What to Cook in a Small French Kitchen

Renting an apartment in France? Lucky you! Here’s how to cook in your French kitchen! I’ve focused on easy food to cook in France: After all—you’re on vacation!
PicMonkey Collage

Just a few of the great things I cooked (or assembled) in my little French kitchen in Menton.

Thanks for all the likes, shares, and comments on my last post about Menton. Seems like this French seaside town, and studio living in France, has some of you quite interested!

One reader asked a great question: How do you cook inspired, France-vacation-worthy food when you have a tiny kitchen?

The answer: It’s easy, because it’s France.

It’s true that many of the affordable-but-cute rentals I stay in when I travel in France have much smaller kitchens than I’m used to: In fact, sometimes, it’s just a two-burner cooktop, a microwave, a small sink, and a refrigerator. There’s rarely an oven. (Happily there’s sometimes a little dishwasher which is a greater gift than I ever imagined.)

And yet, I eat extraordinarily well whenever I rent my studio apartments. Here’s why:

1. The Artisanal Butcher

Artisanal butchers have such high-quality meat, you don't have to do a whole lot to it to make it into a wonderful meal.

Artisanal butchers have such high-quality meat, you don’t have to do a whole lot to it to make it into a wonderful meal. Yes, that’s me, like a kid in a candy shop.

• Artisanal butchers let you buy extraordinary cuts of meat. Simply sauté, deglaze, and serve (and of course, if you read this blog, you know all about sauté-deglaze-serve, right?).

2. The Daily Produce Stands

Ditto for all the open-air markets with in-season fruits and veggies for great salads and simple, veggie sides (bring something home, sauté it in a great olive oil with some garlic or shallots and parsley, and that’s your side).

Fresh French produce: Just. So. Good.

Fresh French produce: Just. So. Good.

3. Pasta Artisans

I've never had better ravioli in my life than I had in Menton.

I’ve never had better ravioli in my life than I had in Menton.

The closer you are to Italy (and Menton is about as close as you can get!), the more fresh-pasta shops you see. I’d go back to Menton just to buy this pasta again: It was Pasta Piemontaise with cooked veal, ham, herbs, and cheeses. Sublime and so easy to cook. The pasta-maker—a young guy—had won a major prize from Italy’s slow-food association. He told me exactly how to prepare it (3 minutes in boiling water), and recommended serving it in a butter-sage sauce (but just letting the sage cook in the butter a few minutes to flavor it, then taking the leaves out). It was the best meal I had in my seven weeks in Europe. And it cost about 7 Euros for two generous servings.

4. Artisanal Cheese Counters

The perfume of life: The wonderfully smelly cheese counter.

Perfume for the gastronome: The wonderfully smelly cheese counter.

5. Bread, Pastry-Shop Pastries, and Supermarket Desserts

Daily bread in Collioure, France

Your daily bread.

Seriously–why would you bother baking when you can get the best bread and desserts in the world on just about every block? On another note, I’ve never been served a homemade dessert in a French home (see my post on whether or not French women bake).

When I’m not feeling the need for a pastry-shop indulgence, sometimes I go for a simple supermarket dessert. Here’s an article I wrote for Bonjour Paris on the topic.

My French friends think I'm nuts, but I do get a huge kick out of these French supermarket desserts!

My French friends think I’m nuts, but I do get a huge kick out of these French supermarket desserts!

6. Traiteurs

Traiteurs are French deli counters but they serve more than meats: these are places to go for house-made readymades—everything from pâtés, quiches, and salads to roast chicken and cooked main dishes. Of note: Many change their main features every day, so you never get bored with the same old thing.

Traiteur in the market in Menton, dishing me up some roasted eggplant salad for lunch.

Traiteur in the market in Menton, dishing me up some roasted eggplant salad for lunch.

So, now that I’ve taken you on a tour of where I shop, how about a few ideas about what I cook on my French vacations? Most require no recipes–see it, do it, nothing to it!

The Fabulous French Cold Plate

Cold Platter; this one brings some pâté and salami from the butcher, an olive-zucchini salad, baguette topped with butter and radishes. In the distance, you can see two of the classic French deli salads: Beets in vinaigrette and carottes râpées.

The Fabulous French Cold Plate, for lunch: This one brings some pâté and salami from the butcher, an olive-zucchini salad, baguette topped with butter and radishes. In the distance, you can see two of the classic French deli salads: Beets in vinaigrette and carottes râpées.

This is one of the first things we eat the first lunch after we’ve gone shopping. French butchers and charcuteries have great sliced ham or pâté or other charcuterie. Place it on a plate with some salads, such as celeris remoulade (a great celery-root salad that’s as ubiquitous as coleslaw is in the US), carrots râpés (a bright carrot salad), French tabbouli (see my discussion of French versus Moroccan tabbouli, here), and beet salad. All of these salads are available at the supermarket (though they’re best bought fresh from a traiteur, if possible). Serve with a few cornichons, olives, some mustard, and baguette and you’ve got a fabulous summer lunch. We have this at least twice a week in France–mixing up the salads and sometimes switching in a high-quality ready-made quiche:

Variation on the cold plate, with quiche.

Variation on the cold plate, with quiche. My kind of ham and eggs.

The Best First Course in Summer

In summer, seek out Melons de Cavaillon, the sweetest, best melons you can find. If you can't find them, look for other small, local French melons.

In summer, seek out Melons de Cavaillon, the sweetest, best melons you can find. If you can’t find them, look for other small, local French melons.

Yeah, yeah, you’ve done the melon-prosciutto song and dance, but it’s never, ever better than when you get a Cavaillon melon (from around the small city of Cavaillon, in Provence), the sweetest, most intense melon in the world. And snag a real Prosciutto di Parma, if you, like me, are anywhere near Italy. It’s as good as this dish gets.

The Roast Chicken

The classic roast chicken. Sometimes, they will sell a half chicken. If they don't, just refrigerate leftovers for the next day's cold plate.

The classic roast chicken. Sometimes, they will sell a half chicken. If they don’t, just refrigerate leftovers for the next day’s cold plate.

Honestly–you can hardly beat a great French roast chicken, and you can generally find them everywhere: Traiteurs and butchers often sell them, but sometimes, the daily markets have a guy who specializes solely in roast meats–in my experience, his are the best. And if given the choice, splurge for a “poulet fermier”–a richer, better-tasting farmer’s chicken. Also, the market roaster stalls often sell roasted potatoes alongside.

Cooking with the Best Meats Around

Market-fresh ingredients, including s strip steak (known as a faux-filet in France), made a wonderful lunchtime salad.

Market-fresh ingredients, including s strip steak (known as a faux-filet in France), made a wonderful lunchtime salad.

I bought a wonderful “faux fillet,” which is a strip steak, from my favorite Menton butcher. A great piece of meat, that I served in my simple blue cheese-tomato salad.

You don't really need a recipe for this: Simply skillet-cook the steak to your liking; then, make a great salad with tomatoes, basil, a few lettuces, blue cheese, and red onion, tossed with a vinaigrette. Done.

You don’t really need a recipe for this: Simply skillet-cook the steak to your liking; then, make a great salad with tomatoes, basil, a few lettuces, blue cheese, and red onion, tossed with a vinaigrette. Done.

Other nights, I go the sauté-deglaze-serve route (see my post about this), with everything from great pork chops to veal chops to chicken thigh-legs and more. ALWAYS go for the “poulet fermier”: the farmer’s chicken–check out the wonderfully yellow skin on this one! It was so beautifully rich….

This is a Poulet Fermier. Note that this photo was not retouched. Note the yellowness of the skin. A great candidate for my sauce-deglaze-serve way of cooking!

This is a Poulet Fermier. Note that this photo was not retouched. Note the yellowness of the skin.
A great candidate for my sauce-deglaze-serve way of cooking!

Generally, I serve my sauté-deglaze-serve specialties with a salad and simple fork-mashed potatoes or pasta (or go low-carb, and just sauté a few veggies). You have two burners, after all, and that’s all it takes for a meat (with sauce) on one burner, and whipped potatoes or sautéed veggies on another.

On a particularly hot night, I cooked my Comté-Walnut Salad and just added some chicken. Generally, I roast the chicken, but this time (since I didn’t have an oven), I gently poached some breasts, and browned them a little for color. Of course you could easily use a purchased roasted chicken for this!

Butterhead lettuce, chicken, Comté cheese, and toasted walnuts. Toss with a mild vinaigrette. A great, market-fresh lunch.

Butterhead lettuce, chicken, Comté cheese, and toasted walnuts. Toss with a mild vinaigrette. A great, market-fresh lunch.

About That Pasta Dish

As per the pasta artisan's instructions, I took the sage leaves out of the oil after I had sautéed them. But because I wanted something green, I added some parsley, sautéed for about 2 seconds to release the flavors. This was the best meal I ate in France on this trip.

As per the pasta artisan’s instructions, I took the sage leaves out of the butter after I had sautéed them. But because I wanted something green, I added some parsley, sautéed for about 2 seconds to release the flavors. This was the best meal I ate in France on this trip.

More please. Easiest and best dish ever; of course, the closer you are to Italy, the better the fresh pastas.

Lunch from the Traiteur

Traiteur Lunch

Remember that roasted eggplant that the Traiteur was dishing up for me in an earlier photo? Here it is, served with pissaladiere (that South-of-France anchovy-onion flatbread), some caprese salad, and some olives and radishes. All items purchased from the Menton market.

The Cheese Course:
I never overcomplicate it in France: Just a few slices of some of the best local cheeses you can find and some bread….Here’s a post I wrote about this a while back.

And Those Desserts
Again, I love pastry shops, but I’m also guilty as charged for getting a huge kick out of French supermarket desserts.

I'm a closet connoisseur of French supermarket desserts. Here's this year's top find.

I’m a closet connoisseur of French supermarket desserts. Here’s this year’s top find.

My new find this year was La Laitiere ice cream cups by Nestlé: This vanilla-nougat ice cream, with crème-brûlée-esque crunchy bits of caramelized sugar, was just about the best supermarket ice cream money can by. Go home, Haggen-Daz!

Yes–I could go on and on (oops–I guess I already have!). But seriously, I hope I’ve given you plenty of ideas for how and what to cook in your little French vacation kitchen.

And if you’ve got some favorite things you cook out of your own small kitchen in France, let me know in the comments selection, below.

PS: If you’ve found this post helpful, please consider supporting my work on this site. It’s so easy–and costs you nothing: Next time you want to buy something from Amazon, simply go to Amazon.com through one of my links or banner ads (such as the one, below). No matter what you buy, I’ll get a small commission from your purchase–even if it’s not the item I’m advertising. Thank you so much for your consideration.

 

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17 comments to What to Cook in a Small French Kitchen

  • I have your cookbook and I love it – I also love your blog, as you share the best of the Riviera! We sold our apt. in Paris a year ago and have been renting in Ville-Tranche-sur-Mer and spending lots of time in Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Menton. it’s one to the most beautiful places to live and work. Merci!!!!

  • I meant – Villefranche-sur-Mer!

    • Wini

      I laughed out loud at Ville-Tranche-sur-Mer! I thought maybe it was some sort of local slang for the spot!

      Oh–lucky you–you’re in the most beautiful spot in the world. The only thing that drives me insane about Beaulieu is the trash on the beach (Plage Fourmi) from the “yacht crowd.” Gah! It’s so annoying that they throw their trash overboard. Otherwise, Beaulieu is just so amazing–with those cliffs. Dave and I spent three summers there in the 90s, and really got to know it. Loved it.

      Thanks for writing!

  • You should start a tour company. Oh my gosh, this all looks so delicious. I think I should go just for the food.

    I was wondering about a language problem. Do they speak English? I only think I speak a little French, and then someone on tv starts speaking in French, and then I think maybe I don’t. 🙂

    • Wini

      Thanks, Madonna!

      Well, it does help me immensely that I speak French, but I think you could do alright by pointing at things in the market. A lot (though certainly not all) vendors in places like Menton speak a little English. It is the “lingua franca” for the region–Germans, Scandinavians, Britons, the Dutch–a lot of people go there who don’t speak French, and so everyone speaks simple English to each other the best they can.

      The important thing is to TRY to say something in French first. I think what drives them insane is when Anglophones assume that the French should speak French.

      I have actually thought about starting a tour company: Rent out a block of apartments and just tell everyone: “Here’s your apartment. I’ll take you to the market as much as you want, show you a few things, and be your concierge/helper and show you how to do it–but leave you on your own as much as you’d like.”

      And I’d do it in Menton!

      Good to hear from you Ms. Lemon!

  • Greg

    What a great post – I have missed these! Anytime I can get a glimpse of France with the bonus of how to bring it into my own home is a good day! Thanks so much for the insights, tips and on-going pleasure that I find on your site – these mini-vacations are such a welcome relief in a summer that had been all too filled with tragedy. Thanks Winnie – think I will pull out your book today …

    • Wini

      Thanks, Greg! I got inspired after my recent trip to France, and I have quite a few posts to come. When I’m not posting, it usually means I’m still working on my usual “day job” as a food writer/editor for a few magazines and websites. Paid gigs, I’m afraid, take precedence over the more fun (nominally compensated!) gig of blogging.

      As always, thanks for nudging me to write more.

  • Greg

    Oops- sorry – I know better Wini!

  • Gary McClelland

    Yep, that is exactly our strategy in Bédoin, even though we have a somewhat larger kitchen. By returning to the same village, even the same house now for five times, we are traveling really deep (although I hope my broad recommendations down by Bonnieux were helpful). We have our favorite cheese shops (one owned by a MOF), the baker is a personal friend, our favorite butcher in Carpentras, our favorite traiteur in Caromb, the produce market in Carpentras, and recently we’ve become friends with the pasta lady at the Monday market. The tarte au citron from Jouvad in Carpentras are world-class so why bake? Although when we are there in June, I do make a clafouti now and then with cherries from the stand 2 houses down.

    We are going to Bédoin for a week in September but have a week to fill before that. Your posts are motivating us to consider Menton. We love markets like the one you’ve photographed in Menton.

    • Wini

      Hello! Thanks for this. I meant to write and thank you for all your recommendations! We didn’t get a chance to try the restaurants, but we did check out the sites! Thanks so much. And we’re so glad we made the pilgrimage to Camus’s grave: Very meaningful for us. In fact, we visited on Father’s Day, and as we were standing there, an older man approached the grave (so we quickly moved on–didn’t want to intrude on his moment). He bowed his head and seemed quite contemplative. We wondered if it might have been his son…..He seemed to know exactly where the grave was and seemed to be there for a reason.

    • Wini

      PS: The market in Menton was one of the best daily markets I’ve ever encountered outside of a huger city. I just loved Menton, because of its size: Big enough to be fascinating, small enough to be manageable. And the Italian connection is great–that ravioli was the best thing I ate in 7 weeks in Europe. (Its creator was French….but obviously knew his way around Italian food).

      If you go to Menton, you have to check out this guy’s shop and try his Pasta Piemontaise (the one with veal, ham, and grana padano cheese!). Here’s his facebook page:
      https://www.facebook.com/pastapiemontementon/

  • Kathleene

    Hello Wini – regarding the pasta dish, you mention earlier in the post that you served the pasta with a sage butter, but later in the post you mention that you used oil. Can you clarify? Thanks so much.

    • Wini

      Oh my goodness, Kathleene–you’re right!

      So, I meant “butter” in both instances, as in this case, it was a butter sauce.

      I’ll fix this so no others will be confused.

      I’m lucky to have such a close reader as you. Thanks!

  • […] I wrote about this in my last post about cooking in a small French kitchen, but it bears repeating. I sorely miss artisan butchers, who cut your meat fresh and to your […]

  • I fell hard for your supermarket desserts. I’ve finally broken free and now here’s another!
    They put me right off high-end patisseries. I should send you the savings.

    • Wini

      That’s hilarious! But I’m sure you won’t really swear off the high-end pastries….They’re just too good!

      Still, the supermarket desserts are fabulous for everyday, aren’t they!

      Thanks for your comment!

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