Le French Oven (Gibbs Smith) by Sagaponack’s Hillary Davis, with photographs by Steven Rothfeld, is one of those gorgeous cookbooks featuring food and atmospheric images to die for. It would look great on any coffee table, but my copy is in the process of becoming splattered and torn. This is because the pretty thing is also full of great recipes.
My husband did everything on his home to-do list for a week without complaint after I made him the Beef Stew a la Bordelaise with caramelized carrots and turned potatoes. It lasted the two of us for several delicious days—it just got better and better. The Fig and Port Chutney is now a go-to hostess gift. I whip up a batch and keep little, cute jars of it in the fridge for special occasions. Its ground cloves and Dijon mustard make it a perfect pairing for crumbly aged cheddar and crackers. The only place I could find unsweetened dried cherries for it on the East End was at Citarella. These little organic babies are quite dear, but Davis suggests the alternative of substituting olives for the cherries—I’m going to try that savory combo too.
These are not complicated French recipes. As Davis, an American who lived in France for years, says, “My recipes are so simple!” They can, though, take time to prepare. They’re worth it. So don’t rush, do accept offers of help in the kitchen and do keep some fine wine close at hand to sip as you bake, roast, braise, stew, fry and jam your way into the hearts and minds of those you care about most.
Before I started actually making dishes from the recipes in this cookbook, my favorite thing about it was the quirky emphasis on the French oven itself. Davis makes a strong case that a Dutch oven is actually a “French oven.” She includes details about the many French makers of these often colorful and always reliable kitchen standbys, their fascinating history and the pros and cons of which ovens to use for which types of cooking. She also points out that part of the beauty of the French oven is that it can go from inside your oven to your tabletop elegantly. Just take off the lid for the big reveal, savor that smell and serve.
Don’t think that this book is all about big winter meals. Oh no. Delight your summer house guests with the Fresh Strawberry Jam, Hot Brandied Peaches over Ice Cream, Gorgeous Chilled Beet Soup with Beets Greens Salad and Shrimp Cocktail with Spicy Dipping Sauce! For my next Le French Oven meal I’m going to prepare the Fondue Mac ’n’ Cheese. I’m confident that Husband will do anything that I ask him to after a faceful of that. Cognac and Gruyère are two words in his vocabulary that translate to “Yes!”