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The Jewish Outlook
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Nathan to speak at the Austin Jewish Book Fair
Wednesday, 01 September 2010

By Cynthia Winer
Special to The Jewish Outlook

What is Jewish cooking in France? Joan Nathan, in her latest book, sets out on a gastronomic journey throughout France to discover just this.


Born in Providence, R.I., Nathan started studying French in high school. In the 1950s her father sent her to France as a teenager, because “he thought fluency in foreign languages should be part of a young girl’s education.” Her lifelong friends and relatives and her proficiency in French opened kitchen doors for her.


In “Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France,” Nathan shares with the reader more than 200 recipes, frequently with a story. Her travels take her to different ethnic and religious areas in Alsace-Lorraine, the southwest, Provence, the Côte d’Azur, the Loire Valley, Burgundy and, of course, Paris.

 
“Quiches, Kugels and Couscous” is the latest of 10 cookbooks that Nathan, an amazing author and extraordinary cook, has just completed. On Sunday, Nov. 14, she will speak about this book at the Austin Jewish Book Fair.

It’s filled with phenomenal recipes, and Nathan shares the history and wonderful rich culture of French Jewish life. French Jewish cuisine is just one step in this culinary journey through France, as Nathan documents Jewish heritage, customs, beliefs and rituals alongside the superb recipes.

ImageThis latest of her cookbooks is a treasure of recipes collected from kitchens where Jewish cooking is alive, and traditional dishes are celebrated — all with a French flair. Produce and specialties in each region of France affect Jewish cooking. Nathan came to understand “that French Jews revere the traditions of their region along with the traditions of Jewish cuisine. It has been fascinating for me to learn that within this rich agricultural country, Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Provençal Jewish food developed side by side and often melded with French regional cooking.”

Moving stories about food, places and people accompany the recipes. For example, Nathan tells about a shop, Le Monde des Épices, owned by Polish immigrant Israël Solski on the rue Francosi-Miron, in Paris near the Marais.

“When I first discovered the store, in 1964, it was frequented by recent emigrants from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco,” she writes.

“Spices like cumin and coriander were completely new to me then. Today most people who walk in don’t have a clue that it is a Jewish store; it caters to all lovers of exotic cuisine. The spices themselves illustrate a colorful history of food in France, a history that stretches back for centuries.” Alongside another recipe, Chef Gilbert Brenner, in his restaurant in Colmar, a city in southern Alsace, told Nathan, “France didn’t create dishes. Families created dishes. It is the cooking of their grandparents and great-grandparents.”

Nathan relates Jewish family tales from the distant past to the near past, when the Nazis occupied France.

This is a book you’ll enjoy reading and cooking with. As Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of radio’s “The Splendid Table,” said, “On any given day, you’ll have to debate over taking this book to a big comfortable reading chair, or propping it up next to the stove. I am doing both.”

Be sure to come to the book fair event in November and buy “Quiches, Kugels and Couscous” from the largest Jewish book store in Texas to find out who Nathan makes gefilte fish with using 27 pounds of fish! (Recipe and story found on Page 159 of the book.)

For more information or to get involved in the 27th annual Austin Jewish Book Fair, contact Lisa Apfelberg, director, at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or 735-8076. Keep posted on the events and schedule for the book fair at www.shalomaustin.org/bookfair and in coming editions of The Jewish Outlook.
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Following are recipes from Joan Nathan’s newest book,” Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France,” which include her comments:
 
Rosh Hashanah Chicken with Cinnamon & Apples from Metz

When I was a student in France, Rose Minkel was a fixture at Friday-night dinners at my friend Nanou’s home. Called Mémé, an endearing term for “Grandmother,” she brought with her the recipes from her family’s native Metz, a city in the province of Lorraine with a long Jewish presence.

Though the Jews had been in Metz for many generations (some say the first Jews settled there in 221 CE), up until the 18th century they lived a very different life from non-Jews in the town. They paid extra taxes on meat, wines and liqueurs, and other provisions. It was easy to spot a Jew on the street because the men wore yellow hats to distinguish them from the black-hat-wearing gentiles. But over time they did assimilate, and already at the beginning of the 18th century the Jews of Metz began to speak French instead of Yiddish.

One Rosh Hashanah recipe that I remember most fondly was this simple roast chicken with peeled apple quarters, cinnamon, sugar and wine.
 
(Meat)
One 3½- to- 4-pound roasting chicken
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 onion, peeled and cut into chunks
1 cup chicken broth
1⅓ cups white wine
3 apples, cored and cut horizontally into 4 pieces (the French would use reine-des-reinettes apples or pippins, but Fuji apples are fine)
2 tablespoons sugar
 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Season the chicken with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and ½ teaspoon of the cinnamon. Put in a roasting pan with the onion. Pour the chicken broth and wine over the chicken, and roast in the oven for 45 minutes.

After the chicken has been cooking for 45 minutes, surround it with the apples sprinkled with the remaining cinnamon and the sugar. Baste with the wine, and roast for about 45 more minutes, or until the apples are very soft and the chicken is cooked.
Yields 4-6 servings
 
Tarte aux Quetsches (Italian Plum Tart)

I can never decide what I like better about this Alsatian and southern German tart: the quetsches (similar to Italian blue plums, which are available for a short time in the fall) or the butter crust (called a sablé in French and Mürbeteig in German).

On a recent trip to France, I learned a trick for making it: If you bake the tart with no sugar over the fruit, you won’t get a soggy crust. Just sprinkle on a small amount of sugar after baking. Italian blue plums are only available in the early fall, so I tend to serve this tart at Rosh Hashanah.
 
(Dairy or Pareve)
CRUST
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
¹⁄8 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter or pareve margarine, cut into 8 pieces
1 egg yolk
 
FILLING
3 tablespoons plum or other fruit jam
1 tablespoon brandy
1½ pounds Italian blue plums
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
¼ cup sugar
 
To make the crust, pulse the flour, sugar, salt, and butter or margarine together in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade until crumbled. Then add the egg yolk, and pulse until the dough comes together.

Put the dough in the center of an ungreased nine-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Dust your fingers with flour, and gently press out the dough to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, and bake the crust for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven to 375 degrees, and bake for another five minutes. Remove the crust from the oven, and let cool slightly. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Mix the jam with the brandy in a small bowl, and spread over the bottom of the crust. Pit the plums, and cut them into four pieces each. Starting at the outside, arrange the plums in a circle so that all the pieces overlap, creating concentric circles that wind into the center of the pan. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and lemon zest.

Return the tart to the oven, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the plums are juicy. Remove the tart from the oven, sprinkle on the sugar, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 8 servings

 
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