Today (Aug. 15) would have been the 100th birthday of Julia Child, the doyenne of the culinary world who died in 2004.
You could call her the original top chef — she not only deciphered French cooking techniques, but brought them to us through TV.
Child didn’t find her calling until she was in her late 30s and living in Paris. There, she enrolled in the famed Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and later joined a cooking club, where she met Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, Child’s coauthors of the groundbreaking "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (Knopf, $40).
Folks, including me, learned a lot from Child.
She had a passion for cooking and good food — and that shows in many recipes. She was also a great teacher who made cooking look easy and explained everything to the very last detail. Child’s famed boeuf bourguignon, for example, covers nearly three pages in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."
From her cookbooks, I learned:
How to make a stunning soufflé, including pinning together a parchment paper collar so it rises properly.
That when making a beef stew-type dish, like boeuf bourguignon, pat the beef cubes dry with paper towel. This ensures you will get a nice sear. If the meat is too wet, it will steam. Also: Never crowd the beef in the pan.
Why it’s important to remove the wishbone before roasting a chicken (it facilitates carving).
In fact, Child’s remarks about roasting a whole chicken are cemented in my mind.
"A well-roasted chicken is the mark of a fine cook," she wrote in "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home" (Knopf, $40), a cookbook she coauthored with celebrity chef Jacques Pepin.
Another favorite is Child’s advice on preparing the chicken.
"I always give my bird a generous butter massage before I put it in the oven. Why? Because I think the chicken likes it — and, more important, I like to give it."
You gotta love it.
I’ve also followed Child’s recipe for gravlax — raw salmon cured in sugar, salt and dill. The dish is not a huge undertaking, but delicious and divine.
In honor of Child, I’ll probably watch the 2009 movie "Julie and Julia" and salivate over the sole meuniere that Child, played by Meryl Streep, gushes about. Most people I know who have seen the film said they came away hungry and wanting to cook.
Eggplant and zucchini gratin
This recipe makes terrific use of summer tomatoes and zucchini.
½ cup or more olive oil, divided
1 large or 2 medium eggplants, about 1 ¼ pounds
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 medium zucchini, about 1 pound
3 or 4 ripe tomatoes, about 1 pound
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
½ cup or so fresh bread crumbs (not too finely ground)
1/3 cup or so freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Put the rack on the lower-middle level of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
Smear a large, shallow-rimmed jelly roll pan generously with 1/3 cup of the olive oil.
Trim the ends of the eggplant and slice it on the diagonal into ovals ½-inch thick.
One at a time, place the slices on the sheet; press to coat lightly with oil and turn them over. Arrange the slices, oiled side up, in a single layer and sprinkle them with ½ teaspoon each of herbes de Provence and salt.
Bake for about 15 minutes, until the eggplant slices are soft and somewhat shriveled; allow to cool briefly. Leave the oven on if you will be baking the gratin right away.
Meanwhile, trim the ends of the zucchini and cut them lengthwise into slices no more than 1/4-inch thick. Core the tomatoes and cut into slices ¼-inch thick. Spread out the slices and sprinkle them lightly with ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
To assemble the gratin: Coat a gratin or shallow baking dish with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and sprinkle a teaspoon of the herbes de Provence all over the bottom. Place one or two eggplant slices, lengthwise, against a narrow side of the dish. Arrange a long slice or two of zucchini in front of the eggplant, then place two or three tomato slices in front of the zucchini. Repeat the procedure to fill the pan with alternating rows of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Arrange each new row of slices so the colorful top edges of the previous row are still visible.
In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and remaining herbes de Provence. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, then toss and rub it in with your fingers to coat the crumbs but keep them loose. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the vegetables and drizzle the rest of the oil over all.
Place the dish in the center of the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft, the juices are bubbling and the top is a deep golden brown. If the crumbs need more browning, put the dish under the broiler for a few moments. Serve hot, directly from the baking dish.
Cook’s note: After the vegetables are assembled and topped with the crumbs, the gratin can be covered lightly and stored in the refrigerator for several hours. Preheat the oven and drizzle on the last olive oil just before baking.
From “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home” by Julia Child and Jacques Pépin (Knopf, $40). Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.
Serves » 8
Preparation time » 30 minutes
Total time » 1 hour, 15 minutes
Nutritional breakdown » 203 calories (68 percent from fat), 15 grams fat (3 grams sat. fat), 14 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 420 mg sodium, 3 mg cholesterol, 4 grams fiber.
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