Bon Appetit: Mimi Thorisson on her Kitchen in France & her Aunt’s Fava Bean Soup

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Warning: This article may inspire you to move to a farmhouse in France. Mimi Thorisson has that power. I started reading her blog, Manger, years ago and I’m still plotting my escape overseas. Mimi’s life on her stunning farmhouse in France, complete with adorable children and cuter-than-cute dogs, would be enough reason to make us jump ship, but then there is the food.

Ah, the food. The incredibly beautiful photos (taken by her ridiculously talented husband, might I add) of home-cooked French cuisine make us long to eat dinner at her table. Thanks, however, to her very first cookbook, we can now get a taste of her life in our own kitchens. Mimi took a moment out of her very busy schedule (we’re so grateful) to talk about her cookbook, her time in the kitchen, and her Aunt Francine’s Fava Bean Soup recipe. Enjoy, and I’ll see you all in France. ~Kate

Tell us about A Kitchen in France, A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse and what inspired you to write your first cookbook?

A Kitchen in France is inspired by my family. I love cooking seasonal meals, gathering around the table and sharing unforgettable moments. I started writing my culinary journal on my blog called ‘manger’… one thing led to another.

What has writing a cookbook taught you about yourself and/or your cooking style?

Writing a cookbook has been such an enjoyable experience, firstly because I have such a wonderful editor. It has taught me how to work with a team, how we complete each other in every way. I am an improvised cook, so writing a cookbook recipe is like a science project – you have to dissect your recipe and lay it out. I get a lot of satisfaction going over a recipe and thinking – now that looks easy. As a cook, I feel like I have grown by writing this cookbook!

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What motivates you to do what you do in the kitchen?

My passion for food, as well as my hungry kids and gourmet husband!

The photos in the book and on your blog are absolutely stunning. What is it like working with your husband, Oddur, who is the camera eye behind your blog and cookbook?

I can’t think of working with anyone else. We are one person, we share the same vision. It’s completely organic and natural.

How do you do it all (7 children, 14 dogs, a TV show, a blog, and now an author) and make it look so effortless?

Sometimes I wonder myself. I think it’s important to be disciplined and organized. From my experience, the golden rule is to do whatever is possible now and not leave it for later, otherwise I will end up with an impossible mountain to climb. Having said that it’s also important not to overdo it, it’s got to be fun. So if it absolutely can’t be done today … then so be it, there is always tomorrow (I know this sounds like a contradiction but it’s not 🙂 )

What’s your favorite French dish to make?

I often change my mind according to the season, but lately a Gratin Dauphinois (baked creamy potatoes with garlic & nutmeg). It’s been so cold lately, and I’ve been craving hot, comforting meals. Nothing does it like potatoes. On the sweet side, I enjoy making crêpes. They are so easy to make, nutritious and a perfect snack for the family… A drizzle of lemon juice, a sprinkle of sugar, and it’s heaven. I have to be really good and try not to eat the first batch of crêpes. I can easily eat 5 in 2 seconds!

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What’s the first recipe you’d like us to tackle in the cookbook – something that will hook us in?

The cherry clafoutis. It’s a simple rustic recipe, a must-cook for all. I love the chewiness, the lightness, the fruity side of it. It’s also a cake you can adapt to all seasons, with pears, apples, plums.

What do you eat when no one is looking? A guilty pleasure of sorts.

Carambar caramels leftovers from my kids birthday parties. Bread and salted butter. A few spoons of vanilla chestnut cream. I could go on and on. Now that I think about it I often eat these things in front of other people, so I guess I’m not that ashamed of my guilty pleasures.

Please share a little tip to inspire a home cook.

Always use good quality cast-iron pots – they make a world of difference when cooking. It’s definitely worth spending a bit more on quality. It will last longer, and make your food taste (and look) better.

What’s one of the best homemade food gifts you’ve ever received?

Homemade Spanish melon jam in vintage jars from my neighbor. And even if it’s technically “homemade” but rather “homegrown,” I love it when guests bring a huge bowl of cherries or figs from their gardens.

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My Aunt Francine’s Fava Bean Soup

My aunt is a wonderful cook and I spent a big part of my summers as a child watching her cook in her kitchen in the south of France. Like my grandmother, she’s always been a bit ahead of her time in terms of healthy eating, championing seasonal cooking long before it became fashionable. This soup is the recipe I most associate with her. It’s mainly made of vegetables, is delicious and healthy, and has a few little gourmet touches, including the unexpected garnishes hidden in the soup (bits of pancetta and croutons). I make this all the time in spring, and luckily for me I have an army of kids to shell the fava beans. ~Mimi

NOTE: In France, at the market you have a choice between regular fava beans and larger ones for soups (fèves pour soupes). They are extra-large and easy to peel without blanching. With smaller ones, I usually blanch them quickly in boiling water first so they are easier to peel.

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

For the soup
  • 1 pound (450 grams) shelled large fava beans (from 4 pounds/ 1.8 kg in the shell; see Note)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup (80 milliliters) chicken or vegetable stock
For the garnishes
  • 5 thin slices pancetta
  • 1/2 stale baguette, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in half
  • 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (120 milliliters) mascarpone
  • A large handful of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • A pinch of pimentd’Espelette (optional)

Directions:

  1. START THE SOUP. Snap off a tip of each pod and squeeze out the beans. Peel the outer layer off each fava bean and discard. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and cook the onion until translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the fava beans, garlic, and potato, season with salt and pepper, and stir for a couple of minutes. Pour in the stock and enough water to cover the vegetables; season again with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the potato is cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the garnishes. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Fry the pancetta in a sauté pan over medium heat until golden and crisp. Scoop out with a spoon and drain on a paper towel.
  3. Rub the bread with the garlic clove and drizzle with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Set on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden and crisp, about 10 minutes. Set the croutons aside to cool. Chop the pancetta and croûtons separately into little bits (you can use a food processor, if you’d like).
  4. In a small bowl, whisk the mascarpone with 2 tablespoons of the chopped mint.
  5. When the soup is done, purée it, in batches if need be, in a food processor or blender and return it to the pot. Reheat the soup over low heat for a few minutes, then season to taste.
  6. To serve, scoop a little of the shallots, remaining mint, the croûtons, and pancetta into the bottom of each bowl. Pour in the hot soup and top each serving with a scoop of the mascarpone. Sprinkle lightly with piment d’Espelette, if desired. Serve immediately.
First, second, and last photo reprinted from A Kitchen in France: A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse. Copyright © 2014 by Mimi Thorisson. Photographs copyright © 2014 by Oddur Thorisson. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House LLC. All other photos taken by Maggie Battista.

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