Articles By Pascale Beale


Written for Edible Santa Barbara - Spring-Summer 2024
'You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients.' —Julia Chil


When I first read this quote by Julia Child, I immediately thought of my grandmother, Genevieve Fay, who essentially lived by this credo. She and Julia had a love affair with butter and crème fraiche, and like Julia, her cuisine was classic French, full of boeuf bourguignonblanquettes de veau, and hachis parmentier. Yet, although she was an excellent cook, she often served simple food. Dessert at her house was, for example, a piece of fruit rather than a cake, tart, or baked confection, but what a piece of fruit it would be! As a small child, she would regularly take me with her on her daily shopping routine, and it was by her side that I learned the art of selecting fruit and vegetables at their acme. 

My grandparents lived in Briançon, a fortified ancient town high up in the French Alps. There were no supermarkets there, so we went to the cheese monger for milk, cheese, eggs, and butter, the butcher for chicken, patés, saucisson, and other meats, and the baker for the prerequisite baguettes and Pain de Mie that she served daily. There were no farmer's markets during the snowy winter months. Even in summer, as the growing season was short, the picturesque market, located along the banks of a burbling alpine river, ran for just a few months. As a result, my grandmother, ever the resourceful woman, shopped directly at the local greengrocer's wholesale warehouse. It was called Chez Jacques. I was a little afraid of going there when I was small as the building, tucked away on a narrow side street, was unusually cold, gloomy, and intimidating. Thankfully, the proprietor was anything but and always greeted my grandmother warmly. They would discuss in great detail what she planned on cooking and the choice items on hand. She would carefully inspect the proffered vegetables or fruit, accepting the ones she deemed in perfect condition or rejecting those that didn't meet her exacting standards. This was serious business. I stood by and watched silently as she explained why she chose a particular item. All the produce came packed in wooden crates, which would be carefully loaded into her car once she made her choices. Once home, she placed the crates in her cellar, where the magic in her kitchen began.

It's curious how the memory of a place, sight of an object, sound, or aroma can evoke such strong emotions. Marcel Proust coined the term Involuntary Memory to describe this phenomenon, and I relive this experience every year when the first apricots arrive at our farmer's market. Along with grated carrots, baby radishes, cherries, blueberries, and red currents, apricots are some of my first memories of anything edible. I see them and am instantly transported back to my grandmother's kitchen, where she schooled my brother and me in the delicious art of jam-making. Her golden-hued apricot jam was legendary in our family. 

One of its key components was her use of the apricot kernels, which lent it hints of marzipan. She would cook them with the apricots and leave them in it once jarred. They were small, white, and almond-shaped. We painstakingly extracted the kernels from the pits, a task to which we happily lent a hand, as our reward was a giant jar of jam we could take back home with us to London. To remove the soft kernel, you had to break open the pits using a small hammer, tapping them with enough strength to break the pit open but not squash the kernel inside. It took ages, and we'd often smack our fingers with the hammer instead of the pit! It was a messy job, and we'd usually sit out on her terrace, halving the apricots, bashing pits, and telling stories. It's funny how a little piece of fruit can be so evocative. 

When I pick up apricots today, I imagine what can be made with them, apart from the jam. Clafoutis comes to mind; it is divine made with them instead of the classic cherries, and Apricot tarts. The latter are a particular favorite of mine, and as soon as I get my hands on some just-picked apricots, I favor Blenheims; if I can find them, I'll make two or three versions of the tart or a galette with them. The key element is ripe fruit. Not so ripe that they will squish to a pulp when sliced, but not too hard as their flavor can be slightly sour if under ripe. It's worth waiting for that particular moment, you know, the one when you bite into fruit and let out a little involuntary sigh because the fruit is just perfect. When something is that good, I like to let the fruit (or vegetable) be the star of the dish and not manipulate it too much, hence my new apricot tart where you don't cook the fruit at all but instead lightly glaze them using a blow torch or under the broiler. You will taste their essence in all their glory.

In the summer months, some of the produce in my grandmother's cellar came from small local farms in the surrounding valleys and the Provencal hinterland. I remember a particular honey whose floral taste was suffused with the abundant wildflowers and lavender growing in the area. Imagine my delight when I tasted a local wildflower honey from the Santa Barbara foothills that was so reminiscent of the one I ate as a child! The honey was akin to a silky, sweet conduit, a connection between my childhood in France and my adult life in California. It was a bridge between the two cultures I call home, but what struck me the most was the simplicity and purity of this link. Freshly harvested honey, nothing more. The bees, nourished by nature as they foraged in the local chaparral, produced perfect food.

I thought about this, the idea of food at its simplest, as I drove through the vineyard-covered hills on a hot summer's day last year. I stopped the car on the side of the road and gazed out at the Santa Ynez mountains silhouetted against a cloudless sky. A breeze stirred up the sweet, rich aroma of the grapes ripening in the summer sun as the loamy warmth of the earth was palpable in the air. I smiled; it was an aroma I'd come across in the vineyards in Provence, and here it was again. It felt and smelled like home. I drove back to make a late Sunday lunch with my family: A herb and flower-filled salad, roast chicken with some grapes I had picked up at the farmer's market, and an apricot tart. As Julia and my grandmother said, 'just good food from fresh ingredients.' 

Summer In The Alps Salad

There is an utterly magical valley high up in the French Alps near my mother's hometown. It is a pristine, unspoiled alpine vale filled with gurgling crystal-clear mountain streams and vistas that will have you yodeling and singing in the hills a la Julie Andrews. I grew up hiking in these mountains, and one of my favorite times to meander there is when the valley floor erupts into a veritable carpet of wildflowers in late spring. On my last visit, I took a photograph of this floral magnificence, and that photo inspired this salad. I tried to capture the wild beauty of the valley in a bowl. 

Serves 6-8 people

 For the salads:

 4 oz assorted microgreens
 2 oz pea sprouts
6 oz asparagus — ends trimmed and stalks thinly sliced on a bias
6 breakfast radishes — thinly sliced lengthwise
6 zebra tomatoes — cut into eighths
50-60 edible flowers such as pansies, violas or nasturtiums
Small handful of small mint leaves
Small handful of small basil leaves 

For the vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
2-3 grinds white pepper

Line the base of a large shallow bowl with the microgreens. Nestle little pockets of pea sprouts into the microgreens, then insert the asparagus stalks and radishes into the pea sprouts. Dot the surface of the microgreens with the tomatoes, then scatter the flowers and herbs over the surface.

  1. Whisk together all the vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl to form a smooth emulsion. When ready to serve, drizzle the vinaigrette over the greens.

Provencal Roasted Chicken Legs with Champagne Grapes

Serves 8 people

8 chicken legs
Olive oil
1½ tablespoons Herbes de Provence

Coarse sea salt
Black pepper

1 lb champagne grapes or the smallest grapes you can find — cut into small clusters
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place the chicken legs in a roasting pan or on a baking sheet large enough to hold them in one layer. Drizzle with olive oil and turn once or twice so they are evenly coated. Sprinkle the herbes de Provence, 2 or 3 pinches of salt and 5-6 grinds of pepper over the top. Roast for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove the chicken from the oven and add the grape clusters to the pan. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar over the grapes. Return the pan to the oven and roast for 30 minutes more. Serve with the pan juices, grapes, and fingerling potatoes.

Herbed Fingerling Potatoes

Serves 8 people

2 lbs. fingerling potatoes — washed
½ cup finely chopped parsley
¼ cup finely chopped shallots

2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
4-5 grinds of black pepper
Juice of ½ lemon

  1. Place the potatoes in the upper part of a vegetable steamer and cook until they are fork tender, about 15-20 minutes, depending on size.
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a serving bowl. Add the cooked potatoes and toss everything together so the potatoes are well coated.

'Sunflower' Apricot Tart

  Yes, this is a labor of love. It takes a while to thinly slice all the apricots, but the result is absolutely worth the effort. When I have lots of chopping or prep to do, I listen to a podcast, something inspirational along the lines of "How I Built This,' a good audiobook, or blast some James Brown at full volume while I slice away and in no time at all the fruit are sliced, and I had fun doing it. As with other stone fruit desserts, you can, by all means, substitute peaches or nectarines for the apricots, but make sure you make the crunchy nut layer between the fruit and the tart shell, it makes the dish!

 Serves 8 people

For the dough:
9 oz unbleached all-purpose flour

5 ½ oz cold butter – cut up into small pieces
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 large egg
Pinch of salt

  1. Butter a round 10 or 11-inch fluted tart pan and set aside.
  2. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Use repeated pulses until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Use longer pulses until the dough has formed a ball. 
  3. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

For the filling:
½ cup pistachios

½ cup sliced almond
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 tablespoons apricot jam
14-16 firm ripe apricots — halved, pitted and thinly sliced 

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place the unwrapped dough on a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough out into a disk that is 1 inch larger than the size of your mold and ¼ inch thick. Line the tart pan with the dough. Trim the edges with a sharp knife and then prick the dough in the bottom of the tart pan with the tines of a fork. Wrap up the remaining dough for another use.
  3. Cover the tart shell with parchment paper, fill with pie weights or dried beans, and bake for 20 minutes. The edges should be a pale golden color. Take the tart shell from the oven and remove the parchment paper and pie weights. Return to oven and bake for 5 more minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool on a wire rack.
  4. While the tart shell is cooking, prepare the nut crunch base. Place the pistachios, almonds, brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a heavy-bottomed skillet placed over medium heat. Cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sugar will melt, and the mixture will be sticky. Remove from the heat, let cool completely, then roughly chop the nuts. 
  5. Brush the cooked tart shell with the apricot jam, then sprinkle the nut crunch mixture over the jam. Arrange the apricot slices in slightly overlapping concentric circles over the nut crunch layer. The apricots will form a pattern that looks like an open flower. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of sugar over the apricots. If you have a blow torch, pass it lightly over the fruit, caramelizing the apricots. If not, place the tart under the broiler on the middle rack in the oven for 3 minutes. Remove and let cool to room temperature. Serve with crème fraiche or vanilla ice cream if desired.
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