And in a sense I have, because I’ve read French Bistro from cover to cover and heard both Bertrand and Francois on every page. Francois said that collaborating with Bertrand was easy: “He was the grapefruit and I just had to squeeze him,” quipped Simon. Well, I’ve been squeezing grapefruits for years, and I’ve never gotten prose as good as what’s in their book.
For example, scattered throughout the book, which includes 56 recipes from the Paul Bert (the recipe for Anchovy Fillets and Marinated Red Bell Peppers follows) and stories about bistros in general and the Paul Bert and Bertrand’s other favorite bistros (names and addresses included) in particular, are chapters on “Bistro Essentials”. Here are some gems from Auboyneau and Simon:
The owner: The bistro owner does not just preside from behind the bar. For one, there is hardly room to set a stool there, let alone a throne.
The bar: The bar is a benevolent entity, a latter-day confessional. Feel free to open your heart there.
The table: The art of dining at a bistro may seem rudimentary; it can be almost biblical in its simplicity. The plates are round and white, like the halos of angels, and solid, like one’s faith in good cooking.
The décor: If the food is good, the décor seems spectacular … The bench covered in worn leatherette will seem redolent of the romance of past eras rather than simply shabby.
The bistro will never be perfect: The bistro resembles life with all its blemishes and even illustrates that there is no such thing as unmitigated excellence.
If you’d like to win a copy of this beautiful book, just leave a comment telling me what the word “bistro” makes you think of.
You’ve got until midnight Thursday, March 1, to leave a comment and then I’ll get out the random-number generator and pick a winner.
ANCHOVY FILLETS AND MARINATED RED BELL PEPPERS
1 1/3 pound (600 grams) very fresh anchovies
5 red bell peppers
Piment d’Espelette (a mild chili pepper from the Basque region of France, you may substitute chili flakes)
3/4 cup (200 ml) olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A drizzle of high-quality olive oil, for serving
Country bread and black olive tapenade, for serving
Prepare the marinated red bell pepper and anchovy fillets a day ahead.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
Cut the bell peppers in half lengthwise and carefully remove all the seeds. Place the pepper halves on a baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes. Remove them from the oven and wrap them in aluminum foil until they have cooled enough for you to remove the skin easily.
Cut them into strips just under 1 inch (2 cm) wide. Season them with salt and pepper and marinate them in the olive oil overnight in the refrigerator.
To prepare the anchovy fillets: remove the fillets from the central bone. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the piment d’Espelette. Leave overnight in the refrigerator.
To serve, alternate slices of bell pepper with the anchovy fillets on the plates. Drizzle with your very best olive oil.
Serve this dish with a thin slice of warm country toast spread with black olive tapenade.