French School Lunch Appetizer

dsc_1350RECIPE #315, DAY #509

FIVE STARS

ORIGINAL RECIPE: None, just a memory of French school lunches past*

TIMING: 10 minutes

DIFFICULTY: Easy

TOOLS: Something to spread cheese and a sizable platter

COOK TYPE: None

HEALTH: These are made with white bread and cured meat, but aren’t especially bad if you use the best bread and ham. One of the traditionally skinniest societies in the Western world ate these exact foods on a regular basis (during their skinny period). They’re packed with protein and refined grains. All you need is some fresh fruit (cherries, anyone?) and vegetables. (How ’bout a bistro salad?)dsc_1351

EXPERIENCE: I was an exchange student to France when I was 11 years old. Even back then, I was taken aback by how wonderful the food was. It took years and years of those haunting food memories for me to become gastronomically mature enough to realize that most of that elusive taste was in the quality and freshness of the ingredients. Thankfully, I could find that sort of food where I lived, just not the exact food.

For Supper Club, I was serving French food and no appetizer popped immediately into my head. What did pop into my head, however, were the lunches that my French mom used to pack me, which almost always included Petit Ecoliers and a section of last night’s baguette slathered with neufchatel. (Stopping on the way home to buy bing cherries from street-side stands also came to mind, but alas, it is not cherry season anywhere in the Northern hemisphere.) What also came to mind was (for me, a formative dish) a dinner, served only to the kids, of Jasmine rice, butter, peas, and ham. I knew I wanted to present that childhood part of my food experience with my guests, so I decided to form it into an appetizer.

I knew, straightaway, that the only way to pull this off was to use the absolutely best of ingredients. I already knew of a good neufchatel, and I also knew there were a few bakeries in town where I could buy my baguette fresh, that day. Lastly, I made my way to the deli man at WholeFoods and he–of course–let me taste what they had. Without even having to venture to a specialty store (although I would have loved to visit Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop), I found a superb rosemary ham which I had sliced very thin.

Voila! These were very popular, especially with my kids.

NOTES:  Neufchatel is similar enough to cream cheese that you could use that, instead. Technically, neufchatel is creamier, even though it is lower in fat. I also find it to have a unique tang. We almost always have it in the fridge.

You must buy your bread fresh for this, and it must be of wonderful quality. The exterior should be slightly crunch, and the inside light and full of holes. The good news is, it goes together so easily you could make it right at the party.

There are no measurements here, sorry. I bought 1 baguette, 1 bar of cheese, a handful of chives, and 3/4 pound meat. I had leftovers left over. (You don’t want the meat to overpower the bread and cheese, so do not overdo it.)

***

  1. Cut a baguette on the slight bias, about 1 inch thick. Let someone lucky eat the ends.
  2. Generously slather the bread with neufchatel.
  3. Place very thin-sliced ham on top, as artfully arranged as is called for.
  4. Sprinkle with chopped chives.

***

Serve with a seasonal piece of beautiful fruit, a bistro salad, and white wine. Or else as part of an appetizer spread.

*Recipe changed from the original.

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