France: What's in My Suitcase on the Way Home; Easy Aioli

We use this sauce in our favorite pasta dishes, usually with sausage.

On our last trip to Paris, the woman who checked out of the suite next to ours left behind dozens of bags and boxes from some of Paris' poshest clothing shops. The housekeeper tittered as we commented on them. I've always fancied a shopping spree in Paris myself, but the truth is, I'd probably rather buy food.

I love shopping in French supermarkets. The variety, even at the smaller stores, is incredible. The prices at FranPrix and LeaderPrice are great, the variety at T.LeClerc is vast and the deli at Monoprix is always reliable.

The night before we leave for home, I am busy wrapping cans and jars and packages in bubble wrap and clean socks. Here is what the customs people generally find in our checked baggage:

Pepper/Eggplant Sauce: We found the sauce above at the E. LeClerc store outside Cahors in 2005, and my husband used it in his homemade spaghetti sauce. It looks as though the company has changed its recipe since our last purchase, but we like the brand and all the flavors we've sampled to date so perhaps the change will be for the better.

Mayonnaise: I stumbled on this brand at a FranPrix on Rue Cler in 2007, and I buy it every time we go to France. It's got a richer flavor than US-made mayo but a lighter texture. It makes for an incredible chip did when blended with creme fraîche and boursin and seasoned with onions and herbs.

Lentilles Verte du Puy: These small, dark lentils are the upscale siblings of the ones we find in American supermarkets. I've started to find them in the my part of the country now, so I probably won't need to pack them in my suitcase next trip. We tend to think of lentils in rustic soups or stews, but this recipe from David Lebovitz takes them to a more elegant level.

Calvados: I drank my first bottle of Calvados in college while reading Colette and trying to master French. It's been a rare treat, as it's not easy to find here in the northern hinterlands, but I usually manage to find a bottle in Paris. I use Calvados mostly for cooking, in this recipe and also in this one, but on a cold night, nothing warms me up faster than a shot of Calvados.

Aoili: I usually bring a small jar of this garlicky mayonnaise made with olive oil home with me, and use it in tuna spread and chicken salad, as well as deviled eggs. It makes a great salad dressing, too. You can buy it in the United States, but I haven't run into any in my area. Many recipes call for a raw egg, so if you are squeamish - and I am - buy it readymade or use this recipe, which does not call for raw eggs.
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grainy French mustard
  • 3/4 teaspoon fleur de sel
  • dash freshly-ground pepper
Using a whip or fork, blend ingredients in small bowl until smooth. Cover and chill for two hours before using.

I rarely bring home anything terribly fancy. But the items I do carry home extend our trip in the best way possible.


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