When in France, eat well

Entertaining

Entertaining: A stay in Paris is an occasion for enjoying fine food. Lamb chops seasoned with herbes de Provence and mustard fill the bill.

Sunday Gourmet

May 28, 2000|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

My husband, a college professor, is on sabbatical this semester working on a project that required that he do research in Paris. It didn't take me long to decide that I'd like to accompany him to one of the world's most celebrated culinary meccas, so for several weeks this spring we are living in a Left Bank apartment in France's capital.

While my spouse departs for the libraries to pore over musty tomes each day, I pack my shopping bags and head for the nearby food markets. A few blocks away there's an outdoor marche that is crowded with merchants selling fresh seasonal fare. Bunches of asparagus, both green and white varieties; fat spring onions; bouquets of mint, chives and dill; baskets of plump red strawberries; and bundles of rhubarb are just some of the ingredients that tempt me daily.

Around the corner, there's an impressive cheese store and also a well-stocked wine shop. The butcher stores display beautiful cuts of lamb, beef and pork, and every few steps there's another patisserie where one can buy a decadent pastry or a crispy baguette.

My enthusiasm for all this delectable fare has been so great that each day I return with more than the two of us can eat, so we've begun to invite friends over for simple dinners or weekend lunches. Entertaining French style, I have found, is quite easy because it's not necessary to cook every part of a meal. I often offer two or three bowls of different olives along with bread sticks to begin a meal and buy a tart or a cake from the bakery for dessert. All I need to worry about, then, is the main course.

For example, this past week I served pan-fried lamb chops, coated with Dijon mustard and herbes de Provence, over buttered fresh noodles along with some asparagus. The menu, which took little time to prepare, was a big success with our guests.

Herbes de Provence, an assortment of dried herbs used in the south of France, can include basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, marjoram, savory, fennel or other herbs, and is available packed in small clay pots in the spice section of many groceries and in specialty food shops in the United States.

Mustard and Herbed Lamb Chops With Fresh Pasta

Serves 4

8 rib lamb chops, about 3/4 inch thick and 4 to 5 ounces each

salt

freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

6 teaspoons herbes de Provence (see note)

8 to 10 ounces fresh pasta, such as fettuccine or tagliatelle

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

olive oil for sauteing chops

fresh basil, rosemary or thyme sprigs for garnish, optional

Trim lamb chops of any excess fat and discard fat. Salt and pepper chops well.

In small mixing bowl, whisk together mustard and 4 teaspoons herbes de Provence. Brush lamb chops on both sides with mixture and marinate 30 minutes at cool room temperature. (Lamb chops can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Brush with mustard mixture and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before sauteing.)

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook until tender according to package directions. Drain in colander. Return pasta to pot in which they were cooked and toss with butter and remaining 2 teaspoons herbes de Provence.

Season to taste with salt as needed. Cover pot and set aside while sauteing chops.

Place large heavy skillet (which will hold chops comfortably in single layer) or 2 medium skillets over medium heat. Coat bottom of skillet with thin film of oil. When hot, add chops and saute 3 to 4 minutes until browned, then turn and saute until browned on other side and chops are pink in center, 3 to 4 minutes more. Add more oil if needed. Remove chops from skillet.

To serve, arrange pasta on warm serving platter. Make border with lamb chops. Garnish center of dish with bouquet of fresh herbs.

Note: If herbes de Provence are not available, the following is a recipe I often use. Mix together 2 tablespoons dried thyme leaves, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried summer savory and 1 teaspoon dried marjoram. There will be enough for this recipe plus some left over.

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