Springtime in Paris, Wisconsin

Now in Season Spring 2014 Issue

Springtime in Paris, Wisconsin

By Terese Allen | Photos By Jim Klousia 0

Most people don’t associate Wisconsin with French cuisine, although the French influence on the state was early and significant. Consider Jean Nicolet, the first European to explore the region. Consider the voyageurs who mapped the wilderness and the French colonists who settled it. The French legacy is considerable here; still, it isn’t culinary, oddly enough.

But I can’t help feeling that French cooking should have its day in our state. Or rather, its season. During spring in Wisconsin, it just seems natural to turn classic French preparations at mealtime. When morels pop, we sauté them in butter. When lettuce emerges, we dress it with vinaigrette. Farm-fresh eggs, those symbols of rebirth and renewal, become omelets and baby vegetables become crudités. And just about anything green and tender—watercress, asparagus, spinach, sorrel— is pureed into soup.

There is an inherent elegance, a sense of rustic sophistication to French-style country cooking that suits northern sensibilities at this time of year. The French even have special terms for what Wisconsinites especially crave in springtime. Cuisine de potager (kitchen garden cooking) and its counterpart, cuisine de marché (cooking from the market) are based on fresh, seasonal ingredients and feature simple, time-honored preparation methods.

French cuisine in the Dairy State? Think of it as a seasonal salute to Jean Nicolet.


Recipes

Spring Salad with Warm Mushrooms and Sheep's Milk Feta

Here’s a spunky yet graceful mix of greens, fresh herbs, piquant cheese and garlicky mushrooms. Use a light hand with the vinaigrette, however, or it can go soggy and lose its poise.

Panfish in Papillote

Inside appetizer-size paper packets, seasoned steam gently flavors the catch of the day and attractively puffs the containers, which in turn release a heady aroma when opened. To cook these on an outdoor grill, use foil instead. For a main dish, make larger packets.

Watercress Vichyssoise

This soup creates a bridge between winter and spring; it pairs stored-over potatoes and leeks with new season watercress. Use water, not chicken stock, here; the latter would muddle the flavor of what should be a very simple blend. For a totally different flavor profile, substitute lemony sorrel for the watercress.

Soufflé Omelet

Give your next brunch omelet an elegant, springtime rise with whipped egg whites. Individual omelets cook up quickly, but if you use a larger skillet you can double the recipe.

Terese Allen has written scores of articles and books about Wisconsin’s food traditions and culinary culture, including the award-winning The Flavor of Wisconsin, The Flavor of Wisconsin for Kids, and Wisconsin Local Foods Journal. She is food editor for Organic Valley, president of the Culinary History Enthusiasts of Wisconsin (CHEW) and a longtime director of REAP Food Group, the cutting-edge food and sustainability organization based in Madison. She is hungry all the time.

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