Bastille Day, le quatorze juillet is France’s national holiday and the best excuse to indulge in the culinary offerings of la belle France. While many restaurants and cafés offer a special menu, with a little planning, you can hold your own Bastille Day celebration at home.
Start the day with a café noir, a short black, and a croque-monsieur instead of the ubiquitous croissant. It’s simple to prepare, with two slices on bread topped with jambon (ham) and melted cheese. Or try making the more decadent version, croque-madame topped with an egg.
Crêpes are always a good option for a late breakfast or brunch. Top them with that ubiquitous Italian spread that France has adopted as its own, Nutella, or for a lighter version, sprinkle them with sugar and lemon juice.
For lunch ideas, you can’t beat an authentic Quiche Lorraine, made with eggs, bacon and cream washed down with a glass of vin blanc. For a vegetarian option, a ratatouille, or piperade will go well with a crusty baguette.
Bastille Day is often celebrated at dinner time and it’s important to set the right French mood. Ambient music sets the tone of the soirée, with classics from Yves Montand such as A Paris, Edith Piaf‘s La vie en rose, Juliette Greco, Charles Aznavour or the smooth jazzy sounds of Patricia Kaas.
Escargots a la Bourguignonne
Starting the soirée with an apéro is de rigueur. A chilled glass of Lillet Vive is a refreshing mix of Lillet Blanc, tonic and garnished with fruit. Kir Royale, a French classic, is always a winner, made with crème de cassis topped up with champagne or vin mousseux. For something a little elegant, try your hand at making Gougères, puffy balls of dough and gruyère cheese that go down well with une coupe de champagne.
Dinner can range from the simple to the more elaborate but since Bastille Day comes once a year, it’s an excuse to start with Foie Gras on slices of toasted bread with a glass of Sauternes. If you’re on a budget, Rillettes de Porc with cornichons, Pâté de Volaille would also do well.
Soupe à l’oignon
For a hot entrée, soupe a l’oignon gratinée is a popular choice and can be prepared ahead of time as are Escargots a la Bourguignonne, cooked in wine, with garlic and parsley butter are always a favourite. A Crab Bisque adds a decadent touch to the start of the meal and Coquilles St-Jacques are easy to pre-prepare then grill.
The main course could take some planning if you wish to make a Cassoulet. You can always buy a pret-à-manger option, bought either store fresh or in imported tins from France. Confit de Canard is much simpler to make, served with Pommes Sarlardaises, sliced potatoes baked in goose or duck fat. Miam.
But you don’t need to go all out. Chicken Provençal, a hearty and warming Boeuf Bourgignon can be prepared ahead of time. Coq au vin is another good choice that doesn’t take too much effort in the kitchen. The slow-cooked chicken with the rich red wine sauce perfumes the kitchen with aromas of the bouquet garni.
The French eat the cheese course before dessert, so do as they do, and serve a variety of fromages on a platter, without crackers or bread. A ripe Brie de Meaux is difficult to resist. Livarot, an aged Chabichou de Poitou (goats cheese) and Bleu de Bresse make a good selection for a platter.
For dessert, a classic Crème Brûlée, homemade Profiteroles with chocolate sauce and an easy to bake Cherry Clafoutis make a good choice. Crepes Suzette flambees with Cointreau always make an impression and an apple or quince Tarte Tatin with Calvados whipped cream is hard to beat. Serve with a glass of French dessert wine or Beaumes de Venise.
If you still have room for petit fours, mini Canelés de Bordeaux have a wow factor. Finish with a digestif, an aged Armagnac as you sing La Marseillaise.
Bastille Day is often celebrated with food and drink but don’t forget to pay homage to those who have served Pour la France, carried the flag in official ceremonies, and reminded us, “It’s Bleu, Blanc, Rouge, Messieurs!”
Bon quatorze juillet à tous!
** All food photographs taken in Paris Restaurants
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