autumn roast pork, potimarron, chestnuts, onion

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When I first moved to France, I was convinced that I would glide effortlessly into a group of French people, and these people would be my French friends. Co-expats, you may now stop laughing at my naïveté. Those who would move to France… sorry I burst your bubble.

The thing is, French people, in general, have a fairly hard exterior that’s tough to crack. There are, of course, exceptions, like the handful of girlfriends I’ve made who wanted to better their English, or the two French boyfriends I’ve had, one of whom had a grand total of 0% French blood (which does make a difference here), and the other of which I “met” for the second time when he was living in the States and had no French-speaking people to talk to. I was like a memory of the country he left behind, but let’s be fair, that’s what he was to me, back then.

For the most part, however, it’s tough to meet a French person who’s interested in you further than why you speak French and whether you teach English. And it’s not because they’re necessarily being unfriendly… it’s just that they already have friends, and the friendliness factor is low here as compared to my native country.

Case in point: this summer, when the Country Boy and I were visiting New York had met up with some of my friends for drinks at a midtown bar, we gained access to the roof, where TCB immediately lit up a smoke, as French boys are wont to do when the moment they are in a smoking-friendly zone. Soon after, other people came up to the roof, including one American boy in particular, complete with khakis (sorry American boys, but TCB has a feud with khakis, ever since I showed him a picture from the Polo website, and he, aghast, turned to me and asked, “Why would anyone wear anything that ugly?”)

But I digress. The khakis-wearing boy came up to TCB, a dollar in his outstretched hand, and asked if he could bum a smoke. Which to TCB sounded like gibberish, especially considering the dollar. He looked at me for clarification, and I explained that the boy wanted to buy a cigarette from him. TCB found this very strange, gave the boy a cigarette and refused his dollar, and they immediately began chatting. Now, this boy spoke no French, and TCB, while trying very hard, doesn’t really speak all that much English, but somehow, they had a nice little conversation about Sarkozy.

TCB found this entire interaction very strange.

I didn’t really know how to explain why it was appropriate, but it was. It didn’t bother him; it just confused him. Which is fair, I suppose, but it got me thinking about all of the social norms that I had to get used to, once I finally drifted into TCB’s very French social circle two years ago.

With my expat friends, parties were made for drifters. The host might have said 8, but unless dinner was being served, you could come at 10… under the assumption that everyone else would already be drunk. At French parties, even if people have started snacking, no one starts drinking until everyone has arrived. Overgeneralization is the rule when it comes to social norms; I do realize this, and I’m aware that every group has their own thing. But there is one norm that I will never, ever forget that seems to transcend any other rules in France. It is the rule.

When you arrive at an American party, it’s acceptable, even expected, that when you show up, you’ll mutter “Hi,” in the general direction of the room, maybe do a sort of windshield wiper wave, and then grab a drink. But at a French party, you say hello — and goodbye — to everyone. Individually. Handshakes between men, unless they are very, very close, and bises if a woman is involved. No exceptions. Even if you’ve been sick, you come stand in front of the person, say hello, and then apologize that you can’t say hello “properly.” Which makes for awkward exits when you stand up in the wee hours of the morning, suddenly realize you’re trashed, and try to sneak off quietly.

It also makes for interesting arrivals when, as in TCB’s family, giant parties attended by about a hundred people are thrown. Because you do go around and say hello to everyone, even if it takes you 45 minutes.

Perhaps the best illustration of this, for me, is a scene I witnessed a few weeks ago. TCB and I were sitting in his parents’ kitchen, watching as his father and sister made a fondant aux pommes (which is ridiculous and essentially apples suspended in butter held together with just enough flour… I endeavor to obtain the recipe soon). A friend of the family arrived and came over to shake hands with Thierry… who offered an elbow. I looked at TCB incredulous… he just smiled.

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This pork roast recipe has become my standby… it’s easy to make and delicious. But it’s definitely the sort of recipe you wouldn’t want to be making if a French person dropped by; you might have to offer your elbow to shake, lest the visitor get a mustard-covered hand.

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The side dish is what I really want to talk about, though. The delicious combination of potimarron (red kuri squash), chestnuts and sliced onion makes for a perfect autumnal treat.

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Autumn Roast Pork, Potimarron, Chestnuts, Onion

1 2-pound pork roast
4 tbsp. grainy mustard

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, (I used 2 small onions) thinly sliced
2 cups potimarron (or pumpkin), diced
salt to taste
1 cup cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Brush the entire pork roast with the mustard. Place in a a roasting pan with a rack, fat-side up.

Toss the oil, onion, potimarron and salt. Place in the bottom of the roasting pan. Roast for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, add the chestnuts to the bottom of the roasting pan and toss to combine. Continue roasting for an additional 30 minutes.

Remove the roast to a plate and tent with foil. Allow to rest 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

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Pork Roast with Cherry-Beer Sauce

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I think I’m getting old.

And yes, I’m fully aware of the irony of that statement.

But it doesn’t make it feel less true. I feel like I’m getting older, like there’s less “spring-back” in my way of seeing the world. It takes me longer to get back into rhythms and patterns, and I have a harder time leaving things behind, something that has never bothered me before. I used to pack up and leave without so much as a second glance, and now I feel like I’m always glancing… or staring… soaking up as much of my surroundings as I can, because it feels as though everything is moving so fast, and I have no idea how to slow it all down.

This summer, in New York, I was greeted with a heartswell that almost had me crying the second I got off the plane and stepped onto the sidewalk… and I had just arrived. Never mind that I intended to stay for a month; leaving it already felt impossible, not only because of how much I love New York, but also, perhaps especially, because Paris doesn’t feel new anymore.

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It’s hard to imagine getting tired of something like Paris, and I don’t think that’s what I’m describing… not really. It’s not that I don’t want to come back to Paris or that I want to leave. I still love Paris, honestly I do… it’s just that it’s not exciting anymore. It doesn’t feel like a discovery. I used to wake up and laugh because of how simultaneously wonderful and absurd it seemed to be living in a place like Paris. And while it still is, it’s also home to my adult life and everything that comes with it: bills, getting up early to go to work, bad weather (it’s been raining constantly for two weeks), annoying people who elbow you in the métro….

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I don’t think it has very much to do with Paris at all; I think it’s more a time. It’s a moment in my life where I’ve been out of school long enough to feel like I should be well on my way to reality, and yet I still feel young enough where the future is unclear. And so I’m stuck somewhere in the middle, on a bridge between old and new. But I can’t get a clear grasp of old, and I don’t really have much of an idea of what lies ahead.

I just know that that feeling of urgent change that used to hit me is gone, and so is the ease with which I abandoned the now. When I first came to Paris, it was an adventure, but it was also just a stop on the way to somewhere else. When I left it the first time, for Cannes, and then the second time, for San Sebastian, I had no problem saying goodbye. But I feel as though whatever I do next, whether I stay and make Paris even more of a home than it already is or whether I leave for somewhere new, the decision won’t be an easy one.

I can only hope that it’s as exciting as the ones that have brought me to here and now have been… and hope that, in time, I’ll know what this in-between feeling is supposed to help me decide to do.

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Pork Roast with Cherry-Beer Sauce

1 2-pound pork roast
4 tbsp. grainy mustard
1/2 pound fresh cherries
1/4 cup stout
1/4 cup water or chicken broth 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Brush the entire pork roast with the mustard. Place in a a roasting pan with a rack, fat-side up. Roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, pit the cherries.

After 20 minutes, place the cherries in the bottom of the roasting pan. Continue roasting for an additional 40 minutes.

Remove the roast to a plate and tent with foil. Allow to rest.

Meanwhile, place the pan over a low flame. Deglaze the pan with the stout and water or broth. Allow the liquid in the pan to reduce slightly while the roast rests for 10-15 minutes.

Slice the roast into thin slices and serve with the cherry-beer sauce.

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Pork Chops, Mushrooms, Roquefort Sauce, Broiled Figs

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When last we spoke, dear reader, it was summer. I was posting about tarts topped with berries from Paziols and looking forward to going back to the States for a month. Well, summer is over now. I’m back in Paris, and it’s undeniably autumn.

I don’t really know what’s kept me so long. It’s a combination of things, really. I haven’t been cooking much. I’ve been traveling a lot. I’ve been busy. I haven’t had much to say.

But then last night, over dinner of pork chops and mushrooms with blue cheese sauce, the Country Boy asked me how I decided to start cooking. And as I told him the story, I remembered Tomato Kumato. And then I thought maybe, just maybe, those of you out there who are still reading (I don’t blame those who have given up after my spotty posting for the past few months) might be interested in the answer. After all, it has to do with this blog.

When I was growing up, I had the good fortune to be raised by someone who loved cooking. Her favorite moment of the day was preparing the meal that we would all enjoy together in the evenings, talking about our days. When I visited friends and saw that not everyone ate dinner as a family, I felt disoriented and dépaysée. And while I was jealous of others’ Gushers and Dunkaroos snacks, when I finally made it out on my own at Toronto and saw that most people my age were eating frozen pizza and pasta with jarred sauce, I realized I would have to learn how to cook.

Unlike many, who learned to cook at their mother’s elbow, my cooking knowledge didn’t come from the woman who inspired me to cook. I always loved participating in the kitchen, but the small tasks I was assigned only gave me glimpses of the big picture. When it came to making an actual meal, I had to rely on what little I knew from being in the kitchen and the half-recipes my mother gave me over the phone. After a few tomato sauces that tasted more like burnt garlic than anything else, I abandoned the idea of cooking like my mother and resigned myself to cooking like everybody else… starting with Giada de Laurentiis.

I had received one of Giada’s books for my birthday, just before starting school, and so I pulled it off the shelf and tried her recipe for spinach lasagna. It worked. I made little else for a month.

But slowly, I realized that even if I couldn’t cook like my mother, reaching for things to add to the pot seemingly at random, I could follow a recipe. And there were a lot of recipes out there to follow. I started making lists, collecting links from Epicurious, being a regular at Kensington market, and setting off my fire alarm 3 times a week.

Over the course of my two years at Toronto, I tried a little bit of everything, but I didn’t really become good at making anything. Worse, I was a horrific grocery shopper. I had bottles of oyster sauce and hot sauce that I used for one recipe and never touched again. I bought a pound of chicken, made one thigh and accidentally let the rest go bad. I marinated tofu and forgot about it for a week. I was disorganized… but I was learning.

When I moved to France, a combination of having a tightened budget, a smaller fridge and a bitty baby blog that I was just starting to fill with recipes, helped me learn how to cook. Not just to follow a recipe, but to get to the point, now — the Country Boy loves to watch me do it — where I can open a seemingly empty fridge, pull out things at random, and make dinner. I’ve become my mother… I’ve never been happier.

One of the recipes I tried when I was living in Toronto was a fig recipe. The figs were stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in prosciutto. If I had to guess, I’d say it was this one. I didn’t consciously remember it, but I do know that when I went to the butcher to order pork chops, which I knew I’d be making with a sauce from the leftover roquefort in the fridge, that day, that recipe, that kitchen experiment is what made me know, even subconsciously, that figs would go with it. The Country Boy asks me how I know things will go well together… and all I can say is, I know it now, but I didn’t always know. Those days of trying in the kitchen may not have been the most fruitful, from a culinary standpoint, but they’re part of what made me the home cook I am today.

All this to say… yes I’m still cooking. Yes, I’m hoping to post more often now that I’m back into the swing of things. And yes, even if I’m not here quite so often, this blog will always be an important part of who I am in the kitchen.

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Pork Chops with Mushrooms, Roquefort Sauce and Roasted Figs (serves 2)

For the mushrooms:

250 grams mushrooms
1 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
salt and pepper, to taste

De-stem the mushrooms and wipe them clean. You can rinse them if they’re really dirty; just be sure to dry them well. Slice them thinly.

Heat the butter and olive oil together in a heavy skillet over high heat. When the butter stops foaming, add about two handfuls of sliced mushrooms. Spread them out in the pan, and then let them brown. Stir occasionally until they’re browned, then push them to the edges of the skillet. Add more mushrooms.

Continue until all of the mushrooms have been browned. Push them to the sides, and add the onion. Season with a heavy pinch of salt. Sauté until lightly browned. Mix in with the mushrooms. Taste for seasoning and season to taste. Remove from the pan and keep warm.


For the pork chops:

1 tsp. olive oil
2 pork chops
salt

In the same pan, heat a teaspoon of olive oil. Season the pork chops on both sides with salt. Sear them about a minute on each side. We’re not looking to cook them here; just to sear them. Reserve on a plate.

For the sauce and the figs:

1 glass white wine
2 oz. blue cheese
6 Tbsp. crème fraiche
1 Tbsp. butter
black pepper
4 figs, halved

Preheat the broiler.

Deglaze the pan with white wine. Reduce the heat to low. Add the blue cheese and cream. Stir to combine. When the cheese has melted, add the pork chops back to the sauce, presentation side up. Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the figs in a baking dish lined with foil, cut side up. Place under the broiler to heat through and caramelize the tops a bit. This will take between 3 and 7 minutes, depending on your broiler. Reserve and keep warm.

When the pork chops are cooked through, turn off the heat. Place a mound of mushrooms on each plate. Top with the pork chop. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the sauce and stir it in until it melts. Season with a bit of black pepper. Drizzle some of the sauce over each plate, and serve the rest on the side. Garnish with fig halves.

sanglier, gaulois, dol de bretagne

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I’m afraid that I may not have been entirely frank with you, friends. You see, as I reread past posts about my life here in France, you get all of the good stories. The funny encounters. The moments that have people writing me, telling me that they wish they could just move here, too. And while those moments exist — I may be a fiction writer, but I don’t lie — there are a whole bunch of other moments buried underneath, moments that I definitely don’t evoke when people ask me, “So… you love it here?” I just stand there, nodding and grinning, extolling France’s virtues.

The thing is, most days, I do think about France’s virtues. I don’t spend a lot of time mulling over the parts of my life here that are difficult, and I especially don’t spend all that much time thinking about my first months here, back in 2001. There was no way I would ever have admitted it to my fourteen-year-old self, but I’ve come a long way since then. I can be honest now: I was pretty miserable.

I don’t think it’s really possible to go through the sort of challenge I faced when I first came here and not have a small amount of misery… at least not if you want the outcome I so dearly wanted. When I came here, I was convinced that three months would be enough time to make me fluent. I was also convinced that being the best student in my middle school French class would make becoming fluent a piece of cake. I was wrong on two counts. It’s not that my French didn’t get better; it did. It’s just that there’s a whole lot of space between knowing a handful of vocabulary words and some verb tenses and actually being fluent in a language. Even today, I find myself staring at Facebook statuses (the universal equalizer), trying to come up with a witty response in French that will actually make sense. I generally answer, instead, in English, which has the joint result of making me look intelligent and a little bit like an ass. There’s speaking a language, and then there’s speaking a language; the second level is the one that’s always just a little bit better than what you actually speak.

When I first got to France, I thought I understood a lot of French. I watched movies every evening with my host family, sat around the dinner table with them and told them about my day. I tried to relay stories of American culture to my friends at school, but mostly I just stayed silent and nodded a lot. I surrounded myself with people all the time, something that isn’t natural for me; I’ve always liked being alone. But I knew that none of this would be worth it if I didn’t learn something, and I could feel my French getting stronger every day the more I spoke. Still, I relished my time alone, which came once a day, during foreign language classes: French students learn two foreign languages, English and either Spanish or German, and while I attended English, I was exempted from the second. Instead, I found myself in the school’s CDI — kind of like a library and computer center rolled into one — with the entirety of the Astérix and Obélix comic book collection.

I could get completely lost in the books, devouring one and sometimes two every hour. I loved learning about the cultural stereotypes the French had for other European nationalities, and I loved, finally, being able to read something aside from the four novels I had brought with me from the States (the fact that, ten years later, I still remember which novels they were is a testament to how frequently they were read.) To discover stories that, I would later learn, were firmly rooted in the childhoods of my French peers, was something that would allow me to become closer to these same peers later in life; it’s strange, the day you realize that most French people have never heard of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street.

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Astérix and Obélix taught me a certain amount of useful French, but mostly I just got a feel for reading in a foreign language and accumulated a pile of words I would probably never need, words like Roman legionaries, druid, magic potion and menhir. Still, there’s something to be said for knowledge that, if I had moved back to the States, I might have never used: this summer, when I visited Dol de Bretagne and saw this, I knew immediately what it was.

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The more time I spend with French people, the more I realize how not-French I am. Still, I’m learning every day, and there’s something to be said for still finding delight in things that are commonplace to others. I have been wanting to try sanglier for ten years, ever since I saw it in Astérix et Obélix. While my version may not be roasted, at least it’s not boiled, like that of the Bretons.

Oh, and another fun and slightly unrelated tidbit: this sanglier was actually purchased at Picard, the frozen food store that sells everything from macarons to sushi. Plainly on the label, it says that it comes from Australia. The Country Boy remembered this and told his family; they all had a chuckle, because you see, while wild boar may be foreign for this American girl, in France, you’re more likely to hit a sanglier than a deer on the autoroute.

Civet de Sanglier

1 kilo frozen or fresh wild boar, cut into 2 inch cubes
1/2 bottle red wine
a few sprigs of thyme
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion
1 Tbsp. flour
salt and pepper to taste

Place the boar, frozen or fresh, in a plastic container. Cover with the red wine. Add the thyme and garlic. Mix and cover the container. Refrigerate overnight.

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat. Drain the sanglier, reserving the marinade. Add the cubes of sanglier, a few at a time, to the pot. Brown on all sides and remove to a plate. Cover to keep warm.

Mince the onion and add to the pot. Sauté until translucent and slightly browned. Sprinkle the flour over the onion and stir for about a minute. Slowly add about a half-cup of the wine and stir to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the wine and bring to a simmer. Cook about 10-15 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Add the sanglier.

Cover the pot and cook over low heat for about an hour and a half (this can also be done in the oven at about 250 degrees F). Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with mashed potatoes.

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pork roast, cornbread, cucumber salad

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Sunday lunchtime is a serious affair in France. Around noon, the stairwell in my seven-story building starts to smell like garlic, onions, roasting chicken skin. The line from the bakery goes out the door and along the glass wall as people pick up assortments of pastries and tarts for dessert. I learned today that one can call the police if anyone is doing building construction between noon and two on a Sunday, lest it hinder one’s enjoyment of Sunday lunch. It’s serious business.

Around here, Sunday lunch is really more like Sunday breakfast, and since Sunday is pancake day, there is very little room for anything akin to roast chicken, even if that is what I smell when I walk in the front door after church. By the time I get off on the sixth floor, I could kill for a roast garlic clove… but it’s panake day, and so pancakes I make. They’re actually quite delicious. I usually forget about the chicken.

Still, there’s something very satisfying about cooking a whole bird, a whole roast, something large and meaty that has to be carved. I can do it, but I prefer to ask the nearest gentleman, which has the dual purpose of making said gentleman feel useful and allowing me to do other more interesting things like pour glasses of wine.

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Roasting large cuts of meat used to fall into my food fears, the things I would never do with the worry that I would kill someone with undercooked chicken or create a tough, chewy, gray roast beef. I’m not sure how I started to feel so normal about pork roasts… it didn’t happen until after I had a toaster oven, which is not the best environment for roasting large cuts of meat, but it gets the job done, and I can do it perfectly every time now.

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While my Sunday lunches are, and probably will remain, of the pancake variety, this is something I would make for a Sunday lunch, should my French boyfriend ever decide he wants to stop being so American. The smells are the kind I’d like someone to smell coming up the stairs on Sunday afternoon, hoping that they’re coming from the doorway they plan to stop at. It’s the kind of meal that begs for a walk around the neighborhood afterwards; the Country Boy and I have taken to weekend wandering… late fall in Paris is pretty much begging for it.

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I take pictures, an d when we get back, we have Sunday dinner instead. It doesn’t have the same traditional quality, but then again, there’s something to be said for creating one’s own traditions.

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Mustard Pork Roast

1 onion
5 new potatoes, sliced into discs
1 tsp. salt
1 pork roast (~700 g.)
2-3 Tbsp. spicy French mustard (you can also use whole grain mustard, if you have it)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Slice the onions into thin half-moons, about 1/8 inch thick. Toss with the potatoes and salt, and spread over the bottom of a baking dish.

Coat the pork roast in mustard, using a pastry brush if you have one. Place the roast over the potatoes and onions and roast for 30 minutes.

At the 30 minute point, remove the roast and turn it upside down. Add 2-3 tbsp. of very hot water to the bottom of the baking dish and toss the onions and potatoes. Return to the oven and continue roasting for another 30 minutes. Serve with applesauce, cucumber salad and cornbread.

Cucumber Salad
1 English cucumber
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
fresh black pepper

Using a box grater or a mandoline, slice the cucumber into paper-thin slices. Place in a strainer and add the salt. Toss to coat. Allow to drain for about 2 hours in the sink. (You can also drain over a bowl overnight in the fridge.)

Add the sugar, cider vinegar and black pepper. Marinate about an hour in the fridge.

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Cornbread
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 can (250 g.) corn, drained and puréed
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a medium bowl, combine the corn, eggs, milk and melted butter. Add the qet ingredients to the dry, stirring just enough to combine. Pour into a buttered loaf pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Rôti de porc, homemade applesauce, “carrot fries”

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I’m pretty lucky when it comes to the Country Boy… as far as boys are concerned, he falls on the “fairly awesome” side of the scale. No housecleaning task is too girly for him; he was raised helping his mamma, so he does a lot of things (OK, most things) better than I do. (Yes, I got me a mamma’s boy. No, this poses no problem whatsoever.)

The Country Boy leaps into action when he knows what he’s supposed to be doing — or what could be done. When things are broken, he fixes them. When there are dishes in the sink, he does them. Sometimes, I come home to find him ankle-deep in cleaning products, rinsing off the shower. When I start to feel guilty and tell him he shouldn’t have, he just screws up his eyebrows, stares at me, and in the most adorable French accent with his nearly-correct English, he says, “Baby, how do you think I am?”

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He humors me, though whether it’s for my sake or his own sanity has yet to be confirmed. When I said I wanted to go apple picking a few days ago, not only did he tag along, but he carried the entire backpack — several kilos of apples, squash, tomatoes and carrots — the entire half-hour walk back to the train station. I prostested, but he wouldn’t hear it.

I love that boy.

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He doesn’t even complain when, especially as of late, pretty much everything that comes out of the kitchen is vegetarian. There have been risottos, pastas, roasted vegetables and fried eggs… but until the day of the apple picking adventure, no meat to speak of.

But then I met a woman at the morning market selling the most beautifully spiced, already cooked pork roast, and I know how well pork goes with freshly made applesauce… and how much TCB likes meat.

Pour deux personnes, s’il vous plait,” I asked, because at the market, you tell the vendor how many you are, and they tell you how much you can eat. But as she made the move to slice a couple of meager tranches, I faltered.

Au fait… mettez-en plutôt pour trois,” I corrected. TCB, while thin, can eat more than most people I’ve met. “Ou bien… tout ce morceau là.” I pointed to a large-ish chunk that she wrapped in butcher paper without slicing.

What can I say? I’m American.

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We ended up with enough pork for two meals; we ate the first few slices fried up quickly in a frying pan and accompanied by applesauce and roasted carrots and potatoes; TCB calls them “carrot fries.” He sneaks into the kitchen when they’re almost done and opens the oven to stir them, flicking one onto the counter deftly with a wooden spoon.

Oh mince,” he says, pretending to be surprised and sorry as he eats it in one bite. “She fell.” Because carrots, as everyone knows, are female.

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I don’t have a recipe for the pork roast, and the carrot fries recipe is the same as this one.

Chunky Applesauce

Note: This applesauce is unsweetened, so it goes really well with savory foods.

10-12 apples of different types (I used Boskoop and Jonagold)
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1/4 cup water

Peel and core the apples, and cut into chunks. Place into a large, heavy bottomed pot with a lid, like a Dutch oven. Add the cider vinegar and water, and cook over medium-low heat, covered. Stir about every 10-15 minutes with a wooden spoon, smushing the apples against the bottom of the pot.

This applesauce can be cooked for anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour, depending on the firmness of the variety of apples you use and the texture you’re going for. I cooked mine for about 30 minutes, so that some of the apples had fallen apart, and others remained in larger chunks.

Mustard Pork Roast with Apples

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It’s difficult to explain to people who don’t live in Paris how easy it is to forget that I’m here.

I’m not saying this to rub it in your faces, honestly. Sometimes I find myself sitting in front of movies about Paris, and I get homesick for the place that I discovered in my carefree years at AUP, when the only work I had was done lazily with Emese on the train back from Cannes, completely forgetting, for a moment, that my métro, boulot, dodo happens in the City of Lights. Needless to say, my daily rhythm has changed a bit over the past four years, and without my apartment in the 7th and groups of bright-eyed visiting students arriving every four months to remind me just how amazing Paris is, it’s easy to forget.

Which is why I’m so, so grateful for my job. You see… I work at Versailles.

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Versailles is the name of the château and the town, so let’s clarify my word choice: I do, in fact, work at Versailles, not in Versailles. Every Monday morning, I drag myself out of bed and onto the RER C for the hour-long commute to the gilded place of residence of several of France’s most famous kings.

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My job isn’t nearly as glamorous as that of Louis XVI, or even really that of Marie-Antoinette’s ladies-in-waiting, or the guy who shoveled out the royal stables. I teach English to the manager of a restaurant within the château’s park, so while my actual job involves lesson planning and verb tenses–fun, sure, but not in any way glamorous–my morning walk to work is made up of fountains and perfectly manicured trees.

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It’s not a bad way to wake up on Monday morning.

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On Mondays, the château itself is closed, but the park is opened, and while several locals jog along the paths of Marie-Antoinette’s famous garden, I’m mostly alone, the sun rising slowly and the mist lifting off the expanses of green lawn.

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I’m reminded of a game I played when I was younger, when I visited castles or huge mansions now converted into museums, imagining what the childhood of someone raised here would have been like. Would she have played hide-and-seek amongst the trees? Lain on the lawn to watch the clouds disappear behind the stone walls of the chateau? Splashed in the impossibly intricate fountains on warm summer days?

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It’s still a little cool for splashing in fountains, but with spring has come early sunrises, and so 8 am is the perfect time for slowly walking up the paths, listening to the birds in the trees, examining the nooks and crannies that, on my walk back to the station at 11:30, with tourists taking pictures and the midday sun firmly in the air, just isn’t the same.

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I guess I can’t blame it entirely on them. By the time my three-hour class is finished, I’ve moved on to the next thing on my to-do list. With the two or three cups of morning coffee coarsing through my system, I’ve got the rest of the day’s plans on my mind. Like I forget that I’m in Paris, I can even forget that I’m in Versailles.

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Spring has brought lovely, sunny weather, at least in this part of the world, and that’s a good thing. But when I’m preoccupied with my thesis, work, school, friends and spending pretty much every weekend riding the train back and forth to the Country Boy’s house for this birthday or that party, it can be difficult to take advantage of it. Still, I smell spring in the air, and I remember my last spring here. I was “being a writer,” so I spent a lot of time wandering, exploring Parisian markets and discovering little corners of the city I’m getting more and more comfortable in every day.

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But after so long, it’s easy to forget. I can walk straight past the Luxembourg gardens without even looking. I duck into Gibert Joseph without a glance at the St-Michel fountain. I’ve gotten too used to Paris.

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Almost a year ago today exactly, I was complaining on this very blog about missing Paris, about New York not living up to my expectations. A-year-ago me would be very displeased with my blasé attitude towards the City of Lights.

Well, no more. I’m done staring at my shoes like the inhabitants of Reality in The Phantom Tollbooth, letting the world disappear around me as I stare at my shoes. And I have Versailles to thank for it.

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This is an especially interesting discovery for me to be making now; I hate to admit it, but I’ve been starting to feel the same way about cooking as well. I still make dinner every night, but I don’t relish the creativity of making meals as much. I make the same things often, I don’t try new recipes. I still bookmark things that look nice, but I tell myself I don’t have the time.

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The other day, I took a breath. I stopped my constant mantra of, “I can’t, I don’t have time,” and instead told the Country Boy to invite his cousin, whose husband and daughter are away on a ski trip, for dinner. I picked up a pork roast–a new cut of meat for me–and rummaged through the fridge, pulling out an onion, an apple, a jar of French mustard. This is what happened, and it was delicious, not to mention inspiring.

I’m looking forward to next Monday, to see what else Versailles has to offer me.

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Mustard Pork Roast with Apples

1 green apple
1 onion
1 tsp. salt

1 pork roast (~700 g.)
2-3 Tbsp. spicy French mustard (you can also use whole grain mustard, if you have it)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Slice the apples and onions into thin half-moons, about 1/8 inch thick. Toss with salt and spread over the bottom of a baking dish.

Coat the pork roast in mustard, using a pastry brush if you have one. Place the roast over the apples and onions and roast for 30 minutes.

At the 30 minute point, remove the roast and turn it upside down. Add 2-3 tbsp. of very hot water to the bottom of the baking dish and toss the apples and onions. Return to the oven and continue roasting for another 30 minutes.

Rest the roast under foil for 10 minutes, then slice and serve with the reduced onions and apples.

My Grown-Up House

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Several weeks ago, I promised you pictures of my new house, and then I promptly disappeared. I’m sorry. I could blame school starting up again and days that start at 7am and finish at 9 or 10 at night, or I could say that I got a stomach flu last week and subsided entirely on rice and orange juice for three days, but that’s not really true, and I’m nothing if not honest (some say brutally so). The truth is that I haven’t been very inspired to blog as of late. Many of you know that I make a living writing, a double-edged sword if ever there was one, in that I love what I do and get to make money doing it, but I often leave little to no time or brain matter for the fun writing–the stuff that doesn’t pay but keeps the novelist in me alive.

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Well, I’m out of my funk and back to tell you all about my new apartment, the place that made me so giddy from the moment we moved in that I thoroughly annoyed the Country Boy by exclaiming (several times a day), “Baby, look at our home!”

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He really is a saint for putting up with me, but at the same time, it must be impossible for him to understand the feeling of being in a place that is à la fois fully mine and fully home. These two feelings, usually combined, have been assigned to different places over the past decade of my life, but not since I was a child have I been able to feel both ownership and that comfy, cozy feeling of home in the same location. From the minute I left home for boarding school, my dorm room was “mine,” and that in and of itself made it home-ish, but there was no comparison with the warm, yellow kitchen and hustle and bustle of my parents’ house on Long Island, the twin bed with the red comforter that had been home for me since I was seven. I loved my dorm rooms, loved decorating the walls with posters of Blink-182 and James Dean that my mother forbade on the carefully wallpapered walls of her house, but when the time came to pack up and go home at Christmas, Easter and summer break, there was no doubt that I was leaving school for home.

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I’ve written before about my father’s disdain for “playing house,” the way that I attacked cooking with a passion the moment I had my own kitchen at 18. Any external observer could tell you that I was trying to create home, but mostly I just made a big mess and a lot of smoke. I leafed through cookbooks–Giada and Lidia Bastianich nearly exclusively–trying to recreate the kind of food that made my mother’s house feel like home, but instead of making her recipes for roast chicken and chicken parm, the actual classics of my childhood, I dug further back, to the food of my father’s family, and classic Italian-American and Sicilian recipes.

There were a lot of flops, like puttanesca sauce, which, after suffering through leftovers for nearly two weeks, I realized I didn’t like. There were the chocolate wheatberries from a Sicilian recipe website that made enough to feed hoardes and never cooked through entirely. I made all sorts of ragús and baked pastas, attempted bitter broccoli rape and sweet caponata, all in the name of trying to find food that made me feel at home. I spent a lot of money, and I never really got there.

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Five years later, my kitchen approach hardly ever includes recipes, though I love browsing blogs and pretty cookbooks for inspiration. Put me in front of a stocked refrigerator, and I’ll come up with something, but hand me a recipe, and I’m almost always immediately bored. I should have known that home wasn’t the sort of place–or feeling–that could be created on the spot, but something that needed time to grow. It’s only now, after nearly ten different kitchens that were, at one time or another, at least partially mine, two furnished apartments with black leather couches, three uncomfortable beds and many, many rooms that I would have reorganized if I could, that I somehow stumbled into my own living room, ready for me as though it had been waiting all along for me to earn it.

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Sausage and peppers is not something my mother made growing up, but I’m nearly certain it’s something my father ate as a child. I didn’t use a recipe for this one, just winged it based on descriptions–quite honestly–that came from the string of mafia movies and television shows I watched throughout freshman year of college, when I was trying to create the Italian-American childhood I never really had. Still, there’s something about peppers and onions melted together over the stovetop that is innately comforting, and you can never really go wrong with sausage. As they say in France, “Tout est bon dans le cochon,” everything is good in the pig.

I couldn’t agree more.

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The Country Boy was raised on even less Italian-American food than I was; if I’m not mistaken, the only regular in his mother’s repertoire was lasagna. Still, even he agreed that the Italians had it right when they made up this simple dish. When I made it on one of our first nights here, Jean-Jacques Goldman on the stereo, I couldn’t help getting lost in the fantasy that maybe I was creating a new tradition, making a dish that would, someday, feel like the home I was trying to find in patched together recipes for my mother’s tomato sauce and Frank Sinatra crooning in the background.

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Sausage and Peppers

1 tbsp. olive oil
2 red peppers
1 green pepper
2 red onions
salt and fresh black pepper to taste
1 tbsp. tomato paste (or 1/4 cup tomato sauce)

4 seasoned Italian sausages

Slice the bell peppers in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Slice widthwise into thin strips. Slice the onion in half, then slice into thin half-moons.

Heat the oil over high heat in a large frying pan. Add the peppers and onions and a pinch of salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the edges of the peppers are slightly charred. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook 20 minutes, or until tender, stirring occasionally.

Season with salt and pepper and add the tomato paste and 1/4 cup water. Stir to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom and form a sauce. Simmer uncovered while you prepare the sausages.

In a separate pan, fry the sausages over high heat to brown the exterior. Remove to the pan of peppers and onions and allow to finish cooking, if necessary (depending on the thickness of the sausages). Serve with lots of bread.

Pork Stew

SCENE

A Paris apartment. It is Sunday, which, as all good Parisians know, is the perfect day to mope around in your pajamas, drink lots of coffee, do all your laundry and clean all the surfaces in your apartment with Windex, because you didn’t have time to get to the Ed this week to get the cheap spray bleach, and everything is closed on Sundays.

EMIGLIA, 23, charmingly high-strung, spills boiling gravy on her hand.

EMIGLIA: (To self) %$@*%#@!!!

EMIGLIA’S PERCEPTIVE ALTER-EGO: Well, it’s your own damn fault. You’re the one trying to make stew in a toaster oven.

***

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Those of you who have met me (and my perceptive, often annoying alter-ego), may not need any explanation as to the above scene, but for those of you who have not met me, allow me to delve into my psyche on that cold Sunday morning, just two days ago.

You see… it’s fall in Paris. I’ve been keeping track (whether I want to or not) of the weather in other parts of the world, and while I congratulate you Californians on pissing me off not just once, but twice this summer (seriously… if I have to listen to California Girls one more time this summer, I’m going to hurt someone), in Paris, it is unmistakeably, 100%, grab-your-scarves-and-jackets-folks fall. Which is not altogether a bad thing.

Naturally, like the rest of you food bloggers, I’m bemoaning the loss of summer corn, the one (or twelve) tomato recipes that I’ll have to archive for yet another nine months, because regardless of whether the heirloom tomatoes at my new outdoor market are delectable (fun fact: they are), when I come home from work, the first thing I want isn’t a plate of tomatoes decorated with basil, nor is it a few cold cobs of cooked corn leftover from last night, which, two weeks ago, were my two favorite snacks.

Nope, now I’m looking the pig in the mouth: I’m back in France, and I want pork, goddamnit–I don’t care how you slice it.

It’s mostly thanks to my fellow bloggers; as fall rolls around, we all get nostalgic. We think of the smell of new pencils and the crunch of fall apples. We equate the changing of the leaves with the first pumpkin loaves. I found myself getting wistful as I stared off my balcony at the foggy, grey sky, reminiscing about walks through the woods with my “weaseling” grandfather, watching as he collected piles of dead leaves from the ground outside his Westhampton house.

“Fall is my favorite season,” I remember telling him. He laughed and said nothing, probably because he knew that in a matter of years, I would equate fall with school starting. And yet I still equate fall with something else, something that doesn’t make me miss summer at all. Spring is traditionally the season of new beginnings, but spring, for me, has always felt like more of an ending–it’s always in spring that I leave the place that I am for the place that I’m not, perhaps by virtue of the fact that I’ve spent the majority of my 23 years as a student–and it’s always in fall that I find myself starting over, seeing new things or old things in a new way.

Fall, for me, is the season of starting anew. I organize my life for the nine millionth time and tell myself that this time it will stick. I restock my pantry with fresh spices and dried beans and lentils. I plan. And a lot of my planning comes from reading your blogs, which is how cinnamon, cloves, thyme and nutmeg fly off the shelves of my local supermarket at the same time each year. Fall has arrived, and with it, a plethora of fall dishes to try, including this one, which I stumbled upon a few days ago and promptly messaged to The Almost Frenchman, because he was at work and I knew it would torture him. I’m nice like that.

Putain.” He wrote back. And so we made plans for “Pork Night.”

Pork Night would be on Sunday, we decided, so that I would have enough time to braise the pork cheeks I was using to make the stew–because as everyone knows, I can never just make a recipe to the letter. I am physically incapable of leaving well-enough alone.

One small problem: my new kitchen doesn’t have an oven. It has two induction burners, a microwave, an electric water heater, a dishwasher and a toaster oven. While I briefly entertained the idea of the dishwasher after the stovetop proved to be an exercise in futility, I finally decided that a loaf pan would be an appropriate vessel for stew, and so, covered with tinfoil, I proceeded to braise pork cheeks in my toaster oven for the next seven hours.

The Almost Frenchman made mashed potatoes, and as we do every year at around this time, we promised to make a habit of making dinner together. Who knows if it will happen–it might, or it might dissolve, like the rest of my fall resolutions tend to do: I lose my new pencils, my organization gets abandoned in favor of laziness. All I have to show for it is recipes and toaster oven scars… I think I’m OK with that.

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Pork and Apple Stew

6 pork cheeks
1 tbsp. thyme
1/2 bottle white wine
2 tsp. olive oil
salt and pepper
2 small onions, diced
1 carrot, diced (note: I would add a carrot. I did buy a carrot. I somehow lost the carrot. But if you have a carrot, add a carrot)
10-12 white button mushrooms (or other white mushroom), sliced
2 tbsp. flour
1 apple, grated

The night before, trim the pork cheeks of all visible fat and silverskin, and marinate in white wine and thyme.

The next morning, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. If you have a pot and an oven, use a Dutch oven and preheat the oven to 150 degrees C. Shake pork cheeks of excess liquid and season with salt and pepper. Reserve marinade. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.

Add the onions, carrot and mushrooms, and sauté until lightly browned and soft. Add the flour and cook until no longer raw, then add the reserved marinade and the grated apple. Stir to combine, then add the pork cheeks back to the liquid. Cover and braise for 5-7 hours, or until someone else has made mashed potatoes and poured you copious amounts of wine. Eat. Enjoy fall.

Tomato Paella

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After several years of doing fairly ridiculous things whilst traveling, I’ve gotten to the point where, when I suggest spending the night in an airport/train station/bus stop to make a cheap layover even cheaper, my friends just roll my eyes and don’t even try to convince me that anything else would be a good idea. Case in point: a few weeks ago, while spending all of six hours, none of them daylit, in Marseille with my brother, we decided to nap on the couches of a bar/lounge in the lobby of a Holiday Inn across the street from Marseille-St-Charles. My brother just rolled his eyes and curled up under a towel, while I chugged cups of coffee and tried not to seem too sketchy to the very nervous looking bartender who didn’t ask us until around four in the morning if there was anything he could do for us.

So when the Parisian, the Country Boy and I found ourselves with a few dark hours to spend in Barcelona between my landing at ten and Anne-Marie’s arrival at nine the next morning, I saw no reason to leave the airport at all. The Parisian found this altogether ridiculous, and told me as much. The Country Boy even volunteered to pay for my hotel but, stubborn half-Sicilian that I am, I refused on sheer principle, and we finally found a way to compromise: we would drive to Barcelona, park the Transporter on the street, and sleep in it.

We immediately headed for the Rambla, where the Parisian and I had sat over giant beers and sangria nearly two years before, and we ate paella and drank even more beer. When we had eaten our fill, we found a place to park the car–completely by chance, just in front of the French consulate.

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This was very exciting to all of us, especially the Country Boy.

The Parisian immediately claimed the back seat for himself and left me and the Country Boy to duke it out over the middle section, which I refused–again, on principle–deciding instead to curl up in the front seat, which grew old after about two minutes. I climbed carefully out of the car to sit on the curb instead, where the air was cool and fresh, and was surprised to see the Country Boy climb out the window behind me a few moments later–apparently, even though it was three in the morning, he couldn’t sleep either.

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We did the only thing that made any sense: we walked down to the beach, climbed the lifeguard chair, meandered in the sand, dipped our feet in the water, snuck into a fancy hotel to use the bathroom, and blasted old 90s rock mp3s from his cell phone. And when we couldn’t take anymore of waiting for the sun to rise (fun fact: the sun takes a very, very, very long time to rise), we walked back up la Rambla and found ourselves coffee amongst the semi-drunk tourists who were climbing out of the nightclubs they had spent their nights in, the sunlight the end of their night and the beginning of our first day in Paziols.

I’m in Paziols now–I have been for a few days now, as some of you may know. The snap back to the reality of what is, without a doubt, my favorite place on Earth has been more than gratifying, as I get used to my kitchen again, as the Sous-Chef picks up new words of vocabulary and teaches them to the little Turkish girls who have just arrived with hardly a word of French but an unexplainably extensive knowledge of grammar and verb conjugations.

Nearly every evening, after the kids have gone to bed and the dishes have been done, the Country Boy and I sit up in the downstairs room–he on his guitar and me typing away at a million words a minute–listening to 90s rock and waiting for the sun to rise. Now, we go to bed before it does, but sometimes I think about what it would be like to watch the sun rise over the vines instead of over the Mediterranean, of what that might look like, of if I would have the patience to let it happen before my eyes.

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This tomato paella isn’t anything like the seafood one I had in Barcelona: it’s a dish I made for the group last year that I’m only just getting around to posting, but it will definitely be making an appearance on our table again. The tomatoes turn what is one of the only dishes in which I will tolerate rice into something extraordinary. I adore the summer tomatoes here in Paziols, but when I made this, I used canned. Stay tuned for more stories, a myriad of new recipes, and the results of my experiment in following this recipe to a tee when I get my hands on some more of the garden tomatoes that our neighbor loves to foist on us, “Prends-en encore… encore… encore…

It’s very hard to turn down tomatoes.

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Tomato Paella with Chorizo
Source: Pinch My Salt

3 1/2 C. chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into thick wedges (Note: I used good canned whole tomatoes.)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 C. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 T. tomato paste
large pinch saffron threads
2 t. smoked paprika (I used a combination of hot and sweet)
2 C. arborio rice
3-4 oz. Spanish chorizo, diced
minced parsley for garnish.

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Warm broth in a saucepan. Put tomatoes in a medium bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with 1 T. olive oil. Toss to coat.

2. Put remaining 3 T. oil in a 10- or 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, saffron, and paprika and cook for a minute more. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is shiny, another minute or two. Add the chopped sausage and liquid and stir until just combined.

3. Put tomato wedges on top of rice and drizzle with remaining juices. Put pan in oven and roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Check to see if rice is dry and just tender. If not, return pan to oven for another 5 minutes. If rice looks too dry but still is not quite done, add a small amount of stock or water (or wine). When rice is ready, turn off oven and let pan sit for 5 to 15 minutes.

4. Remove pan from oven and sprinkle with parsley. If you like, put pan over high heat for a few minutes to develop a bit of a bottom crust before serving.