By Ann | January 8, 2013
I’m in Paris for the month and I’ve got France on my mind. French food, like this savory tomato and spinach tart. But also French boiler maintenance, French homeowner’s associations, French property taxes — in other words, all the administrative details of life made complicated by the Kafka-esque French bureaucracy. Thank goodness for Olivier Cappaert and his company, Excuse My French, which helps expats in France solve their administrative woes.
Olivier lives in Normandy with his American wife, Jenny Beaumont (who happens to be my awesome web counselor). He travels frequently to Paris to help expats negotiate visa questions, vehicle registration, consumer rights, offer certified translation and more. I like to think of him as the “Fonctionnaire Whisperer” because he has a magic touch of always finding exactly the right person and charming them into being helpful. Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Olivier, share a few photos from his life in dreamy Normandy and learn more about his Tuesday routine à la française watching le foot and eating savory tarts!
“Before dinner time, whether it is Tuesday or Saturday, my wife and I always meet up around 6:30 pm for the apéritif on the couches around the coffee table,” says Olivier. “We really love that ritual. It’s the ideal place close to the wooden stove where in the winter, chilly spring and wet fall I light a fire to go with our cheering. We usually enjoy the aperitif with grilled salty pistachios and some dry sausage (Rosette de Lyon) that always puts us in shape for the dinner to come. Sometimes Jenny adds boiled eggs with her amazing mayonnaise. Green and black olives are also welcome but we try to vary the ingredients except for the pistachios as I am addicted to them.”
“If Tuesday football Champion’s League is on, I usually prepare for myself some fresh pastas, easy to cook. A ricotta spinach mix needs to be boiled for 5 minutes max. Then, once in a plate, I add fresh basil, olive oil, powder garlic, pepper and organic ultra-levure that I sprinkle on the top to give a crispy taste to the whole dish. I usually wait for the game to begin to start eating at the same time to get this double pleasure inside the palette and in the eyes to see my team win the game. I call it FooFood or double F.”
“When it comes to something more difficult to make than pastas, I let it all into my wife’s hands for the dinner preparation. Then, I could be surprised by a handmade tart whether it’s a tomato and mustard one, a spinach egg and broccoli, a lardon courgettes or even a leek tart. I love them all anyway. That’s why my wife is the best tart maker in the whole universe and the best cook. Far better than my own mom and I know what I mean by saying that!”
Spinach and tomato pie
Recipe by Jenny Beaumont, appreciated by Olivier Cappaert
Note from Ann: Loaded with vegetables — and without any cheese — this savory tart is quite virtuous (perfect for January good intentions). I enjoyed the clean flavors of the unadorned spinach and tomatoes, but you could add a bit of shredded parmesan or Gruyère for some extra richness. I used a store-bought pure butter crust, but next time I’d like to try it with this whole wheat olive oil pastry.
1 Herta pie crust (“I prefer flaky,” says Jenny. “Or homemade — but that’s not fast, is it?”)
Fresh or frozen spinach, to shallowly cover a tart mold or pie dish (I used about 1/3 lb., defrosted and squeezed of liquid)
Splash of milk
Lots of pepper, salt to taste
Preheat oven to 180°C/ 360°F. Chop up the tomatoes and soften them in a large pan with the defrosted spinach and a bit of water to keep from sticking. Load on the pepper. “You can add salt too,” says Jenny. “Though I don’t usually with this one, no particular reason.” When soft (don’t overcook), take off heat. Beat the two eggs with a bit of milk. Lay out the dough in a pie tin, a give it a good go round with a fork. Spread the spinach-tomato mixture evenly in over the pie crust, then pour over egg mixture, also making sure it spreads evenly into the veggies. Pop into the oven for 20-25 minutes. Let cool for 5-10 before eating.
Other pie variations we do a lot: bacon/courgettes, tomato/mustard (mustard olive oil sauce with herbs spread under uncooked sliced tomatoes laid out in the pie crust), leeks. Great with a side of simple green salad. The best part is there are usually leftovers for the lunch the next day!
A final note from Olivier:
“I’d like to add something essential to me,” he says. “For any meal I eat in my life, I always end it with a square of black chocolate mixed with almond or hazelnut. On Saturday evening, I also authorize myself into a shot or two of Zubrowska vodka, which is for me the best vodka ever with its bison herb inside the bottle. I sometimes pour it over a small portion of sorbet citron to digest and feel comfortable and keep a flat stomach after dinner. This dessert is also well known in France under the name of “Colonel,” eaten by people enduring long family meals who wanted to take the afternoon slow and digest the enormous feast.
“I realized we can just eat anything we want without being in trouble of putting on weight. The secret is to walk every day for half an hour (fast walk) and when it comes to food to eat well but with small portions. It is for me the best diet ever. Eat anything but small.”