Happy July 14, aka Bastille Day in France. My grandmother, Randy, came for dinner last weekend. I decided to share our French-inspired meal in honor of the national French day. Randy is pescatarian, so I served mussels in white wine as our entrée. While I've eaten my fair share of mussels, I had no experience cooking them. I kept the appetizer, salad and cheese course, and dessert simple so I could focus on the mussels.
Thanks to my friend Charlotte, who edited this menu. Charlotte has a blog where she shares history and culture on places she's traveled. Check it out here.
To start, I served fresh radishes with cultured butter and salt. I don't think an appetizer could get any simpler. I got this spread from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris cookbook. I served the radishes on a bed of salt, like the cookbook suggests, but found that there was a lot of wasted salt after we devoured the platter. People are also unable to "double dip" their radishes this way. Next time I plan on serving the salt on the side, so guests can help themselves. I love how the spicy radishes paired with the salty butter. I picked up some cultured sea salt butter from Banner Butter, which was delicious on the toasted baguette.
Atlanta Hot Tip: Alon's Bakery has delicious freshly baked baguettes. I picked up two for our party of 6, and we enjoyed eating them with every course.
Now onto the star of the show: the mussels in white wine. This recipe is also from Barefoot in Paris. You steam the mussels in a Chardonnay, shallot, garlic, saffron, and herb sauce, and serve hot with baguette. The mussels don't take long to cook, but there's a lot of prep involved. You can chop the shallots, garlic, and herbs ahead of time, which will cut down on your hands on time after your guests arrive. For six people, I served six-and-a-half pounds of mussels. It sounds like a lot, but most of that weight is shells. I had some leftover wine from the sauce, so I served that in addition to a Provence Rosé.
Get the Recipe: The Barefoot Contessa's Mussels in White Wine
Along with the mussels, I served roasted plum tomatoes. While these seem more Italian than French, they seem very Provencal to me, with simple ingredients that are elevated with perfect seasoning. I usually find plum tomatoes bland, but these are jazzed up with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sugar, salt, and pepper, and then roasted in the oven. Sprinkle some fresh basil on once they come out of the oven.
Get the Recipe: The Barefoot Contessa's Roasted Tomatoes
For the cheese and salad course, I served warm brie drizzled with honey, and topped with roasted and salted pistachios. After we finished the mussels and tomatoes, I put the brie wedges in the oven for a few minutes (still on 450 degrees from the tomatoes), just until they began to melt. I added some apple slices and toasted baguette and served a mixed green salad with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This is such a pretty plate of food. It was satisfying after the mussels, but I think it would also be nice served as a light lunch.
After all the other courses, I did not want to have to fool with dessert. I picked up some pistachio and chocolate sablés from Alon's bakery. Sablés are essentially a French shortbread cookie. The pistachio ones have a hint of lemon zest and are so satisfying. Along with the cookies, I served black and rainier cherries, as well as clementines. I put everything on a tray and let everyone help themselves. The rainier cherries in particular were a satisfying end to the meal.
Get the Look:
I have this old coffee table book called Cézanne and the Provencal Table. It talks about the interplay of art and food, sharing several simple Provencal recipes. I was flipping through this recently and was inspired on how to set the table for our French dinner party. Instead of covering up our sun-damaged wood table, I opted for a table runner. I like how the rustic wood looks against our everyday white china. I kept the rest of the table neutral with some white linen napkins and some simple stemware. For a pop of color, I picked up some orange roses and placed them in some mismatched vases. I had some white tulips and placed them on the table as well.