It was years later, when my own dream came true and I, too, was living in Paris, that Patricia and Walter became my good friends and I discovered that not only had she gotten to live my dream and hers, but she seemed to be living every Francophile’s dream — and she was living it with exuberance and elan and the complete knowledge that she was one of the luckiest people in the world. It’s impossible (at least for me) to be jealous of anyone who knows they’re lucky, and even more impossible to be jealous of anyone who’s worked so hard to be lucky, and whose hard work has brought the rest of us so much joy. Do any of you ever want to be without Patricia’s Bistro Cooking? Or Simply French? Or her latest, Vegetable Harvest? I don’t.
In the almost thirty years that Patricia and Walter have been Americans in Paris … and Provence, she’s written iconic books, penned hundreds of restaurant reviews (she was the restaurant critic for the The International Herald Tribune for 27 years), and established two wonderful cooking schools; he’s edited Europe’s leading English-language newspaper, The International Herald Tribune; and together they’ve traveled the world in search of great food and great wine and shared everything they’ve found with their readers.
In this new book (the first they’ve written together), We’ve Always Had Paris .. And Provence, aptly called a scrapbook, we get the back story — and pictures (don’t miss their “formal” wedding portrait).
Walter and Patricia alternate chapters, each telling their own story (and sometimes piping in on the other’s tale), and, while their story has a happy ending — and a happy beginning and middle, too — you get a sense of what it takes to make a successful life in a foreign country. In case you’re wondering, it looks like you’d better pack a lot of energy, flexibility and commitment, a terrific sense of humor and a very finely honed appreciation of the absurd. A lucky charm wouldn’t hurt, either.
And the book’s got recipes – several. Here’s one for eggplant, a vegetable that grows in abundance in the Wells’s lush garden in Provence.
EGGPLANT IN SPICY TOMATO SAUCE
From We’ve Always Had Paris .. and Provence, by Patricia and Walter Wells
Equipment: A large deep frying pan with a cover.
4 small, firm, fresh eggplant, washed but not peeled (each about 8 ounces)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt
2 onions, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons thin slivers fresh ginger
6 plump garlic cloves, peeled, halved, green germ removed
1 small fresh chile pepper, minced, or 1 teaspoon ground dried chile
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
2 cups chicken stock
1) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
2) Halve the eggplants lengthwise. Brush the flesh lightly with 1 tablespoon of the oil and season with salt. Place the eggplant halves cut side down on a baking sheet. Place on a rack in the center of the oven and bake until soft and golden, about 30 minutes.
3) While the eggplant cooks, prepare the sauce: In a large deep frying pan, combine the onion, the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and about 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt. Toss to thoroughly coat the onions with the oil and cook, covered, over low heat until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, chile, and cumin and toss again to evenly coat the onions with the spices. Add the tomato sauce and chicken stock and simmer, covered, for about 5 minutes. Add the roasted eggplant halves, burying them in the sauce. Cook until the eggplant is very tender and has absorbed the sauce, about 20 minutes more.