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The Perfect French Summer Meal

Some of my most memorable summer meals have been shared at a small, charming, rustic restaurant, Le Maschou, located on a cobblestone hill in Old Cannes in the sun-drenched south of France. This meal came to mind recently when the summer heat was so intense that cooking and entertaining at home became an all-time challenge. Le Maschou serves the perfect summer meal.

Here’s Le Maschou’s menu, with each item served in sequence, not simultaneously: slices of perfectly ripened melon draped with prosciutto, casually arranged on an old wooden slab; grilled baguette slices served with a chive creme fraiche mixture; their version of crudites--the most beautiful basket of whole vegetables, artfully arranged and accompanied by two substantive vinaigrettes, mustard and anchovy; a choice of chicken, steak or rack of lamb, all simply grilled over wood and served with a baked potato. And finally, a choice of desserts--creme caramel, lemon tart, slices of fresh pineapple or a fresh fruit salad. A fragrant sangria with orange slices starts off the evening; a simple chilled red or rose wine from Provence accompanies the service of food.

Most restaurants are staffed and equipped beyond anyone’s capability at home. Not so at Le Maschou. Two owners/waiters cook on one large wood-burning fireplace and serve about 40 diners. There’s no question that this is a manageable meal for the home cook; the cooking is minimal. The critical point in recreating this menu is using the best-quality ingredients you can find.

This mixture is spread on grilled baguette slices; you can butter it first, if you wish. It can be prepared a day ahead and refrigerated, covered airtight. It’s worth keeping the chive cream on the table to dollop onto the baked potatoes.

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CHIVE CREAM

1 1/2 cups creme fraiche or sour cream

1/2 cup finely snipped fresh chives

2 tablespoons light-tasting olive oil

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1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Salt

Freshly ground white pepper

Combine creme fraiche, chives, olive oil and 1 teaspoon lemon juice in 1-quart bowl. Adjust lemon juice and season to taste with salt and white pepper. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

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Crudites can look run-of-the-mill unless attention is taken to arranging them artfully. Picture this: whole vegetables such as peppers--red, green and yellow; heads of Belgian endive; clusters of red leaf lettuce and curly endive; fennel bulb with feathery leaves; bunches of carrots and celery stalks with their greens; tomatoes; slender cucumbers; kohlrabi; cluster of spring onions; bouquet of radishes; scored mushrooms; wedges of red cabbage; zucchini and summer squash as well as hard-cooked brown-shelled eggs, all arranged dramatically in a tall woven basket that is set down on the table with an anchovy - and - mustard vinaigrette, both thick and opaque, each served in individual glass bowls.

ANCHOVY VINAIGRETTE FOR CRUDITES

1 medium shallot, about 1/2 ounce, minced

1 (1.75-ounce) can flat anchovies, well-rinsed and patted dry

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1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup light-tasting olive oil

Salt

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Freshly ground pepper

Combine shallot, anchovies, vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste in blender. Process until smooth. Makes 1/2 cup.

Note: Can be made day ahead and refrigerated, covered airtight.

MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE FOR CRUDITES

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1 medium shallot, about 1/2 ounce, minced

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 cup light-tasting olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

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Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Combine shallot, vinegar, olive oil, mustard and salt and pepper to taste in blender. Process until smooth. Makes 2/3 cup.

Note: Can be made several days ahead and refrigerated, covered airtight.

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We often underestimate the appeal of such a simply but flavorfully broiled entree, whether it be lamb or chicken, just served with a baked potato. The crudite course supplies more than enough vegetables for this menu. This marinade is delicious on chicken; just double the recipe for two large frying chickens, rubbing on the marinade several hours in advance (or overnight) and refrigerating the chickens.

GRILLED RACK OF LAMB

3 large cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons light-tasting olive oil

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3 tablespoons dry red wine

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon dried rosemary

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

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Freshly ground pepper

3 lamb racks, about 2 pounds each, trimmed of most visible fat

Combine garlic, olive oil, wine, mustard, rosemary, salt and pepper in small dish. Rub over surface of lamb, using fingers (wear rubber gloves to prevent garlic fragrance on hands). Let rest at room temperature 1/2 hour.

Grill over moderately hot coals, turning several times until cooked to desired doneness, roughly 17 minutes for medium rare. Let meat rest 10 minutes tented with foil. To serve, cut through ribs to slice meat, dividing each rack into 2 servings. Makes 6 servings.

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This is a typical French summer dessert. Use a mix of the best quality, ripe (but firm) fruit available to you . If raspberries are included, sprinkle them over the top of each serving to avoid smushing them.

FRESH FRUIT DESSERT SALAD

7 cups fresh fruit, at least 3 different kinds, cut into 1/2-inch dice or sliced

Orange Syrup

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1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Grated zest of 1 orange

Gently toss fruit, Orange Syrup, lemon juice to taste and orange zest together at least 1/2 hour before serving, but not exceeding 2 hours. Serve chilled. Makes 6 servings.

Orange Syrup

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Grated zest of 2 oranges

2 cups water

Generous 1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

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Combine zest, water and sugar in 1-quart saucepan. Bring to boil. Simmer, uncovered, until slightly syrupy, about 10 minutes. Let cool. Strain and discard orange zest. Stir in vanilla.


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