When I began waiting tables at The Provinces during my college days, I already a très sophistiqué understanding of French Cuisine from my tenure as a professional Crêpe Assembler (actual job title) at the Magic Pan. Additionally my authority was bolstered by my mastery of "Instant Haute Cuisine." Le Cordon Bleu-trained Esther Riva Solomon penned this seminal treatise on the ease of turning out pitch-perfect replications of the French classics using canned this, frozen that and powdered everything else in between.
There was much to learn at The Provinces. Dover sole — frozen, yes, but still the real deal — sautéed to perfection was deboned table-side, a most valuable skill. Mushroom caps were peeled and fluted with little stars pressed into the tops, a trick I whip out to this day. I'm pretty sure it was there I first tasted anchovies.
Still, some things weren't quite right. Then, as now, French onion soup should not be topped with food-service "Parmesan" cheese. Canned bacon crumbles might be superior to Baco' Bits, but they don't fool anyone.
My greatest shame was the Apple Charlotte. When people ordered it I wanted to murmur "You'll be sorry…" but I had bought into the duplicity so I dutifully went along. We assembled this dessert ourselves: a slice of toast, crusts trimmed, was piled with a heap of canned apple pie filing. After a microwave zap we dressed the hot mess with raspberry sauce from a huge sticky jar. The cans and jars weren't the issue; it was the toast that horrified me the most.
Ironic indeed to later learn that the toast was the most authentic element of the classic recipe.
I came across a savory Onion Charlotte recipe in a mid-'70s compendium of "international" dishes. Basically it was creamed onions on toast. What could be bad? I upgraded the proceedings by caramelizing half of the onions and adding a hefty amount of Gruyere.
Be aware that even with the utmost care in creating pretty patterns with the toast lining, this Onion Charlotte is not very rigid. It starts to collapse soon after unmolding it, creating a rustic presentation, The overall effect is not quite Parisian.
More like a hearty affair you'd expect from somewhere out in the Provinces.
Click here for the recipe for Onion Charlotte.