Tag Archives: richard olney


Last year I endured an entire summer without making a single batch of ratatouille, of which I have no one to blame but myself. This year, I vowed, would be different. I had long been intrigued by Richard Olney’s iteration of the classic ratatouille stew — he serves it froide, or cold, for lunch, and paired with a light, dry, well-chilled rosé — of which he raved about its syrupy, vivid, and satisfying qualities.

Ratatouille is, at heart, humble, country food, and Olney seems to agree: “Many people insist on… refinements, [that are] to me, without interest and not at all in keeping with the basic nature of a dish whose origins are simple and unpretentious.” In The French Menu Cookbook, Olney fits ratatouille into his ‘Simple Summer Luncheon à la Provençal,’ as the first course in a menu that also includes a blanquette of beef tripe with basil, steamed potatoes, tossed green salad, cheeses, and cherries with fresh almonds.

His words guided our thoughts the afternoon we decided to host an impromptu park picnic. The crown jewel of the evening would be none other than our vermillion Le Creuset pot, brimming over with cold stew. I made a few other simple dishes that evening, including a red leaf lettuce salad studded with chopped flat beans, red onion, corn, carrots, fennel, and a flurry of chopped herbs. A dish of glowing, egg-like new potatoes, with skins as delicate as tissue paper, were halved and coated in salted butter and avocado oil, dusted heavily with smoked paprika, and finished with crinklings of tarragon. And finally, we popped open a jar of my dilly beans, addictive in their uncanny similarity to potato chips. But most importantly, an awesome picnic is a group effort, and other treats materialized throughout the night, including a cluster of wine bottles, halved radishes, fresh cucumbers, charcuterie, a multitude of cheeses, and heirloom tomatoes.

Sadly, our days for picnics here in Montreal are numbered. I pulled on two sweaters this morning before making breakfast, and my sturdy denim jacket wasn’t quite enough protection on my bike last night. Troubling to say the least, and all the more reason to make a point to whip up a batch of ratatouille right away, before the opportunity eludes us yet another year, and all of these gorgeous vegetables disappear from the markets.

A few notes about Olney’s recipe: he suggests preserving the leftovers in sterilized glass jars — a wonderful idea. He stresses the importance of a ratatouille “well laced with thyme and garlic” and “impeccable” olive oil. And finally, he includes one fussy detail, in which he advises briefly separating the cooked vegetables from its liquid. The juice can then reduce separately into a thick syrup, and is then re-added to the pot. I found this totally unnecessary for what is purportedly such a ‘humble’ one-pot dish, and the results, I promise, are still spectacular.

Richard Olney’s Ratatouille Froide, adapted

1 pound white onions
2/3 cup olive oil
4 large, firm, well-ripened tomatoes (we used Romas)
1 pound sweet peppers (a mixture of red, yellow, and green)
1 pound eggplant (he recommends the small violet elongated variety; we love the tiny, lavender-hued, bulbous specimens from Birri, at the Jean-Talon Marche)
1 pound baby zucchini (the smallest available; I don’t think you can find these are the markets anymore, so any size would be fine)
6 cloves garlic
pinch of Cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
a bouquet of parsley and 1 bay leaf
handful of finely chopped parsley (of course, we used basil instead!)
freshly ground pepper

—Peel and chop onions, and saute in 1/3 cup olive oil. Do not let them brown. Mince garlic and add to pot.
—Peel and seed tomatoes (we score tomatoes with an X and then blanch for 30 seconds for easy peeling).
—Dice zucchini, peppers, and eggplant into 1 inch square pieces. In a second pan, saute each separate vegetable until golden brown, and set aside. I did this in a couple of batches because there were so many vegetables. (We also used a good amount of goose fat in the saute process. Worth it, promise). You don’t want the vegetables to steam — we let them get nice and golden brown.
—Add cooked peppers and eggplant to the pot with onion and garlic. Add tomatoes. Let simmer, stirring gently. Add the thyme, cayenne, parsley, and bay leaf.
—Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a faint simmer, and cover with lid.
—Cook for two hours. At least! I think I went even longer. You’ll find that as the vegetables simmer and cook, they release even more liquid. It’s incredible to watch and defies logic — instead of drying up in the pot, the vegetables just get juicier, stickier, and more syrupy. Oh, and the smell will be incredible.
—Finish with the remaining olive oil, freshly torn basil, and pepper, stirring carefully to avoid crushing the vegetables. Let cool, then serve with crusty bread and a big glass of wine. I found the Lirac red of Château Mont-Redon to be a wonderful, charming pairing.

And come on, did you really think I wouldn’t mention this?



Ordering this book immediately. I love reading menus, and lists of ingredients; it’s so soothing. Is that weird? My favorite Richard Olney volumes are his books arranged by precise meal plans —specifically,The French Menu Cookbook: The Food and Wine of France—Season by Delicious Season—in Beautifully Composed Menus and Ten Vineyard Lunches. I can’t even count how many times I’ve referred to its pages for inspirations for dinner parties and other events. I love thinking about the sequencing of a great meal as being similar to a tracks on a record or chapters in a book. Why should a meal be assembled haphazardly, when it could be composed as a linear, thoughtful event? Oh, and this Patricia Curtan book inspires me to host a Grand Aïoli of my own, too.

[via the Paris Review]

Richard Olney’s Fresh Peas + Lettuce

Most people recoil at the thought of cooking lettuce, but I happen to love the mild flavor and slippery texture of lettuce wilted into soups, stews, or into rice. So you can imagine that we were particularly pleased to come upon this recipe of fresh spring peas with lettuce from Richard Olney’s inestimable volume The French Menu Cookbook.

Freshly shelled peas are massaged with soft butter, salt, and pepper, and spooned gently into a pot lined with slips of torn Bibb lettuce. The peas steam in the water droplets still clinging to the lettuce, and are bathed in a buttery, thyme-scented broth. What’s presented here is my casual adaptation of Olney’s creation, and what I love most is that this simple recipe produces the most unique results – tender summer peas infused with the flavors of butter, thyme, and Bibb lettuce.

Isn’t shelling peas strangely soothing? I actually love it.

The sensation of plucking out those tiny peas is similar to popping zits. So, so satisfying.

Line your pot with lettuce leaves. See those water droplets? Essential for steaming, so don’t be too fastidious about drying the lettuce.

Stuff that bundle of thyme into the lettuce core.

The core gets placed into the middle of the pot, and the butter-rubbed peas are spooned on top of the lettuce. Don’t you already want to eat it?

The rest of the lettuce leaves are layered over the peas, nice and cozy.

After 45 minutes, this is what you get. A bowl of silky, buttery peas, steamed in the essence of lettuce and thyme.

We savored every bite. Make this immediately!

Fresh spring peas in lettuce

(Note: Because this recipe is so simple, ingredients of the highest quality are of paramount importance. Don’t even think about replacing freshly shelled peas with its frozen brethren! Also, Olney recommends using an enameled cast-iron pot with a very snug lid. We used our beloved Le Creuset number. And finally, don’t discard the cooked lettuce afterward! We used ours to flavor a basic vegetable stock. I also snuck a couple of cold bites of lettuce with some steak the next night.)

2 cups freshly shelled peas

1/2 head Bibb lettuce, washed and torn into big pieces

small bundle of fresh twine, tied together with string

1/2 stick butter, room temperature

salt + pepper

1. In a cast-iron pot, line the bottom and sides of pan with torn sheets of Bibb lettuce, overlapping the pieces in a fan. 

2. Gently pry open the core of the lettuce head and place the bundle of thyme within.

3. Shell peas and set aside. (Olney here is particularly fussy about finding small peas of identical size and shape, insisting that the larger specimens are too starchy for this delicate dish. I say, screw it. It was still delicious.)

4. In a small dish, mash butter with generous amounts of salt and pepper, forming a smooth paste.

5. Gently rub salted butter into the peas, and spoon into the lettuce-lined pot.

6. Place final layer of lettuce leaves snugly over the peas, as if tucking them into bed. Really lay them on!

7. Over high heat, saute lettuce and peas for one minute, just to get the pot warm.

8. Turn the burn to the lowest possible setting and gently simmer for 45 minutes. That’s right, forty-five minutes. I realize that this sounds like a ludicrous amount of time, but I promise that it’s just the right length to unleash some serious magic.

9. 20 minutes into the steam, gently open pan to check on peas, and give a nice shake. There should be plenty of liquid in there.

10. After another 20 minutes, open and carefully spoon peas into bowl, and discard (or save for future use) the lettuce and thyme. Serve immediately with a glass of white Burgundy.


Easter Sunday supper

Richard Olney’s caul-wrapped lamb heart, liver and kidney brochettes, strung onto rosemary branches // Spring vegetable pilaf with Swiss chard ribs, new carrots, fresh peas, scallions, mint, and parsley

Red leaf lettuce and roasted red beets dressed with minted-lemon vinaigrette // Tomato, red onion, parsley and mint salad // Cardoons poached in lemon water

Grilled endives, scallions, and tomatoes // Grilled toasts, rubbed with tomato and cloves of garlic

Lulu’s Walnut Gâteaux

The sunny Easter morning began with potent coffee and S-shaped cookies in Little Italy, followed by a gluttonous feast of dim sum, and then a predictably rad shopping excursion to our favorite butcher shop in Montreal, Abu Elias. Because we don’t make it over there that frequently, we always stock up on staples like hummus, pita, whole roast chickens, soujouk.

But because it was Easter Sunday, Abu Elias had a few special items lounging around. Knowing our deep love of offal, the butcher mysteriously gestured to a pile of organs that they kept out of the display case. As he dangled them in the air for us to inspect — an attached system of the heart, kidneys, liver, and bloodied lungs from a baby lamb that was freshly slaughtered for the day’s Easter celebrations — I knew we couldn’t turn it down. For about $12, it was a bargain.

Then came the awesome task of wondering just what we were going to do with it all. Adam, knowing that I desperately wanted to fire up our grill, immediately remembered an Richard Olney recipe that called for lamb liver and heart, diced into small bits, wrapped up in translucent caul, and strung onto skewers of rosemary. It’s a classic Provencal dish, meant to be eaten with Domaine Tempier Bandol and a fluffy spring vegetable pilaf. It was the perfect idea.

But I was more reluctant to embrace the lungs, which honestly freaked me out. A moment of validation came when, after a bit of research, we realized that the lungs aren’t really meant to be eaten. They’re basically dog food. I felt apprehensive about the extensive cleaning the bloodied lungs required, and couldn’t imagine how I could possibly grill them. (In a particularly grotesque moment, we imagined the lungs filling with air and ballooning up on the grill to gigantic proportions, eventually exploding in our faces and splattering the walls with tiny lung bits). So we threw them in a bowl, poked at the narrow esophagus for good measure, and decided to skip them. (But if anyone has a good lamb lung recipe, I would love to see it!)

With the concept firmly in place, we rang up a few friends, and held an impromptu Easter celebration. As the early spring breezes licked at the flames and in the final seconds of grilling the lamb, we threw handfuls of fresh sage and rosemary leaves directly onto the glowing coals. Fragrant, intoxicating smoke billowed around the skewers. It was a moment of indisputable magic.

Because the flavor of lamb offal can be quite strong, it can handle equally pungent herbs and wines. We marinated the liver and heart in mint, scallions, lemons, olive oil, parsley, diced red onion and raw garlic, and drank powerful Mourvèdre all night. It’s worth noting that the caul — which added much-needed fat, juiciness, and a porky counterpoint to the tiny morsels of lamb offal — is an essential ingredient. I also made sure to serve plenty of vegetables to offset the richness of the meal, and it was our first truly springlike meal, charred with flavor and bursting with life.

Our lovely set of organs.

Though we decided to nix the lungs.

Defrosted caul, ready to wrap stuff.


Dinner. I love how everything is the same shade of pale, pale yellow — the butter, the toast, the sole, the artichokes, the bowl of lemons, the wine, the half wheel of Brie. Unintentional monochromatic coordination.

I had been curious for quite some time about Richard Olney’s dish of persillade of sole and shredded artichokes, dressed heavily in lemon and minced parsley, from his volume French Wine and Food (Ten Vineyard Lunches). We unintentionally went a little bit overboard with the lemon — I can never quite control myself with citrus — but otherwise it is a perfectly manageable and delicate dish.

[Oh! Final note: One of my bestest friends, Kat Stone, recently has started a mouthwatering food blog, kat.tales. Not only is she a phenomenal writer, but an inspirational cook. Check it out!]


As much as I love running my own kitchen, there are few greater pleasures than having a meal entirely cooked for you. Upon our return from the Oregon coast, I was exhausted + implored to simply sit at the kitchen table and eat creamy French cheeses from Pastaworks while watching the chaos surrounding the task of boiling two pounds of live, extremely cranky crayfish. So happy to not have to help. The recipe in question was Richard Olney’s classic crayfish salad with fresh dill — or salade d’Ecrevisses a l’Aneth — from his thrilling tome, The French Menu Cookbook. In typical Olney style, the directions for preparing live crayfish were ambiguous and detached. He makes it seem so easy:

Starting with the largest, rinse the crayfish, and remove the intestine of each, grasping the animal just above the point at which the pincers join the body, to avoid being pinched — or holding it with a towel for protection, and with an abrupt motion to either side, tear loose the central fin from the tail fan, then pull gently in order to slip out the attached intestinal tract without breaking it.”

It seemed unusually cruel (and technically difficult) to rip out the crayfish’s little intestines while still writhing in the air, so after a few failed attempts we just tossed the crayfish in a huge pot of bubbling water, and then performed surgery on the cooked crustaceans. Still messy. Equally difficult was preparing the dressing, which required the carapaces (heads, claws, legs and coral) to be pounded in a stone mortar into a coarse puree. Yeah right. Even a few turns in the food processor produced nothing more than a spiky, thin sauce, but it was enough to produce a highly flavorful dressing. In any case, this was one of the best salads I have ever had, and as full as we were, we managed to cap the meal off with a tiny chocolate and hazelnut mousse called ‘The Royale’ from Pix.