The cordial art of French aperitifs
As Georgeanne Brennan speaks of tender young lettuce with morningdew still clinging to its leaves, and freshly picked pencil-thinasparagus destined for a savory bread pudding, her eyes begin tosparkle. She seems for a moment to have slipped away to anotherplace, and it’s a good bet it’s the French countryside.
That’s where she acquired her passionate appreciation of foodand gardening, and of a varied selection of fresh, high-qualitymeats, seafood, and, above all, produce. Her admiration for the potager – the traditional French kitchen garden that yieldsseasonal vegetables, fruits, herbs, and cutting flowers – inspireda desire to see potager-style cooking catch on in this country.
In 1982 Brennan founded Le Marché Seeds with partnerCharlotte Glenn Kimball. The company imported seeds of European andAsian vegetables then considered rarities. Thanks to Le Marchéand similar companies, a wide range of greens – among themradicchio, heirloom lettuces, frisée, and mizuna – isavailable in the U.S. today.
Brennan played a major role in the development of the farmers’market and organic gardening movements in this country, and in 1984began writing newspaper columns about food and gardening. Cookbookssoon followed, among them Potager: Fresh Garden Cooking in the French Style; TheVegetarian Table: France; and Down to Earth: Great Recipes for Root Vegetables.
Her book, Aperitif: Recipes for Simple Pleasures in the French Style(Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1997; $24.95), focused on atradition little known in this country. The aperitif “is both abeverage and a social activity … firmly embedded in the Frenchway of life,” according to Brennan.
“At home, sitting around the kitchen table or gathered in theliving room, outside beneath the shade of spreading trees, onterraces or balconies, family and friends come together to share anaperitif and conversation before the lunch or dinner hour,” shewrites.
In another chapter, “The Classics,” she focuses on traditionalaperitifs: sherry, pastis, Dubonnet, vermouth, Lillet, and Campari;another concentrates on nonalcoholic fruit drinks suitable forchildren and designated drivers. The final chapter is devotedentirely to food to serve with aperitifs. The dishes range fromToasted Almonds to the more complex Spicy Black Bean Wontons,Rosemary-Walnut Biscotti, and Wild Mushroom and Goat CheeseGalettes. The following recipes provide a hint of thoseflavors.