I don’t know what other people do on vacation. I just feel the heart and soul of a place is in the food. I travel to markets, sit in restaurants, take notes on the preparations. To me, that’s how to relax. And now, I am in my personal cuisine capital, Provence and the Cote d’Azur, South of France. Last night, I ordered traditional spaghetti pistou. Provencal pistou is nothing like pesto; it lacks nuts, and is tarnished rust red with sundried tomatoes. I walked away breathing garlic like a highly seasoned dragon, and could think of nothing to quench it but oreillettes, little bits of flat fried dough covered in powdered sugar. And then I thought: in case anyone else loves the food of the South of France as much as I do, I will log it all in a little eat-along. Here is my first
entry in my Papiers Provence:
The sweet man that we rented our apartment from commanded us only to buy fruits and vegetables off the side of the road. Unorthodox, perhaps, but brilliant, as it turns out. On our way out of town today, we stumbled upon a little stand. Wine for 2.50, three artichokes for 1.50. Cheap, and very cheerful. I was ecstatic to find fresh fava beans and the Provencal signature zucchini flowers–and, of course, my currants, which I hoard when I am in France like a squirrel keeping a stash of little rubied nuts.
Dejeuner in La Cadiere d’Azur
When we drove up the clif to La Cadiere d’Azur, we were stupified. This, we exclaimed, is what we had been looking for all along: something tiny, authentic, and impossible to find. A little secret tucked away, a jewel in box. We arrived just as everything was closing for lunch, so we perched in a little outdoor, imaginative restaurant called La Chaise Bleue. It was the best meal we’ve had so far. Alain had filets of monkfish blanketed in a creamy sauce spiked with Marsala. Maman had fresh from the sea Dorade, simply grilled, head and all, punctuated by bites of charred zucchini. And as for me, it was calamari, tossed with olive oil, parsley, and chili, and grilled, served with grilled slices of golden potato. And we all shared a goat cheese salad done three ways: it was melted onto baguette, stuffed and baked into tomatoes, and chilled with herbs and rolled into eggplant. My mother, in her ecstasy, swore it was a “symphony.” It’s not my word, but it will do. All this we ate on a tiny, stone-house lined mainstreet that hung off the side of a cliff, overlooking a valley of vineyards, where it really seemed to be a world on its own. The man at the next table put it most eloquently, “Le temps s’arrete.”
After that kind of an afternoon, you can scarcely imagine ever eating again. We opted to doll up some of our farmstand finds, and I got to work in the kitchen. The vegetables were cheap, but cheerfully vibrant, assertive in their colors and flavors that unfortunately my American supermarket finds rare are at twice the price.