SAIGNON, France

Many argue that France is the gastronomic center of the universe -- either from its long history of royal excesses at the dinner table or from its legendary chefs. But I would make the same claim and argue it based on my observations of the French housewife. Jealously guarding the recipes of generations before her, she practices the art of marrying the taste of the royal classes with the thrift and resourcefulness of her peasant ancestors.

She is at the village market when it opens, fiercely prowling the stalls with her straw basket slung over her shoulder. She terrorizes the butcher and greengrocer to get the best quality at the lowest price. She peers suspiciously into the cavity of a roasting chicken, pokes a flounder, sniffs the melons and pinches the tomatoes. One by one she selects carrots, mushrooms, eggs and stalks of celery, examining each critically. Finally, after driving a hard bargain, she reluctantly goes for her purse. As the vendor counts her money, she waits for the extra carrot or the bunch of parsley he is intimidated into offering her.

Back at home, she sets about squeezing every tasty bite, every nourishing drop, every last crumb of sustenance from the carefully considered contents of her market basket. Nothing -- I repeat, nothing -- will be wasted. When she puts out the family trash at the end of the week, it could fit into a coffee can.

To those of us raised in small-town America, of course this devotion to thrift is nothing unusual, and such smart efficiency is no secret in any restaurant kitchen. But after years of cosmopolitan gourmandizing, I find it refreshing to witness the respect my Provencal neighbors have for even the smallest edible morsel.

Here in my simple kitchen in Saignon I learned to use dandelion greens and celery leaves in salads. I use last night's meat and vegetables over pasta, and puree the last of yesterday's vegetable soup into a hearty sauce for chicken or fish. Orange rinds flavor stews; parsley stems flavor cooking broth. Duck skin is roasted into "crackling" to top salads or omelets, and its rendered fat transforms simple potatoes. Veal bones and chicken carcasses make fragrant stock for sauces and soups. Overripe fruit turns into great dessert toppings.

Now I find myself giving serious attention to stuff I used to throw away with aristocratic nonchalance. It's not just a matter of having to pinch my Euro-pennies in tight times. It's also about being creative, resourceful, and adventuresome.

Homemade Stock

Keep chicken, beef, veal or vegetable stock on hand to work all kinds of miracles. Use it as a base for soups and stews, to flavor rice, to substitute for butter or oil when cooking vegetables, to enrich sauces, to thin purees, moisten casseroles and a lot of other tricks that will come to you with time and experience.

Stock is simple to prepare and can be refrigerated for up to one week or frozen for up to three months. For ease of use, if freezing, you may wish either to divide the stock into one-cup portions or pour it into ice cube trays.

Chicken Stock

Use the carcass of a whole roast chicken. Place it in a pot and add enough cold water to cover. Add a chopped carrot, a chopped celery stalk, a quartered onion, salt to taste and a bouquet garni (thyme, parsley and bay leaf tied with string). Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for at least one hour. Using a spoon, skim any foam and/or scum that rise to the surface. Strain the stock, discarding the solids, and set aside to cool slightly. Transfer the stock to a container or ice cube trays and refrigerate or freeze.

Vegetable Tian

(4 to 6 servings)

Legend has it that this dish was invented by a marquis, who, surprised by the visit of a hungry king, managed to create a sensational dish using scraps of leftover cooked vegetables and other odds and ends languishing in the kitchen.

Depending on the occasion, this gratin of sorts could be a one-dish meal or a hearty accompaniment to meat, poultry or fish.

4 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for the dish

1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced (may substitute about 8 ounces leeks, white part only)

2 pounds leftover cooked vegetables, sliced or chopped (such as eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, yellow squash, turnips, spinach, chard, alone or in combination)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Handful pitted black olives, chopped anchovies, hard-cooked eggs, sun-dried tomatoes, bell pepper and/or fried crumbled bacon (optional)

Fresh persillade,* sorrel, marjoram, thyme or freshly grated nutmeg to taste

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk or heavy (whipping) cream

1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated cheese (Parmesan, Swiss or other hard or firm cheese)

1/2 cup finely crumbled fresh bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 6-cup ovenproof baking dish.

In a skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

To the onion, add the cooked vegetables, salt and pepper to taste and, if desired, the optional flavoring and/or herbs or nutmeg. Set aside. (Note: If using vegetables that may retain some moisture, such as greens, pat them completely dry prior to using. Otherwise the tian may become soggy with the moisture that they release during baking.)

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and 1/4 cup of the cheese. Pour this mixture over the vegetable mixture and toss to combine. Scrape this mixture into the prepared dish, then sprinkle first with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese, then with the bread crumbs. Drizzle the crumbs with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil.

Bake the tian until the surface is golden-brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool for about 5 minutes.

To serve, spoon the tian from the dish onto individual plates. Serve hot.

* Note: Persillade is a mixture of finely chopped parsley and garlic. For this recipe, use 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves with 1 to 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic.

Per serving: 231 calories, 9 gm protein, 17 gm carbohydrates, 15 gm fat, 81 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 275 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber

Le Lendemain

(Hash)

(4 to 6 servings)

Although American grandmothers call this dish "hash," French grandmothers refer to it as "le lendemain," which means "the next day."

This recipe, based on a version by Julia Child, infuses meat and vegetable leftovers with the flavor of a rich chicken stock. The result is a moist and hearty dish for a cold winter night.

11/2 to 2 cups diced cooked lamb, beef or poultry

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Few drops lemon juice or red wine vinegar

Finely chopped fresh tarragon (if using poultry)

Finely chopped fresh oregano (if using meat)

11/2 cups chicken stock or broth

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 to 2 tablespoons butter

1 cup diced onion

2 to 3 tablespoons flour

2 to 3 waxy potatoes, peeled, cooked and cooled

3/4 cup diced cooked vegetables, such as bell peppers, broccoli, carrots or other root vegetables (optional)

2/3 cup (about 3 ounces) grated cheese, such as Swiss, cheddar or Monterey Jack, or to taste

3 to 4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

In a large bowl, toss the meat or poultry with salt and pepper to taste. If using poultry, sprinkle with lemon juice and tarragon; if using meat, sprinkle with red wine vinegar and oregano. Set aside.

In a small pot over medium heat, warm the stock or broth.

Place a large heavy skillet with a lid over medium heat and heat the oil and butter until the butter melts. Add the onions and cook until golden, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. (You want to add enough flour to form a sort of thin paste.) Add the poultry or meat mixture and stir to combine. Remove the skillet from the heat and slowly stir in the hot broth. Return the skillet to medium heat, bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. You should have a thick sauce.

Meanwhile, coarsely chop the cooked potatoes.

Gently stir the potatoes into the sauce and, if desired, the cooked vegetables. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat, occasionally scraping up the browned crust that forms on the bottom of the skillet and stirring it back into the hash so more hash becomes browned, 30 to 45 minutes.

Stir in the cheese and parsley and cook, uncovered, until the bottom is brown and crusty, 5 to 10 minutes. Carefully slide or invert the hash onto a large plate or platter. If desired, garnish with additional parsley. Cut the hash into wedges or spoon it onto plates.

Per serving (based on 6): 271 calories, 15 gm protein, 19 gm carbohydrates, 15 gm fat, 50 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 211 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Puree of Broccoli Stems

(4 servings)

The next time you find yourself trimming broccoli florets, reserve the stalks and set them aside for this dish. The creamy, pale green puree is a sort of compromise between potato puree and broccoli saute.

Stems from 4 heads of broccoli, cut into 1-inch-thick slices

3 large potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

2 teaspoons salt, plus additional to taste

2 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pinch grated nutmeg

1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream (optional)

In a large pot, combine the broccoli stems, potatoes, garlic, salt and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli and potatoes are tender, 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the slices.

Drain the vegetables, discarding the cooking liquid. Return the broccoli, potatoes and garlic to the pot, place over low heat and heat, shaking the pot constantly, until any lingering moisture is released. Transfer the vegetables to a food processor and process until smooth. (It may be necessary to work in batches.) If desired, add 1 to 2 additional tablespoons of oil, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste, and process until smooth. Taste and add as much stock and, if desired, cream as necessary to attain the desired consistency and richness. Serve hot.

Per serving: 205 calories, 8 gm protein, 31 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, trace cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 297 mg sodium, 7 gm dietary fiber

Marcia M. Mitchell last wrote for Food about Christmas in France.