Well Served: Perla Servan-Schreiber

Perla Servan-Schreiber’s life has been a testament to the healing power of food — the sense of comfort and abundance that a well-cooked meal brings to both body and soul. “You feel like you’re rich because of what’s on your plate, and being at the table,” she once told writer Garance Doré.

Perla Servan-Schreiber | Photo by Nathalie Carnet

In a year marked by loss (Servan-Schreiber lost her husband, Jean-Louis, to COVID-19 in late 2020) and with many of us focused on cooking healthier foods for our families at home, her new cookbook, “Enjoy: Recipes for Memorable Gatherings” (Rizzoli, $29.95), is more relevant than ever. “With lockdowns came the explosion of ‘homemade’ everything — the perfect remedy after hours on Zoom,” she says. “Those who were never before tempted to cook discovered the magic and joy that come with making bread or soup. Nothing brings more joy than cooking.” For the book, Servan-Schreiber drew from her Mediterranean roots, culinary influences gathered while traveling and tips gleaned from great chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi and Alain Ducasse to create 90 simple, flexitarian recipes that stir memory and spark happiness. Below, she shares three of her favorite recipes from the book and reflects on one of the simplest pleasures of home: cooking for loved ones.

Coldwell Banker Global LuxuryWhat inspired you to write this book?

Perla Servan-SchreiberI wanted to pass on the joy of cooking and the pleasure of sharing meals that I learned from my mother. A great recipe can create memories that bind us together.

Coldwell Banker Global LuxuryDid your approach to flexitarian cooking grow over time, or was it in response to a particular event?

Perla Servan-SchreiberMy interest in flexitarian cooking developed over time. The desire to eat less (but better-quality) meat led me to discover the infinite ways you can prepare vegetables and grains — so delicious! I realized that the only reason people rarely eat vegetables is because they don’t know how to prepare them.

Coldwell Banker Global LuxuryWhich foods or recipes have brought you the most comfort over the past year?

Perla Servan-SchreiberAll kinds of rice! Long-grained basmati tastes so different from a round short grain, or a red or black rice. Beyond the variety of flavors and recipes, rice was the favorite food of Jacques-Louis, the love of my life, whom I lost to COVID-19. Because recipes make memories that can be passed along, I want, more than ever, to continue making his favorites — rice pudding, risotto or standing rice — for my loved ones.

Coldwell Banker Global LuxuryDo you believe in the transportive power of food?

Perla Servan-SchreiberAt the moment, the only way to travel is to do so on your plate. And it works! Try my Klima Indra and its chutneys, and tell me if you don’t find yourself in India, at the spice market, in a sari, with flowers in your hair!

Coldwell Banker Global LuxuryWhat was the most profound lesson of 2020 for you?

Perla Servan-SchreiberNever take the future for granted. The very definition of an “event” is that it is unpredictable. Adaptability is the primary human virtue.

Coldwell Banker Global LuxuryWhat’s the one meal that evokes memories of home, family and friends for you?

Perla Servan-SchreiberMy nine-vegetable couscous or Moroccan bread. The exquisite and foolproof round bread was a staple in my native Morocco, and each family made fresh bread every day. I love this very basic bread — simple and noble. And every Thursday, we ate the nine-vegetable meatless couscous — a dish that UNESCO recognized as a cultural treasure in 2020. It was the original organic dish.

Festive Chestnut Velouté with Porcini

A quick and easy starter with an elegant and luxurious combination of flavors and textures.

Photo by Nathalie Carnet from Enjoy (Flammarion, 2020)

Times Active: 40 minutes Cooking: 5 minutes Ingredients --1 lb. small fresh or frozen porcini or button mushrooms --2 celery hearts --20 toasted hazelnuts --4 cups chicken broth (or 1 chicken bouillon cube dissolved in 4 cups water) --3 lb. canned/frozen unsweetened chestnut puree (or cooked whole chestnuts) --3 tbsp. lightly salted butter --3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil --Salt and pepper For fresh mushrooms, cut off stem bases and rinse quickly in cold water. Pat dry, slice and place on paper towel. For frozen mushrooms, thaw per instructions, then slice. Wash the celery hearts, pat dry, and slice stalks into thin strips. Place in an attractive serving bowl. Chop the leaves and reserve as garnish. Roughly chop the hazelnuts (to add crunch as a garnish). In a large saucepan, bring the broth to a boil. In batches, blend the chestnut puree or whole chestnuts with the broth, butter and seasoning until velvety smooth. Gradually add more broth or hot water to obtain your preferred texture. In a 10-in. skillet, heat the olive oil on high until it is shimmering but not smoking. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring constantly with two spatulas. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. If necessary, reheat the velouté over very low heat, stirring with a whisk. Serve in bowls garnished with mushrooms, celery leaves and chopped hazelnuts. Pass around the celery.

Fruity Chicken Curry

A deliciously easy curry; the sunny color and sweet-and-sour flavors make it perfect for winter or summer. If you make it a day ahead, it will taste even better—if you can wait that long.

Photo by Nathalie Carnet from Enjoy (Flammarion, 2020)

Times Active: 30 minutes Marinating: 30 minutes Cooking: 40–45 minutes Ingredients --4 limes --2 lb. chicken breasts* --1⅔ cups whole milk yogurt --2 Granny Smith apples --2 medium onions --1 green banana --1 mango --1 bunch cilantro --2 tbsp peanut oil --3 tbsp Madras curry powder --1 tsp ground ginger --Salt and freshly ground pepper Serve with rice (2 oz. per person) *For a vegetarian version, replace the chicken with vegetables of your choice. Wash and dry the limes, grate the zest of one, and juice all four. Thinly slice the chicken. Place the zest and juice in a large bowl, add the chicken and yogurt, and stir to combine. Let marinate for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Peel and chop the apples and onions. Peel the banana and mango and cut into small dice. Wash and dry the cilantro and finely chop the leaves, setting some aside for garnish. Heat the oil in a large nonstick sauté pan (or two smaller pans) over high heat. Add the onions, curry powder, ginger, and fruit; cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Lower the heat to medium, cover the pan(s), and let stew for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken with its marinade, the cilantro, and season with salt and pepper. Stir constantly with two spatulas for 5–7 minutes or until the chicken is cooked. The curry is now ready to serve, but it can be cooled and refrigerated overnight, to deepen the flavors. Reheat without boiling; just before serving, adding salt, pepper, and more lime juice as needed. Garnish with the reserved chopped cilantro and serve with rice.

Arthur’s Chocolate Gâteau

My oldest grandchild Arthur’s favorite cake.

Photo by Nathalie Carnet from Enjoy (Flammarion, 2020)

Times Active: 25 minutes Cooking: 22–25 minutes Ingredients --10. oz. dark chocolate, 70% cacao --3 tbsp black coffee (or 1 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 3 tbsp boiling water) --1. sticks salted butter, thinly sliced and softened --5 eggs --1⅓ cups confectioners’ sugar, divided, plus extra for dredging To serve (optional): with crème anglaise Remove a rack from the oven and preheat to 300°F. Stand a 9½-in. nonstick shallow cake pan (preferably silicone) on the removed rack to make transfer to the oven easier when filled with cake batter. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a microwave-safe bowl with the coffee and butter. Microwave on full power for 1 minute to melt the butter and partially melt the chocolate, making sure the mixture doesn’t boil. Work the remaining half-melted chocolate with a spatula until fully melted and perfectly smooth. Alternatively, melt the chocolate, coffee, and butter together in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly with a spatula until smooth. Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in one large bowl and the whites in another. Add ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar to the egg yolks and whisk with an electric beater until pale and foamy. Wash and dry the beaters, and then whip the whites with the remaining confectioners’ sugar until firm peaks form. Whisk the melted chocolate mixture into the egg yolks until smooth. Using a spatula, gradually fold in the whites until no streaks remain, taking care not to deflate them. Pour the batter into the pan, slide the rack back into the oven, and bake for 22–25 minutes until the cake is set but still soft in the center. If you used a nonstick rather than a silicone pan, let the cake cool for 20 minutes before turning it out onto a serving plate. Let cool to room temperature. If you have used silicone, let the cake cool in the pan, and turn it out when ready to serve. The cake can be left at room temperature for several hours but do not refrigerate it. At the last minute, dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar and, if desired, serve with crème anglaise.

Crème Anglaise

Times Active: 25 minutes Cooking: 20 minutes Infusing: 15 minutes Chilling: at least 2 hours  Ingredients --4 cups (1 liter) whole milk --2 Madagascan or Tahitian vanilla beans (or a few coffee beans, for coffee crème anglaise) --14 egg yolks --1. cups (9 oz./250 g) sugar Put the milk in a large saucepan, slit the vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the milk, adding the beans as well (or add the coffee beans, if using). Bring to a boil, remove from the heat, and cover. Let infuse for 15 minutes (15–30 minutes for the coffee beans) and then remove the beans. Chill a large metal spoon in the refrigerator to test the custard. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and thick. Slowly drizzle in the infused milk, whisking constantly. Pour it back into the saucepan and stir constantly with a wooden spatula (making figure of eight movements is less tedious), over low heat for 15–20 minutes, until the custard thickens and coats the spatula. It is important not to let the custard boil or the egg yolks will scramble. Remove it from the heat and stir for a few more minutes. Dip the chilled spoon into the custard to coat the back of it, draw a line down the center with your fingertip, and if the line holds, the custard is ready. If not, cook for a few more minutes and test again but do this frequently as an undercooked custard will be too runny and an overcooked one will curdle. Pour into an attractive serving bowl or jug and press plastic wrap over the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool and chill for at least 2 hours.
By Alyson Pitarre This article originally appeared in Homes & Estates magazine. 


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