My friend David Lebovitz, OG food blogger and nine-time author, wrote a book on the iconic cocktails, aperitifs, and cafe traditions of France, including 160 recipes, that came out in March. It’s the kind of book that makes you feel like you’ve hopped on a plane to fly to Paris to spend long, leisurely afternoons-into-evenings wandering, sipping and tasting this and that, something I had the delight to do almost a year ago in person. The circumstances might be terrible, but it feels like a bit of luck that he’s created a book that allows us to recreate these tastes and the feeling, as best as possible, at home.
David wastes no time dropping us into Paris at dawn, right around the time we’d be stumbling off a too-brief-to-be-restful redeye, where the lights in cafes are flickering on, followed by the coffee machines. Baguettes are picked up in paper sacks that will be served with butter and jam. He explains that cafes are the living rooms of Paris, places where artists and writers have long worked, attracted by the heat that their homes lacked, and the wine, and remain places to meet friends outside your too-small apartment, freeing you from having to clean up before people come over. From café au lait to chocolate chaud (hot chocolate), citronnade (lemonade), into l’heure de l’apero (a time to unwind with a drink before dinner) to the craft cocktail movement of the last decade, the book is a bit of a dreamland, so perfect for those of us who desperately miss wandering right now.
I went, almost predictably, straight for the rhubarb cordial, attracted by the use of my favorite spring stalks and by the uncomplicated ingredient list (rhubarb, gin, sugar, citrus zest). A cordial is an infusion in the liqueur family (sweeter spirits) that includes cremes and distillations.* Historically, they were opportunities to use up a bumper crop of fruit or preserve a harvest; today, I think of them as a way to celebrate seasonality. When my book arrived in early March, I chopped some rhubarb (alas, pre-season and borderline-sketch, sorry, but you should seek out the freshest you can find), and added it to Dingle gin (from our trip to Ireland last year), “Cutie easy-to-peel mandarin” zest, and sugar in a jar. It’s supposed to hang out at room temperature for a month but my apartment runs warm and David assured me I could put it in the fridge instead, it just might take longer. In fact, I forgot about it for two months, until yesterday afternoon. At 5:01pm, we poured it over an ice cube in a small glass, finished it with a twist of orange peel, and a splash of tonic (but sparkling wine or seltzer would work too) and clinked our 54th day of safety inside, looking forward to make this again every spring.
Six months ago: Perfect Apple Tarte Tatin
One year ago: Braised Ginger Meatballs In Coconut Broth
Two years ago: Triple Coconut Cream Pie
Three years ago: Pistachio Cake and A Reall Great Pot of Chickpeas
Four years ago: Potato Pizza, Even Better, Carrot Tahini Muffins and Sheet Pan Chicken Tikka
Five years ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Soda Syrup, Artichoke Gratin Toasts and Maple Pudding Cake
Six years ago: Lamb Meatballs with Feta and Lemon
Seven years ago: Ramp Pizza and Yogurt Panna Cotta with Walnuts and Honey
Eight years ago: Pasta with Garlicky Broccoli Rabe, Classic Ice Cream Sandwiches and Cinnamon Toast French Toast
Nine years ago: Heavenly Chocolate Cake Roll and Crispy Potato Roast
Ten years ago: Tangy Spiced Brisket
Eleven years ago: Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper and Buttermilk Ice Cream
Twelve years ago: Fork-Crushed Purple Potatoes, Whole Wheat Apple Muffins, and Caramelized Shallots
Thirteen years ago: Black Bean Confetti Salad and Margarita Cookies and Tequila Lime Chicken
- 1 pound (450 grams) rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 3 1/2 cups (830 ml) gin, plus more if necessary
- 3 wide strips orange zest
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or triple sec (to serve)
- A splash of club soda, tonic water, or sparkling wine (to serve, optional)
Use a fine-mesh strainer to strain the liqueur into a large measuring cup or bowl with a spout. Add the Grand Marnier. Pour into a clean bottle (or bottles) and tightly cork. Store the cordial for up to 1 to 3 months longer. Apparently, you can wait this full 1 to 3 months to drink it, for proper aging. We, absolutely, did not.
To serve, pour into small tumblers with a few ice cubes, a twist of orange or tangerine peel, and a splash of sparkling water, tonic, or sparkling wine, as an apéritif.