Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin, By Susan Hermann Loomis, William Morrow, 322 pp., $24.95
It's been a long while since we had a French home cooking book. Bistro books, yes.
''Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin" aims to be that missing link, a gathering place for all those generous, farmhouse-based, ordinary dishes we all know exist. In large part, the American-born Susan Hermann Loomis succeeds; she has lived in France for more than 15 years, and on the Rue Tatin in Louviers, Normandy, for a decade. Her recipes are spirited and full-flavored, perhaps involving a little more hand-work than your typical home meal. But then, they're French.
Slowly simmered, stuffed cabbage for ''after the hunt" is quintessentially rustic. Sure, it takes about 4 hours, but most of it you can spend just sniffing the kitchen air as the house fills with good smells. Less time-consuming but equally typical is braised fennel, in which quarters of the vegetable cook slowly in butter until they're sweet and gilded, though three pounds of fennel crowded into a single pan isn't ideal.
Homey walnut bread with spelt flour has a satisfying texture but little character of its own until paired with cheese. Simple but utterly addictive were Alsatian spice cookies with a flourish of lemon rind. My yield was 24 rather than 34, despite measuring all three dimensions of every cookie with a ruler.
Loomis is inclusive, acknowledging the influence that colonialism and immigration have had on French cuisine. These influences appear in both North African and Middle Eastern food, and in the occasional Southeast Asian recipe.
Chorba, the Algerian lamb soup that traditionally breaks the Ramadan fast, was rich and revelatory, a tomato-y stew thickened with bulgur and scented with cinnamon. Though it was supposed to serve eight to 10, in my house it went four ways, and nobody was fasting all day. Syrian chicken proved to be a sort of casserole with disparate elements -- tahini, cumin, pine nuts, lemon, yogurt, and peppermint -- that came together beautifully in the end.
It's downright relaxing to read a French book in which nobody expects you to sweat over pommes souffles or spend three days making sauce espagnole. That's just fine in my neighborhood, where dinners are hardly grand but everyone eats well. I suspect it's true on Rue Tatin as well.
T. SUSAN CHANG