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

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.

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

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