Sitting down to enjoy a meal at a bistro in Paris is every bit as romantic as you'd imagine. The quant, little restaurants are scattered along nearly every street in La Ville-Lumiére, and with good reason. You can drink, eat, talk and observe for hours (no, really, chances are that your waiter will expect you to be there at least that long). There is nothing fast about dining in France, not that it's something you'd ever hear me complain about. In my family, eating has always been about the time, company and experience, so this idea of sitting at a restaurant, talking to friends for hours was not something foreign to me :) Not at all.
Typical parisian fare is hearty, simple food. When I say simple, I should mention that the French have this incredible way of turning something simple into something simply amazing. From braised meats to salades to omelletes and of course, fromage, but there's one quintessential Parisian food you are likely to see on every plate: frites. The French are known for their frites (hence, the American french fry), only frites are not anything like the American french fry (add that to the list of foreign foods America has totally disgraced). Not greasy or salty, just perfect. I'm not usually one to eat fries in the U.S., but after a week of eating frites in Paris and patatas fritas in Catalunya, I came back with a serious craving. I had to figure out how to recreate the potatoes we'd eaten over there.
My solution: these baked "frites". No deep frying here. Just a little toss of olive oil, salt and pepper. So simple and delicious. I've made a couple different batches since we've been home, and I've found that it's better to use smaller potatoes and cut them a little on the thick side. Also, be sure not to add too much salt, or they'll lose moisture in the oven and become dry. Just a generous pinch, and then you can salt them once they come out of the oven.
Our garden has been producing more tomatoes than we can handle, so I thought I'd give my frites a bit of a Spanish twist, and make a tomato sauce to dip them in. In Spain, patatas are usually topped with a spicy tomato sauce (and sometimes alioli). This sauce is similar to American ketchup, only without the sugar or corn syrup :) It's a delicious way to enjoy your frites, but if you're not a tomato fan, you can always try them the Belgian way, with a little mayonnaise.
3-4 small-medium organic russet potatoes
freshly ground pepper
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Begin by peeling the potatoes. Cut them in half, then in quarters. Begin slicing them into 1/4-1/2" slices, and again into 1/2" thick fries. In a large bowl, toss them with about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and ground pepper. Place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet (very important that you use the parchment) and bake them for about 25 minutes, watching them carefully. Remove from oven and dust with a little more salt, to taste.
Homegrown Tomato Ketchup
2 lbs fresh tomatoes, cut into wedges
1/2 large onion
4 cloves garlic
6 oz. tomato paste
a little less than 1/2 cup apple cider (or other) vinegar
3 tablespoons honey (agave for vegan option)
2 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt to taste
freshly ground pepper
Begin by chopping the onion and mincing the garlic. In a medium saucepan, add the fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic, tomato paste, honey, about 1/2 tsp. of sea salt and 1/2 cup of filtered water to the pot. Bring up to a boil, and simmer (on medium-low heat) for 30-40 minutes (or even longer). Add the vinegar in last, and then puree everything in a blender. Add a little more salt, if necessary.