French cuisine suits the seasons

  • Bill Zars/bzars@dailyherald.comApricot tart by Chef Michael Maddox at Le titi de Paris restaurant in Arlington Heights.

    Bill Zars/bzars@dailyherald.comApricot tart by Chef Michael Maddox at Le titi de Paris restaurant in Arlington Heights.

By Deborah Pankey
Daily Herald Food Editor
Updated 7/14/2011 10:22 AM

Rich beef bourguignon, onion soup topped with bubbling cheese and slow-cooked cassoulet. Think about French cuisine and those dishes surely come to mind, but they're hardly suited for 90-degree days.

Summer's warm weather calls for delicate squash blossoms filled with chicken mousse, the blush of ripe apricots in a refreshing tart and fillets quickly sauteed in a light wine sauce.


"For years French restaurants always served the more expensive, rich dishes ... perhaps people think that's all there are," said chef Richard Grausman, author of "French Classics Made Easy," an update of his "At Home with the French Classics."

Classic French cuisine, however, is deeply rooted in the seasons and images of women shopping the farmers markets, each with a basket full of beans and onions on one arm and a bunch of flowers in the other, seem inherently French.

"Summer is a time for vegetables and fruit ... mixtures of vegetables like ratatouille, fresh fruit tarts, sorbets," Grausman said.

Chef Michael Lachowicz of Restaurant Michael in Winnetka equates summertime fare with sweet peas, smaller "breakfast" radishes, and supple blossoms from squash vines. Cucumber soup, grilled shrimp with fruit salad and gazpacho with "tomatoes right from the garden" define the season for Michael Maddox at Le Titi de Paris in Arlington Heights. Their menus for Bastille Day dinners on July 14 reflect those leanings.

"It's the farm/field to plate philosophy ... you work with what's available this week, today," Lachowicz said.

Quick cooking on the grill or stovetop and simple techniques allow market-fresh ingredients to shine rather than be masked by creamy sauces and long hours in the oven.

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Grausman suggests eating like a French person is a fine way to approach summer meals, because, face it, no one likes to feel overstuffed on a hot, humid day.

"What the French do is eat in smaller portions, three to four courses, rather than one plate piled high," he said. Eating vegetables as a first course, he said, allows cooks to treat the vegetable well and diners to focus on the vegetables and what they're putting into their bodies.

"By the time you finish the meal, you're very comfortable without being too full."