“Dinner in French: My Recipes by Way of France” by Melissa Clark (Potter, $37.50)

French recipes, with a twist

Melissa Clark can barely speak French. She says so in the opening line of her new book.

“In the kitchen, however, I’m fluent,” she continues.

No one who follows Clark’s popular New York Times food columns and weekly cooking videos would doubt her mastery of classic cookery. She’s penned more than 40 cookbooks, some with renowned chefs, on topics ranging from braising to Instant Pots.

Her 2017 bestseller, “Dinner: Changing the Game,” confirms her dedication to helping home cooks of any skill level produce high-flavor, low-fuss meals even on busy weeknights. “Dinner in French” (Potter) builds on that reputation, while taking us back to where her heart truly lies.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Clark spent childhood summers in France with her food-obsessed, Francophile parents, traveling to Michelin-starred restaurants in between lavish feasts prepared in temporary kitchens with local market finds. She brings these memories to the dinner table regularly today in the brownstone she shares with her husband and young daughter, with meals she describes as “seasoned with a dose of Brooklyn moxie to augment all that buttery haute cuisine.”

Recipes are organized as you might expect in any classic French cookbook, starting with a chapter on eggs and then one on cheese, before moving into meaty proteins, salads, vegetables and desserts. Quiches, Tarts, and Savory Pies get their own chapter. Each recipe within gets a personalized twist. She spices a billowy cornmeal soufflé with harissa, infuses mushroom soup with toasted chickpea flour, and takes a favorite Southern summertime dessert “and quite literally turns it on its head” with Peach Cobbler Tatin.

That one’s headed for my oven as soon as the first local peaches arrive. But before spring ends, I want to make that luscious-looking Asparagus, Goat Cheese, and Tarragon Tart on the cover that blessedly relies on store-bought puff pastry for the crust.

Her version of ratatouille — in which the legendary vegetable mélange bakes on a sheet pan with chicken parts for a complete hands-off meal — has already passed this household’s taste test. It’s quite a departure from Julia Child’s long-stirring saucepan method. But I suspect the media’s original French Chef would have welcomed the improvisation.

“Dinner in French” by Melissa Clark (Potter, $37.50)

Ratatouille Sheet-Pan Chicken is Melissa Clark’s sheet-pan interpretation of a French classic. The recipe is from her latest book, “Dinner in French: My Recipes by Way of France” (Potter, $37.50). CONTRIBUTED BY LAURA EDWARDS
Photo: Laura Edwards

Ratatouille Sheet-Pan Chicken

In her latest cookbook, “Dinner in French,” Melissa Clark simplifies ratatouille by cooking the vegetables on sheet pans, and turns it into a company-worthy main dish by cutting up a chicken and adding it to the pans so that its fat coats and crisps up the vegetables as it cooks. This one is a bit more involved than the average sheet-pan dinner (it requires 3 pans that need to be rotated for even cooking), but it’s well worth the effort. To save a little time, you can marinate the chicken halves, uncovered, up to overnight in the fridge. Already cut-up chicken parts will also work just fine.

Ratatouille Sheet-Pan Chicken
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grated or minced
  • 1 whole (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chicken, patted dry with paper towels
  • 2 medium eggplants (1 1/2 pounds), with skin on, cut into 1 1/4-inch chunks
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme, divided
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, divided
  • 2 bay leaves, torn into pieces, divided
  • 3 medium zucchini (1 1/4 pounds), cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, sliced into 1/2-inch-wide strips
  • 1 tomato, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves, for serving
  • Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Lemon wedges, for serving
  • In a small bowl, mash together the butter, salt, rosemary, thyme, tomato paste and garlic.
  • Using kitchen shears, cut down the sides of the chicken’s backbone to remove it. Keep it for roasting later. Flip the chicken over and cut the chicken in half between the breasts.
  • Rub the butter mixture all over the chicken halves, getting it underneath the skin. Place the chicken halves on a rimmed baking sheet and let them marinate for at least 2 hours, and up to overnight, in the fridge (leave it uncovered, which will help the skin dry out and then crisp up when it roasts).
  • Arrange the racks in the top third, middle, and bottom third of the oven. Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
  • On a rimmed baking sheet, toss together the eggplants, onion, 5 tablespoons olive oil, and a big pinch of fine sea salt. Top the mixture with 2 thyme sprigs, 1 rosemary sprig and a third of the bay leaf pieces. Place the reserved chicken backbone in the middle of the baking sheet next to the vegetables, and roast on the middle oven rack for 20 minutes, tossing the vegetables after 10 minutes. (The pan will be very full, and that’s OK; the onion will reduce as it cooks.)
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss the zucchini, bell pepper and tomato with just enough oil to coat, and add a big pinch of fine sea salt. Divide the vegetables between 2 rimmed baking sheets and spread them out into 1 layer. Top each pan of vegetables with half of the remaining thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Nestle half a chicken in among the vegetables on each pan. Make sure the chicken is resting on the pan, not the vegetables. Drizzle the chicken with olive oil.
  • Place these baking sheets on the top and bottom oven racks (the eggplant is on the middle rack). Roast for 15 minutes. Toss all the vegetables (including the eggplant and onion), and drizzle the chicken with a little more oil. Switch the top and bottom baking sheets (to help evenly brown the chicken) and roast for another 15 to 25 minutes, until the chicken registers 155 degrees when a thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. Keep an eye on the vegetables, and transfer any that start to burn to a serving bowl.
  • If the chicken is done but the skin isn’t brown enough for you, broil it for 1 to 2 minutes; then transfer the chicken to a serving platter and let it rest for 5 minutes. Transfer all the vegetables to a serving bowl, discarding the herb sprigs and bay leaf pieces, and toss them well with the pan drippings, any juice from the rested chicken, and the basil. Sprinkle the vegetables with flaky salt and plenty of black pepper, and then serve them alongside the chicken, with lemon wedges on the side. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: 575 calories (percent of calories from fat, 61), 39 grams protein, 19 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams fiber, 39 grams fat (12 grams saturated), 134 milligrams cholesterol, 854 milligrams sodium.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com

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