On our first full day in Paris, my husband and I walked all over the Ile de la Cité and the Ile St. Louis, the two islands in the middle of the Seine. After a long morning of churches and walking, we found ourselves near the Bastille. The birthplace of the French Revolution is no longer home to a prison — on that spot stands a modernist opera house, all steel and glass — but rather to a hip neighborhood filled with restaurants, shops and bars.
It was already after 1 pm when we arrived at Bastille and we were starved. Although I had planned almost all of our meals, I had nothing set for lunch that day. Our guidebook recommended a local café, popular with the neighborhood residents and office workers, called Bistrot du Peintre. As it turns out, Bistrot du Peintre has been on this corner since the turn of the century and features a stunning Art Nouveau interior. Nevertheless, we grabbed a table on the sidewalk, next to a charming older French couple, and I proceeded to put my college French to good use. This was one of the few spots we went to where we didn”t hear any language other than French and none of the waiters insisted on handing me the English menu. This was a real neighborhood spot off the tourist track. But it wasn”t the French that baffled me, it was the handwriting. I couldn”t read the scribble on the chalkboard menu listing the day”s specials to save my life. So, we concentrated on the printed menu where I had more luck.
My husband was intrigued by one of the appetizers, a carrot and zucchini crumble. That was the word the menu used: crumble. Clearly an example of “franglais.” I wasn”t sure what to expect but we ordered it anyway. What came was an adorable glass jar filled with finely diced vegetables in a creamy sauce topped with a buttery crumb topping. Not surprisingly, we devoured it.(Then my husband ate a steak and scalloped potatoes and I had a quiche with salmon and zucchini, salad and fries. Not exactly a light lunch but so good.)
What I didn”t realize that day was that savory crumbles are quite a thing in France. The very next day, we were invited to lunch at a French friend”s home. She was completely flummoxed about what to serve us because I had given her the long list of my husband”s food restrictions. Plus, her son was coming and he is a vegetarian. (While vegetarianism is no big deal to us, it is not as common in Europe.) In the end, she served us some Middle Eastern mezze to start — hummus, eggplant caviar, tomatoes and cucumbers — and the main course was a zucchini crumble with goat cheese. Another crumble! I was astonished (and somewhat excited.) We loved it and I decided right then that I had to recreate this dish when I got back to the States.
When I got back, I did a little research and I learned that savory crumbles have been quite trendy in France for the past few years. Here is a recipe for a vegetable crumble from 2010 from the popular food blog Matt Bites — a recipe that was also inspired by a trip to Paris. I made my version last night and my husband declared it better than any of the crumbles we ate in Paris. To prove his point, he polished off the whole thing. Then, this morning he saw how much butter was in the recipe and he was not pleased. Yes, there is a lot of butter. I”m not sure what to say about that. The recipe is very delicious and as a vegetarian main course, I”m sure it must be better for you than a big steak. So, enjoy! Just don”t let your family see the recipe.
Savory Vegetable Crumble
Feel free to vary the vegetables in the crumble accordingly to what is in season and your family”s tastes. Also, if you have them, go ahead and add some fresh herbs before baking, like parsley, basil, thyme or chives.
8 oz. butter
1 onion, sliced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium zucchini, diced
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 tsp. each dried oregano, basil and thyme
4 oz. soft goat cheese
1 cup flour
2 tsp. ice water
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375. Butter a 9×13 baking dish. Melt 2 T of butter over low heat in a large saute pan or deep skillet. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the carrots and zucchini and toss to combine. Saute the vegetables until softened but not browned. Season with herbs and salt and pepper. Whisk in goat cheese and remove from heat.
Pour sauteed vegetables into the prepared baking dish. Add the diced tomato and toss to combine. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, salt and pepper. Cut remaining 6 TB of butter into small cubes. Using a pastry blender or clean finger, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour the ice water
over the flour and butter mixture and stir with a fork. Spread crumble mixture evenly over the top of the vegetables. Bake at 375 for one hour.