it on. While the fish bakes, you can make the sauce, serve drinks to guests, or just set the table and relax. The fish will be moist and meltingly tender, guaranteed to win praise. After the meal, you have only the platter to clean—not a roasting pan.
Although I commend anyone who will take hours preparing a dish from scratch, I’m not a snob about cooking. I know that “homemade” doesn’t necessarily translate into superlative food. Most French people would not think of baking their own bread or croissants or making their own pâté, because these items are readily available and of good quality at local markets.
My sister-in-law, for instance, who works in Paris and commutes on the train to the suburbs, stops at the market on her way home and picks up some bread, vegetables, and perhaps a veal roast. When she gets home, she browns the roast in a pressure cooker with an onion, adds some potatoes, puts the lid on the pressure cooker, and then goes upstairs to change. About thirty minutes later, after a leisurely aperitif, dinner is ready. A schedule like this can be yours, too. Great food—easier than going out for conventional fast food and certainly better for you—takes only minimal planning.
When I don’t feel like slaving in the kitchen for hours (and I rarely do) or when guests drop by unexpectedly, I turn unhesitatingly to convenience foods. Cans are a treasure in the pantry, whether they contain anchovies, tomatoes, peaches, tuna, or beans. I can easily transform these ingredients into fast and elegant dishes, as you will see in these pages. Cheese, olives, smoked salmon and trout, and nuts can all be used to great advantage. Good olive oils, vinegars, salsas—even mayonnaise and ketchup—are the base for marinades and sauces to enhance your meals. Store-bought brioche and pound cake become part of quick and delicious desserts, as do shortbread cookies.
Proper techniques and good equipment make your kitchen life easier. Sharp knives, sturdy vegetable peelers, thick, heavy pots (some nonstick), good solid cookie sheets, and rubber spatulas are all essential. While I don’t rely on gadgets, I make use of my blender and food processor regularly, as well as my pressure cooker. I also rely on my microwave oven, which is ideal for reheating anything sticky that would leave a messy pan and is the key to making a quick baked potato. While the oven is heating, we pop the potatoes in the microwave. They’re nearly done by the time the oven is hot, and we finish them in the oven, so they get the crisp skin we love.
My fast food is best shared with friends, along with a bottle of wine. Cook some of these dishes together; you’ll be surprised at how quickly the food comes to the table, and you’ll enjoy the camaraderie. After following my recipes a few times, you’ll start to develop a “fast-food” style of your own.
You will see that most of the dishes in this book are designed to serve four. You have more people at your table? All these recipes double easily. When you’re putting together a meal in a hurry, take a few extra seconds to make it look special. Fresh herbs add a beautiful accent and bright flavor to dishes, and I use them lavishly, since they are so plentiful in my garden. But don’t hesitate to change the garnishes I suggest. Trust your instincts and your sense of taste. They will lead you. EEEEEventually, you’ll transform my simple dishes into your own personal cuisine.
Happy cooking and happy times!
Menus as seen on public television
Crab Cakes in Red Sauce (page 133) Pasta, Ham, and Vegetable Gratin (page 112) Romaine and Radicchio with Salsa Dressing (page 68) Big Almond Macaroons with Apricot Filling (page 178)
Summertime Pasta (page 110) Red Snapper with Tomatoes and Cream (page 127) Asparagus with Shallots (page 90) Two Raspberry Gratins (page 202)
Chopped Chicken Livers with Spinach Salad (page 37) Glazed Salmon in Mirin (page 120) Silky Chestnut and Apple Puree (page 93) Warm Chocolate Cakes with Apricot-Cognac Sauce (page 198)
Silky Tomato Soup with Spinach Coulis (page 48) Little Shrimp Casseroles (page 137) Toasted Bread and Mozzarella (page 39) Rhubarb and Berry Crumble (page 184)
Tomato Tartare with Tomato Water Sauce (page 80) Rigatoni and Mussels with Saffron (page 140) Creamy Lima Bean Gratin (page 98) Strawberry Panachée (page 204)
Sea Bass Gravlax with Cucumber (page 26) Chicken Tonnato (page 148) Summer Salad (page 67) Chestnut and Chocolate Cake (page 193)
Corn and Hominy Chowder (page 53) Red Snapper with Mussels and Chorizo (page 124) Puree of Peas with Mint and Cilantro (page 99) Banana Bourbon Coupe (page 189)
Instant Vegetable Soup (page 46) Halibut on Fresh Polenta with Pepper Oil (page 116) Broad Beans with Shallots (page 88) Hasty Pudding with Apricot Sauce (page 197)
Asparagus Custards (page 85) Slow-Cooked Tuna Steaks with Tomato Relish (page 123) Sautéed Plantains (page 100) Apple Skillet Cake (page 179)
Bow-Tie Pasta with Fried Eggs and Cheese (page 62) Shrimp and Scallop Pillows on Boston Lettuce (page 129) Crusty Tomato Savory (page 101) Grapefruit Gratinée (page 192)
Codfish Brandade (page 20) Chicken Breasts with Garlic and Parsley (page 148) Broccoli Rabe and Pea Fricassee (page 86) Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie Cake (page 194)
Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms and Truffles (page 58) Sautéed Quail with Raita (page 152) Cubed Potatoes with Garlic and Sage (page 109) Pears in Honeyed Wine (page 207)
Scrambled Eggs on Tomato Jus (page 59) Grilled Striped Bass with Pimiento Relish (page 117) Cauliflower with Scallions and Sesame Oil (page 89) Pink Grapefruit Terrine (page 190)
For a Buffet
Asparagus with Croutons and Chorizo (page 84) Melon and Prosciutto (page 43) Oven-Baked Salmon with Sun-Dried Tomato and Salsa Mayonnaise (page 118) Sweet Cheese Medley (page 40) Almond Cake with Berries (page 176)
Soupy Rice with Peas (page 106) Fast Lobster Fricassee (page 134) Broccoli Puree with Brown Butter (page 91) Vanilla Praline Dessert (page 217)
Egg and Tomato Gratin (page 60) Stuffed Scallops on Mushroom Rice (page 138) Greens with Quick Cream Dressing (page 73) Pineapple Wedges in Caramel (page 213)
Smoked Trout Salad with Horseradish Cream (page 28) Chicken on Mashed Cauliflower with Red Hot Salsa (page 146) Mock Tiramisu (page 215)
Scallop Seviche and Guacamole (page 32) Beef Short Rib, Mushroom, and Potato Stew (page 158) Champagne on Fruit “Rocks” (page 219)
Smoked Salmon Timbales (page 25) Thirty-Minute Cassoulet (page 167) Zucchini and Tomato Salad (page 70) Oranges and Cream Cheese (page 206)
Tomato and Mozzarella Fans (page 78) Veal Roast (page 160) Skillet Endives (page 96) Pear Brown Betty (page 214)
Salmon Tartare on Cauliflower Salad (page 24) Breaded Pork Scaloppine with Mushroom Sauce (page 163) Chickpea Ragout (page 95) Caramelized Peaches (page 208)
Lobster Salad with Tarragon (page 31) Pressure-Cooker Lamb and White Bean Stew (page 170) Asian Eggplant Salad (page 77) Pinot Noir Granité (page 199)
Bean Puree with Anchovies or Smoked Oysters (page 34) Wonton Cannelloni in Tomato Sauce (page 111) Parsley and Pumpkin Seed Salad (page 72) Caramelized Apple–Granola Timbales (page 181)
Devil Shrimp (page 36) Sausage and Potato Packet (page 168) Mushroom and Walnut Salad in Sour Cream Dressing (page 74) Apple Peel Granité with Apple Puree (page 185)
Salmon Rolls on Fennel Salad (page 22) Broiled Lamb Chops with Spinach (page 169) Baked Potatoes with Chive Sour Cream (page 108) Crepes with Banana-Rum Filling (page 187)
Mushroom Velouté with Almonds (page 50) Instant Beef Tenderloin Stew (page 156) Mushroom and Raisin Chutney (page 102) Apple, Pecan, and Apricot Crumble (page 182)
More ideas for quick dishes
Quesadillas. I love quesadillas and often make them as an hors d’oeuvre. I sprinkle some grated American, manchego, or Monterey Jack cheese on a couple of flour tortillas, add some cilantro and hot salsa or Tabasco to taste, and fold the tortillas in half. Then I cook them in a dash of canola oil in a nonstick pan for a couple of minutes on each side, let them rest for a few minutes, cut them into wedges, and serve.
Cheese crostini. I serve cheese crostini often as an hors d’oeuvre or salad accompaniment. To make them, I arrange leftover slices of baguette on an oiled cookie sheet and top with plum tomato slices, Gruycre, a dash of salt, and plenty of black pepper. I bake them in a hot oven for 6 to 8 minutes, until nicely browned, sprinkle them with a little chopped cilantro or parsley, and serve.
Basil, cheese, fig, and nut bites. A plate of basil, nut meats, figs, and cheese makes a good light lunch or cheese course at a fancy dinner party. I place a few roasted nuts—pecans, walnuts, or almonds—in the center of each of several large basil leaves and serve two per plate, with a slice of ripe Camembert or Brie and a dried fig cut in half.
Baby mozzarella salad. As a first course, a baby mozzarella salad is great. Make use of the bounty of your supermarket deli counter: small mozzarella balls (bocconcini), diced red pimientos, pitted black and green olives, sun- dried tomato halves, and capers, if available. Mix these ingredients with a little extra-virgin olive oil, cracked pepper, and a dash of vinegar and serve cupped in a leaf of radicchio on individual plates.
Prosciutto and figs. I like prosciutto sliced very thin. Cut one fresh fig in half and wrap one or two slices of prosciutto around each half, so the flesh of the fig is exposed. Sprinkle black pepper on top and serve with a fresh baguette and a dollop of mascarpone for a treat as good as you will ever get in Italy.
Pico de gallo (the rooster’s beak). A standard at any Mexican restaurant, this spicy accompaniment is made with diced tomato, coarsely chopped onion, chopped jalapeno pepper (the amount determined by your tolerance), a lot of cilantro, a little ground cumin, and a dash of ketchup, which I like to add for texture and taste. This is always a hit when served as a dip with tortilla chips.
Avocado halves in red sauce. Avocados are a great favorite of mine, and for a quick first course I often cut them in half, remove the pits with a knife, and, using a large spoon, scoop out the contents from each half. Place an avocado half on each plate and sprinkle with a little coarse salt or fleur de sel. In a small bowl, mix together a little mayonnaise with ketchup, Tabasco to taste, and a little water until creamy. Spoon on top of or around the avocado halves and sprinkle with some crushed spicy tortilla chips.
Smoked salmon plate. Smoked salmon (Scottish or Irish is best) is available in most markets. For an elegant first course, arrange two or three slices (depending on size) of good smoked salmon on individual plates. Sprinkle some chopped red onion or scallions, a few capers, and, if you like, some diced cucumber on top. Finish with a few dashes of extra-virgin olive oil and serve with a lemon wedge, a few sprigs of dill or fennel, and buttered black bread.
Smoked whitefish tartine. Gloria loves smoked fish, and I often make this dish for her as a first course. I cover a large piece of pumpernickel or multigrain bread with whipped cream cheese, place pieces of smoked whitefish or trout on top, and sprinkle on some cracked pepper and a few pitted black olives. I serve this open-faced sandwich on top of a bed of watercress or baby spinach with a dash of olive oil on top.
Sardine rolls. Occasionally I make sardine rolls as a first course. I moisten rice paper rounds (available in many markets) to soften them and place two or three canned sardines on each paper, along with some chopped red onion, a strip of pimiento, ground black pepper, and a dash of red wine vinegar. I then roll the papers up tightly and serve two rolls per person on a bed of mesclun salad.
Tuna tomatoes. In summer, when good tomatoes are available, mix a drained can of tuna (preferably packed in oil) with some minced scallions, pitted Kalamata olives, diced anchovy fillets, chopped parsley, and cracked pepper. Cut off the tops of ripe tomatoes and hollow them out with a spoon, reserving and lightly crushing the tomato pulp with a fork and mixing it with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper to create a sauce. Fill the hollow tomatoes with the tuna mixture and serve with some of the sauce for a first course.
Ham cornucopias. For a first course, roll up individual slices of ham into a cornet or cornucopia shape and place each in a flat-bottomed rocks glass or on a plate on top of baby spinach or watercress. Mix diced feta cheese, pitted black olives, and marinated mushrooms—all from your supermarket deli—with a dash of olive oil, cracked pepper, and salt. Spoon into the ham cornucopias and serve.
Cannellini and chorizo soup. I always have the ingredients for this fast, satisfying soup in my pantry and refrigerator. Puree a can of cannellini beans in a blender with enough chicken stock to make a creamy soup. Transfer to a saucepan, add diced chorizo sausage, bring to a boil, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and finish with a little heavy cream. Garnish with chopped chives and croutons.
Cold black bean soup. When friends drop by in the summer, I like to make cold soup. One combination that I love is made in a food processor. Puree a can of black bean soup with a little olive oil, Tabasco, a couple of tablespoons of chopped onion, a crushed clove of garlic, salt, and enough chicken stock to make the mixture creamy. Serve in soup plates, topping each serving with a ribbon of sour cream diluted with a bit of water. Garnish with a few slices of banana and a couple of cilantro leaves.
Peasant soup. For this soup like one my mother used to make, prepare croutons by baking slices of leftover bread in a conventional oven or toaster oven until brown and crisp. Divide the toasted bread among soup bowls, breaking the slices into pieces if they are too large, and grate a generous amount of Gruycre or Jarlsberg on top. Bring a good homemade chicken stock or canned broth to a boil and pour over the croutons and cheese in the bowls. Sprinkle with cracked pepper and a few chopped chives and serve.
Sweet potato chowder. For this easy, delicious soup, pulse cooked fresh or canned plain sweet potatoes (not in sweet syrup) in a food processor with chicken stock and salt and pepper to taste until the consistency is to your liking. Add some heavy cream and bring the soup to a boil in a saucepan. Spoon into bowls and top each serving with oven-roasted pumpkin seeds and a sprig of dill.
Lavash pizza. You can make homemade pizza in no time at all using flour tortillas, pita bread, or—my favorite—lavash. After oiling a cookie sheet, I press one of these large flatbread rectangles on the sheet, then turn it over, so it is lightly oiled on both sides. Cover it with sliced tomatoes, some grated mozzarella and Parmesan, cracked pepper, anchovies (optional), and a few dashes of olive oil. Bake in a 425-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, then sprinkle with lots of basil leaves torn into coarse pieces.
Shrimp burgers. I discovered these at Dr. Taco while vacationing at Playa del Carmen in Mexico. Put a couple of slices of manchego or mozzarella in a nonstick skillet and place over moderate heat. As the cheese begins to melt, add a few small raw shrimp or pieces of shrimp, salt, some hot salsa or cracked pepper, and some chopped scallions or chives. Cover and cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes, then slide the cheese-shrimp burger onto half a toasted bun topped with a lettuce leaf and tomato slices.
Red beets in sour cream. For a winter salad, drain a can of sliced red beets and combine the slices with sour cream, cracked pepper, salt, and a dash of red wine vinegar. Serve over endive leaves, with a sprinkling of flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, or basil leaves on top.
Summer salad santé. I make this salad from ingredients directly out of my garden. I pick a bunch each of basil, flat-leaf parsley, and arugula and collect a handful of tarragon leaves and some chives, which I break into pieces. I mix these in a large salad bowl with a little lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. It’s excellent with good country bread.
Apricot sherbet. For a quick dessert, puree a can of apricot halves in heavy syrup in a blender for about 30 seconds to infuse the mixture with air. Transfer the puree to a glass baking dish so it forms a fairly thin layer that will cool quickly, and place it in the freezer until semisoft. (If making the sherbet ahead, freeze the puree until solid, and then, several hours before serving, soften it in the refrigerator until you can scoop it out of the dish. For a creamier result, process for a few seconds in a food processor.) Spoon into chilled glasses, top with pistachio nuts, and serve each dessert with a cookie.
Blueberries in raspberry sauce with ice cream. Any berries are great for a summertime dessert. Mix some blueberries in a bowl with raspberry jam and a little cognac or water. Spoon into cocktail glasses, top each with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, and serve with a cookie.
Guava delicioso. My wife loves guava, so I serve a simple dessert of little chunks of canned guava paste on Ritz crackers with a dollop of cream cheese on top. To finish, I push a basil leaf into the cream cheese and sprinkle it with a few pistachio nuts.
Pineapple slices in kirsch with sherbet. A pineapple slice flavored with kirschwasser (cherry brandy) is a classic combination from my years in the great kitchens of Paris. Arrange a fresh or canned pineapple slice with some of the syrup or a sprinkling of sugar on each dessert plate and pour a little kirsch on top. Place a small scoop of fruit sherbet (lemon, orange, tangerine, strawberry, or raspberry) in the hollow center of each slice. Garnish with mint leaves and serve with a cookie.
Ricotta honey mix. For a fast and easy dessert, place a graham cracker on each plate and put a large spoonful of ricotta on top. Pour a couple tablespoons of honey over and around the ricotta and sprinkle on some diced dried apricots and dark raisins. This dessert is better still with the addition of a few drops of Grand Marnier.
Pineapple frosties. Ideal for hot summer nights at the beach, these tasty cold drinks are a cinch to make. Emulsify a mixture of canned crushed pineapple in syrup, crushed ice, a little lime juice, and dark rum in a food processor. Spoon into glasses, garnish with mint sprigs, and serve.
Copyright © 2004 by Jacques Pépin. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.