Oct 1
2008

“We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausages and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hot plate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters like an idiot antidote to winter.” — excerpt from Chocolat by Joanne Harris (opening of Chapter 1)

If you read a book by Joanne Harris a few things will happen pretty quickly. First, you will realize that this woman loves and knows her food, and second, you will be hungry. Food always seems to play a role in her writing, and her descriptions are mouth-wateringly good. Harris is probably most known for her book Chocolat that was made into a movie starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. I loved this movie, but loved the book even more. Recently I was in the bookstore in my favorite section, the cookbook section, when I happened upon a book with a bright yellow carafe pictured on the front entitled, “My French Kitchen”. Intrigued, I picked the book up to see who the author was. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of the authors was none other than Joanne Harris!
When I stop to think about it, it makes total sense that Harris finally wrote a cookbook. After having read so many of her books it is quite obvious that she was destined to write a cookbook. I have really enjoyed “getting to know” this book. The book is a collection of family recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation and cover many of the French classics like coq au vin and crème brûlée. The pictures are as gorgeous as Harris’s writing.

I loved the introduction–an essay of sorts written by Harris that basically lays out her food philosophy. She writes, “It’s astonishing how much of our past and our culture are secretly defined by food. Our earliest sensations are to do with tastes and smells; as infants we experience food as comfort, food as an expression of love. Later we make our own associations, but for me, the kitchen has always been the heart of my family, a place where the family assembles, not just to eat but also to be together, to talk, to put the world to rights, to teach, to remember the past, to watch and learn” (p.8). You can find those associations throughout the book in snippets that grace the section headings. After reading through the book and trying some of the recipes I had the irrational thought that I wanted to be a part of Harris’s family (not that I want to give up my own–I don’t!). Such a beautiful heritage is conveyed through this book that you can’t help but want to adopt it into your own kitchen.

The instructions in the book are fabulous. For example, the recipe that I’m going to share with you today is for butternut soup.
Butternut squash can be a pain to deal with, but the book gives a very clear description of how to cut and peal the squash so that the home cook can experience the maximum amount of enjoyment and the least amount of headache. My only complaint is that there aren’t enough pictures of the actual dishes in the recipes. When trying to decide what recipe to highlight, I finally decided on the recipe for Butternut Soup, the perfect dish to make as autumn is taking over. This soup was easy to make and even more delicious. When I was living in Paris one of my favorite dishes was a pumpkin soup that Madame S, the mother of the family I was living with, would occasionally make. Rich, creamy, and full of flavor, it left you wanting another bowlful even if you were so stuffed that you couldn’t move. This soup tastes a lot like Madame S’s amazing pumpkin soup. Another plus on my soup rating scale is that it is very good for you, thanks to the abundance of vegetables present in it.
The creaminess comes from the creamy smooth flesh of the squash instead of heavy whipping cream. The soup was a big hit with my family, with Squirrel asking eagerly for “more soup”! My mom and I finished the leftovers off the other day and I think my mom had a brief moment of gastronomical nirvana when she put the the first spoonful in her mouth. The look on her face followed up with her exclamation of “this is SO good!” was priceless. Yesterday she asked me to make the soup this weekend for a family gathering we’ll be having. I think she liked it.
Before I give you the recipe, I’ll leave you with my favorite bit of culinary wisdom from the book: “Bear in mind that cooking is about as close to magic as modern society allows: to take a set of basic ingredients and to transform them into something wonderful, something from another part of the world.”

Butternut Soup
Serves 6

1 (3-lb) butternut squash, peeled and chopped (you’ll have to get the book to read the description of how to do this!)
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more to serve
2 onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp. curry powder
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
Bunch of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1. Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan, add the onions and garlic, and gently saute until they soften.

2. While the onions and garlic are sauteing, finish chopping the butternut flesh, then add it to the onions and mix well.

3. Stir in the curry powder, salt, and pepper. Pour in the stock, stir well, and bring to a boil.

4. Simmer for 35 minutes, until the butternut is soft.

5. Blend the soup with an immersion blender. Serve topped with plenty of parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.

Harris now has a follow-up cookbook titled The French Market that I’m dying to get my hands on. Mmmm…

** If you aren’t convinced that you need this book, there are a few more recipes available to try and persuade you here.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }



judy October 1, 2008 at 11:34 pm

Still drooling over that wonderful soup…Can’t wait until Sunday…

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Abigail October 1, 2008 at 11:44 pm

This sounds so much like a German carrot/curry soup I make in the winter! So yummy! I love my immersion blender for that.

And I love cookbooks that have been written as beautifully and carefully as the recipes have been prepared. Maybe I’ll get Joanne Harris’s for Christmas – I’ll have to send some not-so-subtle hints to Santa. Do you think this is a good one to have in Japan, or are there just too many ingredients I wouldn’t be able to get my hands on?

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K and S October 2, 2008 at 1:27 am

I have both of these books, I haven’t tried a lot of recipes from it, but the ratatouille recipe is delicious :)

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Damaris October 2, 2008 at 3:26 pm

I’m convinced. I love butter nut squash. When Enzo was small enough that he ate whatever I made I used to buy a butter nut squash EVERY day in Hawaii and put it in his food. An expensive habit if you live in Hawaii but it was my indulgence.

btw, I love that wooden spoon. so classy.

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Fuji Mama October 2, 2008 at 5:47 pm

Abigail– This is classic French cooking for the most part, so there is a focus on fresh vegetables, etc. Because of that I think most of the recipes would be pretty doable in Japan. There might be some ingredients you can’t get, but they would be easy to find substitutes for!

k and s–I haven’t tried the ratatouille recipe yet, but I’ll have to. I LOVE ratatouille!

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Lolly October 2, 2008 at 7:56 pm

I am telling you.. I love the sound of that soup! It needs to get just a tad colder here before I break out the soup pot – but this will be the first one I make!

Thanks Fuj!

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Melanie Gray Augustin October 2, 2008 at 8:59 pm

It’s funny… I scrolled down on this post before I started reading it and though Fuji Mama should write her OWN cookbook!

Chocolat is one of my favourite books. I read it before the movie came out. Love the book more, but how could I not enjoy a movie with chocolate and Johnny Depp?

Your write up of this makes even ME tempted to buy it. Actually and also reminded me of the Japanese cooking challenge you handed down to me ages ago…. I’ll have to get onto that!

Oh and just thought I should mention my other favourite food novel – Like Water for Chocolate. It’s one of my all-time favourite movies too.

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