After I arrived in France, we spent just a week in Paris before escaping to Normandy. As magical as afternoons lounging in parks and drinking sparkling water at cafés can be, swapping out the heat of the city for a weekend by the sea was most needed. The skies are constantly shifting from the wind of the ocean, morning markets filled with sun ripened stone fruits, cream and milk from clover grazed milk cows, and the fish markets loaded with fresh sole, lobsters, and muscles straight off the boats. It's really as picturesque as it sounds. Maybe the effect of this artisanal, tranquil French country life is extra magical for an American girl having grown up in New York, but given the crowds of Parisians flocking to Trouville and Deauville every weekend, I have a feeling this place has the same effect on everyone. The word that comes to mind is detente, French for "relaxation" and decompression. And nothing is more detente than a day on the beach followed by a stop at the market to pick up fresh sole for dinner. One of the best parts of this season is the possibility of eating outside. During the longest days of summer, the sun doesn't set until 11:00 at night, which makes for indulgently long dinners on the farm table under the tree... slow paced courses, wine glasses refilled, their consumption dragged out until after sunset. The French have this unique ability to play with time. To turn an espresso into a two hour voyeuristic escapade at a street side café, a simple dinner into an hours long discussion shifting from politics to art. These are clichés, but beloved for being so.
For our first meal of summer, I made pan-seared sole with a side of salicornia–a type of "sea bean" mix between a succulent and seaweed that grows on salt marshes– along with a white bean and beet salad. I'm rediscovering a love for bean salads. When a meal requires a salad but needs something a bit heavier as well, instead of making a second side dish of rice or pasta, beans offer a perfect compromise of weight and lightness.
Beet and White Bean Salad
Beets, boiled, 5-6 small
White beans, canned 1.5 cups
Spring onions, 5 small (or 1 large regular onion)
White wine vinegar, 1 tablespoons
Balsamic vinegar 1 tablespoon
Olive oil, 2 tablespoons
Beet and White Bean Salad
1. Slice beats into small quarters.
2. Finely dice onions.
3. Separate white beans from juice.
4. Finely dice cilantro or rip apart leaves by hand.
5. Combine beats, beans, onions and cilantro in a large bowl.
6. In a separate, small bowl, combine oil, vinegars, mustard, S+P and mix until smooth.
7. Pour dressing over bean and beat mixture and toss.
Flour-less Sole Meunière
1 filet per person
Olive oil, dash
Butter, 2 tablespoons
Wash sole filets and thoroughly dry with paper towel. One of the secrets for getting that classic cole meunière crust without a coating of flour is to properly dry the fish. Moisture causes the fish to stick to the pan, preventing the crust from forming.
Salt and pepper the fish on both sides.
Turn the heat up to high and add the butter and oil to the pan. The higher the temperature, the better the sear, and the oil helps prevent the butter from burning as olive oil has a higher burning point than dairy fat.
When the oil starts to flash from the heat, just before that burning point, add the sole filets. After a 30 seconds or so, slightly lower the heat to prevent the oil from burning.
Don't touch the fish as it sears. Cook each side for approximately 2-3 minutes.
Before serving, squeeze lemon over fish.