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No-Fuss French Crowd Pleasers

For a little hint of Paris in the springtime, noted restaurant critic and cooking instructor Patricia Wells stops by to transform Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith into a home cook of note.

On Wednesday's The Early Show, they are making ham and goat cheese wraps. The recipe is one of 150 found in her seventh cookbook, "The Paris Cookbook."

The recipes are from Wells' favorite Paris eateries, large and small. She's taken a dish or two from these establishments and fashioned them in a manner that would make them doable for any home cook. Give it a try.


Molard's Ham And Goat Cheese Wraps
Makes 4 servings

"I always associate goat cheese with the flirty flavor of a white Sancerre, for that's where - in the Loire Valley - I tasted my first goat cheese many years ago. Whatever you choose, make sure it is chilled, dry and white."

About 1 tablespoon minced fresh herbs, such as chives, chervil, tarragon, or thyme, or a mixture
4 small goat cheese rounds (each about 2 ounces)
8 extra-thin slices smoked bacon, pancetta or smoked ham (each about 1 1/2 X 8 inches)

Sprinkle the herbs on both sides of each goat cheese round, pressing down lightly so they adhere to the cheese.

Wrap two slices of bacon, crisscross fashion, around each round of goat cheese. (The goat cheese can be pre-prepared to this stage up to 8 hours in advance. Cover and keep the cheese in a cool spot.)

Heat a large nonstick skillet over moderate heat. Add the wrapped cheese and cook until the meat is browned (about 2 minutes per side). Serve immediately.

Laduree's Asparagus, Arugula, And Parmesan Salad
Serves 4

16 plump asparagus spears (about 1 1/2 pounds)
4 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon distilled vinegar
4 large extra-fresh farm eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
About 8-cups (8 ounces) loosely packed fresh arugula, rinsed, spun dry and stemmed
Several tablespoons Classic Vinaigrette (see recipe below)
One 2-ounce chunk of Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 quart pasta pot fitted with a colander

Trim off the tough ends of the asparagus spears. With a small knife, cut off the little green buds along the length of the spears. Set the trimmed spears aside. Wells says a good French cook will use these trimmings: Discarding any white part, peel the tough green ends of the asparagus spears. Use the peeled ends, and trimmed-off buds, for soup.

Prepare a large bowl of ice water.

Fill a 4-quart pasta pot, fitted with a colander, with 3 quarts water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the salt and the asparagus spears and cook, uncovered, until crisp-tender, about 5-mintutes (Cooking time will vary according to the size and tenderness of the asparagus). Immediately remove the colander from the water, allow the water to drain from the asparagus, and plunge the colander into the ice water so the asparagus will cool down as quickly as possible. As soon as the asparagus is cool (no longer than 1 to 2 minutes, or they will become soggy and begin to lose favor), transfer them to a tea towel and wrap to dry.

The asparagus can be cooked up to 4 hours in advance. Keep them wrapped in a towel. Unless the kitchen is very hot, store at room temperature; the asparagus will reheat more quickly at serving time.

Shortly before serving time, warm four dinner plates.

Poach the eggs. In a shallow 10-inch skillet, bring 3 inches of water to a boil over high heat. Add the vinegar (The vinegar will help the white of the egg cook faster so it does not spread out too much). Remove the pan from the heat and immediately break the 4 eggs directly into the pan, carefully opening the shells close to the water's surface so the eggs slip into the water in one piece. Immediately cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid to retain the heat and cook the eggs. Do not disturb the pan. After 3 minutes, remove the lid and check the eggs. They are ready when the white are opaque and the yolks are covered with a thin, translucent layer of white. Rinse the eggs gently under cold running water to rid them of any taste of vinegar.

While the eggs are cooking, heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat. When it is hot but not smoking, add the asparagus, reduce the heat to low, and gently reheat (2 to 3 minutes).

Place the arugula in a large bowl. Drizzle with several teaspoons of Classic Vinaigrette and toss to coat evenly with the dressing. Divide the arugula among 4 warmed dinner plates. Arrange 4 asparagus spears on each of the plates, and cover the asparagus with a poached egg. Shave the cheese over the arugula. Season generously with black pepper, and serve.

Classic Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons best-quality sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons best-quality red wine vinegar
Fine sea salt to taste
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine both vinegars and the sea salt in a bottle. Cover, and shake to dissolve the salt. Add the oil and shake to blend. Taste for seasoning. The vinaigrette can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator for several weeks. Shake again at serving time to create a thick emulsion.

Richard-Lenoir Market Zucchini-Tomato Gratin
Serves 4

1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 pound small fresh zucchini,scrubbed and cut into thin rounds
Fine sea salt to taste
12 zucchini blossoms (optional)
2 cups tomato sauce (see recipe below)
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

A 1-quart gratin dish

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

In a 1-quart dish, layer half of the bread crumbs, half the zucchini, a fine sprinkling of sea salt, half the zucchini blossoms, if using, and half of the tomato sauce. Continue with the remaining bread crumbs, half of the cheese, the remaining zucchini, a find sprinkling of sea salt, the remaining blossoms, if using the remaining tomato sauce and the remaining cheese.

Place the dish in the center of the oven and bake until the gratin is bubbling and crisp (20 to 25 minutes). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tomato Sauce
Serves 3 cups

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
2 plump, fresh cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Sea salt to taste
Two 28-ounce cans peeled tomatoes in their juice
1 bouquet garni: several sprigs of fresh parsley, fresh bay leaves, and several celery leaves tied in a bundle with cotton string

In a large skillet, heat the oil, onions, garlic and salt over moderate heat. Cook just until the onions are soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Place a food mill over the skillet and puree the tomatoes directly into the pan. Add the bouquet garni and stir to blend. Simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Remove and discard the bouquet garni. The sauce may be used immediately, stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or frozen up to 3 months.

Cherry-Almond Gratin
Serves 8

2 pounds fresh cherries, rinsed, stemmed and pitted
1 tablespoon kirsch (cherry eau-de-vie)
2 tablespoons sugar

The Almond Cream
1 cup finely ground almonds
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup confectioners' sugar
Several drops of kirsch (cherry eau-de-vie; optional)
Several drops of almond extract

Confectioner's sugar for dusting the gratin

A 10 1/2-inch round procelain baking dish; a heavy duty mixer

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Butter the baking dish and set aside.

In a large, heavy skillet, combine the cherries, kirsch, and sugar. Cook over low heat, stirring regularly, for 5 minutes. Transfer the cherries to the prepared baking dish and set aside.

Prepare the almond cream: In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the whisk, combine the almonds and butter. Whisk, blending until smooth. Add the eggs, cream, and confectioner's sugar and whisk until thick, smooth, and well blended. Add the kirsch, if using, and the almond extract, mixing to blend. Pour the cream over the cherries in the baking dish.

Place the baking dish in the center of the oven and bake until the gratin is firm and a deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Brush the gratin lightly with confectioner's sugar and serve in wedges, warm or at room temperature. This dessert is best served just a few hours after it is prepared.