Cuisine of the Sun, A Ray of Sunshine on Your Plate, by Chef Francois de Melogue, is a new cookbook that celebrates good food that pleases the palate. Drawing from his French mother’s influence, his experience as a professional chef and his love of the South of France, he shares some of his favorite recipes in this book. Some are simple but most involve some amount of preparation and planning. The results are worth it. In the words of Chef Francois, “Do not be lazy. Good food takes time.”
The slim volume is packed with mouthwateringly colorful photographs and each recipe is prefaced with a personal anecdote. Inspiring food-related quotes are scattered throughout the book. The foundation of a good meal is to start with fresh, flavorful ingredients and the author is a proponent of farmer’s markets where food hasn’t had to travel for long distances. The “Ode to the Farmer’s Market” is part rant, part optimism for the future of food in America. Chef Francois has a relaxed approach to recipes and substitutions are OK. In fact, they are strongly recommended. For example, he suggests using vegetables of the season to create flavorful soups such as Pistou instead of adhering blindly to the ingredient list.
When selecting a recipe to prepare from “Cuisine of the Sun,” it’s best to plan a day or two in advance for a couple of reasons. One is that ingredients, such as fresh sardines, may be challenging or impossible to locate in your local market, depending on the season. The other is that sneaky overnight marinating or condiments that need to be refrigerated might be involved. Recipes that appear to have only a few ingredients may slip in one or several recipes from other parts of the book such as Simple Grilled Loup de Mer (grilled fish), which uses homemade Tapenade and Artichoke Barigoule. But other recipes are straightforward and easy to prepare, such as Warm Olives or Tomato Confit.
To test a few recipes, an easy dish was prepared first, Simple Roast Chicken. This is a favorite rustic dish of the reviewer but many recipes have been found wanting, either smoking up the kitchen or resulting in dry meat. Chef Francois has Ten Commandments to prepare the perfect roast chicken and the simple truth is that they work. Some of the critical factors are roasting the bird for 40 minutes, then flipping and roasting for another 40 minutes, then, and this is important, letting the chicken rest for a full 20 minutes with legs pointing at the sky. As Chef says, “Do not give into temptation, be strong,” when you want to start carving too soon. The inspired part of this meal is combining it with “Shepard Vegetables.” This took a leap of faith as it just didn’t seem right to throw vegetable into the drippings in the pan as the chicken cooked but darned if it didn’t taste utterly delicious. Japanese eggplants, red bell peppers, zucchini, small red potatoes and cherry tomatoes were sliced into large chunks, doused with olive oil and tossed in the pan. Pretty soon, amazing complex aromas filled the kitchen as the meat and vegetables cooked slowly. The meat was tender and juicy, the skin crispy, the eggplant perfectly soft and scoopable, while the peppers added a smoky accent and the tomatoes created a touch of sauce. Two days later the breast meat was still tender, making scrumptious gourmet sandwiches and wraps.
A more complex endeavor that still seemed within reach was the Marseille Fish Soup. The reviewer had every intention of using the fresh Dungeness crab that was flooding the market since the season had just opened. Somehow, however, three delicious crabs were consumed on the spot without adornment, leaving the home cook without the key ingredient. No problem, substitutions are allowed! Shrimp was substituted for the crab and wine was substituted for the pastis. Not having any Espelette pepper on hand, a dash of Indonesian sambal was substituted. It was clear that if the recipe failed it could easily be attributed to the number of substitutions made. Saffron and canned tomatoes gave the soup base a rich reddish tint while the food processor turned the shrimp into a lovely full-bodied liquid, full of proteins and robust flavors that bubbled happily on the stove as the flavors melded. Into this base went chunks of halibut fillets (included in the recipe—any rockfish would do) and bay scallops (the reviewer’s addition). The halibut and scallops were heated through just enough to cook them while still leaving them tender before they jumped the line to rubbery textures that signal overcooking. It sounds simple but other things were going on in the preparatory stages as well. The night before, the rouille was made with egg yolks, saffron, paprika, fresh garlic and a kick of Sriracha sauce. This silky, opulent rouille bursts with piquant, garlicky flavors whose edges were smoothed by the rich yolks. Also, while the soup base was simmering, before the halibut and scallops were added, homemade croutons were made, in this case, just thin slices of a long, skinny loaf of artisan French bread. These were rubbed with olive oil and a slice of fresh garlic before being toasted lightly in the oven. Some didn’t even get scorched. Gruyere cheese was grated into a pile and a green salad was prepared. Finally, the meal was ready to be served. The soup was ladled into bowls, two toasted bread slices were placed in the center and each was topped with a generous dollop of rouille. Gruyere was sprinkled over the decked-out croutons. A light Zinfandel was poured and the reviewed sat down with her husband, only slightly quaking with concern that the dish might be all wrong. After a spoon was dipped into the soup, the two dining companions savored the thick broth, gently separated a generous flake of halibut, found a tender scallop and pronounced it amazing. It was complex. Savory. Briny. Balanced. Utterly luscious. The bottom of the crouton had softened but the top was still crunchy. The rouille and Gruyere burst forth with a panoply of flavors that included the essence of the sun, sea, and field all melding together. The substitutions hadn’t ruined the soup after all and the finished dish matched the photo in the cookbook perfectly. The Zinfandel paired beautifully and the green salad offered a contrast of crunch with the Persian cucumbers, fresh field greens, baby carrots and vinaigrette dressing. It was so successful that the recipe on the following page, Bourride, which looks a little more involved, will be the next recipe created from this cookbook.
“Cuisine of the Sun, A Ray of Sunshine on Your Plate,” is a cookbook filled with recipes to tickle the palate and celebrate the wonders of fresh foods and a little time in the kitchen. It’s not something to be thrown together on a school night; rather, the pleasurable journey starts with sifting through the book and selecting a delectable recipe, shopping for the perfect, special ingredients and lovingly bringing it all together. It doesn’t have to be for company but it should be shared with a close friend or family to enhance the enjoyment of the meal.
Cuisine of the Sun, A Ray of Sunshine on Your Plate by Chef Francois de Melogue
Available at Eat Till You Bleed and Amazon ($7.99-Kindle, $24.95-Hardback book)
Disclosure of material connection: A review copy was received for testing purposes, but the opinions expressed are solely those of the author.