It's hot in the South of France in mid-July, and the French—who are not about to compromise their epicurean joie de vivre to slave in a non–air-conditioned kitchen for hours—have perfected the art of the oven-free lunch (or even dinner)! The recipe of the perfect French meal is simple: a procession of easy-to-make, locally-grown fresh dishes served in a specific order—starting with the beloved apéro, all the way to dessert. It is not uncommon to spend three to four hours at the table in France, and with the right variety of dishes, the art of dining can feel more like an event than a simple meal.
With Bastille Day only a few days away, we're determined to perfect the art of French entertaining—and learn an assortment of dishes that can be served fresh, and in some cases prepared in advance. Get ready to celebrate the French holiday with this selection of 15 dishes. We promise you it will be simple to prepare. Bon appétit!
Contrary to popular belief, the French traditionally serve cheese after the main course, not before. Many have however adopted the Italian tradition of antipasti, a board of delicacies served with apéro before dinner. If you want to include cheese, keep the selection light and instead focus on charcuterie (cold meats), fish, and pickled vegetables.
Just like cheeses, salads are often served after the main course in France, right before the camembert. There are, however, a few exceptions—like a salade d'endives—which are sometimes served as an appetizer. The traditional endive salad is often prepared with walnuts (or noix de Grenoble) and Roquefort cheese, but we also love this variation which is served with snap peas and Parmesan dressing.
Simplicity is key when it comes to entertaining in France (it's much more important to dedicate time to drink rosé), so an effortless carpaccio is an excellent choice for an appetizer. Pick an extremely fresh white fish at the market (mullet is a popular choice in France), and serve with olive oil, lemon rind, chives, sea salt, and black pepper.
A tartine is always a simple choice that is filling but doesn't require a lot of preparation. Pick a fresh baguette—Athena Calderone recommends toasting the bread in the oven, but if you truly want to avoid cooking, you can use the toaster. Top with your favorite in-season cheeses and vegetables—in this case a mix of ricotta, radishes, and chopped herbs.
In France, an entrée is actually an appetizer, while a plat principal is the American version of an entrée. But for the sake of simplicity, let's call apples "apples." A selection of fresh salads is the perfect assortment for an entrée course. The trick with salads is to work your way from savory to sweet, in preparation for dessert. A cauliflower and walnut salad is the perfect starting point. The French will sometimes repurpose leftover meat from the night before—such as roast beef or turkey—as a side dish. This is especially popular at lunch—it's usually served cold and with Dijon mustard or mayonnaise.
A combination of seasonal fruits, cheese, and olive oil is a classic recipe for simply delicious summer salad. A popular one in the South of France includes Charentais melons (an ultra-sweet French variety), jambon de Bayonne (prosciutto), and feta. We also love the variation of peaches and burrata salad served with fresh basil and shallots.
Make sure to leave space for cheese after the main course! The art of eating like the French is all about small portions, so while you may not feel 100% full after multiple salads, you definitely will once you've carved into the cheese platter. Simply arrange a few cheeses on a plate or board—try pairing one soft, one hard, and one goat cheese. You can bring in elements from previous courses—such as figs—to tie the meal together.
For a simple yet delicious no-cook dessert, fresh berries are a great option. Strawberries mixed with mascarpone and wine could not be more European. It's also a dish you can make ahead, as it requires at least four hours in the refrigerator—just about the time of a true French meal.