Papiers Provence: 29 Mai CASSIS

Margherita Pizza

Today, it was the seaside. I am torn here, whether to pursue cuisine night and day or actually do what I’m supposed to do and relax on vacation. When one of my aunts came to meet us at Cassis from Marseille for the day, the decision was made for me. We had a happy beach lunch, which may seem unremarkable, but I thought it was worth note. The pizzas in the South of France have always remained in my mind as the very best–thin, with sweet tomatoes, and olives. Sometimes just whole black olives, and sometimes with tapenade smeared all over the top like I had the other day in Aix.

Penne with Ratatouille
And then there is one without cheese called l’anchois: tomatoes and anchovies and olive oil. Most people don’t realize, but pizza dough is as much in French cuisine as in Italian, and fougasse, breads usually shaped like wheat or braided with flavors like olives or herbs, is nearly the same as Italian focaccia. It is a symbiotic border-straddling strategy, as I know the Northern Italian add creme fraiche to a lot of their pastas. But as for pastas, yesterday Alain ordered Penne with Ratatouille instead of our pizzas. It was just such an obvious marriage, and a delicious one–like a chunky vegetable tomatoe sauce with the herbs and flavors of Provence. Whenever I make ratatouille, somehow I come out with a ton of it, and I eat it cold on bread for days. Now, I’m just going to freeze some, and toss it with pasta whenever I need it. Brilliant!
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Papiers Provence: 28 Mai AIX-EN-PROVENCE, LOURMARIN

Yesterday was one of those days that you plan to do what God did in six, with no rest on the seventh. Since I’m only human, all I managed was about a third of it. I wanted to go on the lavender trail. I told myself that no matter what the guidebook says, lavender must bloom somewhere in May. And we figured we’d throw in Aix-en-Provence on the way up and back for good measure.

Turns out, lavender really does bloom in July. And as for Aix, which my mother first took me too when I was fifteen, eleven years ago, and has remained in my mind as a sleepy Provence city, my ideal, it has changed. In fact it has boomed. But while it’s wobbly streets are teeming, it has a unique ability to marry Old World Provencal markets brimming with barrels of olives and the Princesse Tam Tam high end lingerie shop on the same square. It’s probably more me now than it ever has been.

Citron Presse for Breakfast

We arrived in Aix around ten o’clock. And for breakfast, there’s nothing like an enamel-endangering French citron presse. You get a tall glass about half full with fresh lemon juice, tart enough to strip the paint off your house, a carafe of water, and some sugar. Mix and mingle as you wish, and voila, your perfect citron presse.

Citron Presse

Aix Market’s the Spot

What I remember most about Aix from eleven years ago were these traditional Provencal textile shops that sell those gorgeous olive-and-floral table cloths in impossible bright pastels, and the markets that had barrels of every-flavor olive in the Mediterranean. Just in front of city hall, I found what I remembered; a true Provencal market where all the vendors talk with an accent that must to the French be like talking to Scarlett O’Hara. My favorite finds were bulot, tiny sealife escargot, gorgeous olives bathed in Provencal pistou, the requisite bouquets of sunshine zucchini flowers, and proof that even though Provence is not swathed in lavender, it is still swathed in purple: purple garlic, purple asparagus, and purple artichokes. We also bought sacks of dried lavender, herbes de Provence, and fines herbes, and came across dried rouille, the spice mix that bring to life rouille itself, that condiment of aioli and peppers and saffron served with bouillabaisse.

Black and Green Olives with Pistou
Green Olives with Pistou
Dry Rouille, which contained dried peppers and coriander, among other things
Bulots, Escargots of the Sea

Purple Garlic

Purple Asparagus

Purple Artichokes

An Edible Bouquet of Zucchini Flowers

Calissons and Macarons at the Aix Market

The guidebook listed an arsenal of bakeries in which to try the famed Calisson d’Aix, a cookie created centuries ago by a king who wanted to win the heart and trust of his young wife. These cookies, suggestively shaped like petals, are made from almonds and flavored with melons and oranges, although I bought some flavored with lavender. Rumor has it she eventually capitulated.

We also found and bought some macarons the likes of which I’ve never seen. In Paris, the macarons of Laduree and Pierre Herme are bright like easter eggs, and filled with cremes and confitures and ganaches. Here, they were unpretentiously undied, and unfilled. Rustic, rural, and some of the best macarons I have ever tasted. Bravo. I bought both from Calissoun.

Piles of Unpretentious Provence Macarons
I bought the almond flavor, since macarons are made from almonds.

The unfilled interior of a rustic macaron.

Lavender Calissons
Calissons d’Aix, in Traditional, Fig, and Lavender Varieties

The View from the Top (of the Mountain)

We planned to drive to Sault, where great purple paths of lavender blossom every July. Halfway there, we realized we never had the time, but the journey, it seems, was the destination in itself. Far up in the mountains of Provence, the view was spectacular, and reminiscent of the plates my mother had when I was a child: rural French farmers, smiling as they tended perfect rows of lavender. Provence, the legend.

Some views from out the car window…




La Ferme Gerbaud in Lourmarin

I read about a farm in Lourmarin, just about half an hour from Aix. Here, they grow herbes de Provence, naturally, without irrigation or pesticides. The owner gave us a personal tour of the property, and share old Provencal knowledge. The most important thing to remember about Provencal cuisine, the cuisine that gives us ratatouille and pissaladiere and pistou, she says, is that nothing was done originally for flavor, but rather for health. How does she mean? Savory is often added to soupe au pistou because the soup contains beans, and savory reduces flatulence. It also apparently is sexually stimulating. Rosemary was used in roasting meats because its antiseptic properties were a safeguard against stomach upset. Sage was used with pork because it natually kills worms, which have a tendency to inhabit pork. And the Provencal bouquet garni, which contains rosemary, thyme, and bay, actually is like old-fashioned Pepto Bismol. Thyme stimulates the stomach; rosemary the gallbladder; bay the intestines.

Most importantly and most interestingly, she told me that traditionally the people of Provence never ate Lavender. Now it is trendy to include it in herbes de Provence, but the true Provencal people abhor that idea as untraditional. Lavender was used and farmed solely for its essential oil, which was used in soaps and laundry and other such uses. But I stuck to my guns; lavender is delicious. And she even admitted to selling lavender navettes in the store.

Monsieur le Goat, Guardian of the Herbes de Provence
Rocky Soil, as they have in Provence, is required for these moisture-hating plants. The less moisture, the more essential oil they produce, and the more fragrant and flavorful they become.
Marguerites, which are natural insect repellent

Lavandin, a lavender hybrid, and what we generally know today when we cook with lavender

Rosemary
Sage

Thyme

Savory

Wild Almond grows in the region. Sauce Mistral is like an almond pistou.

Fields of Lavender, getting ready to bloom

Dinner at Le Passage in Aix

For dinner, we drove back to Aix, to a restaurant called Le Passage, so called because of its adorable table-lined entrance walkway. While it wasn’t the greatest meal of my life, I was impressed by the imaginative reincarnation of Provencal ingredients. I ordered the Menu Cezanne. And here are some modern renditions of old Provence:

A Napoleon of Eggplant, Tomato Sauce, and Chevre
A Tarte Fine in the style of Pissaladiere
Daube Provencal, a traditional beef stew cooking until soft in light wine
White Chocolate and Olive Oil Mousse, with Green Fennel Cookies
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French in a Flash: Tisane Shortbread Cookies with Lemon Verbena

RECIPE: Tisane Shortbread Cookies with Lemon Verbena
Lemon Verbena Shortbread

Verveine Shortbread

I don’t really like my nose–it’s a bit big. It is a Saretsky landmark, that’s for sure. But when I was growing up, all I wanted was one of those sweet little ski jumps that all my classmates had. I have a feeling it was all my fault. Call me Pinocchio.

When I was little, I told one little lie–the only lie I can remember telling to date. I was eating my favorite Chessmen cookies, and I told my dad that I had only had one, when I actually had three. Actually, come to think of it, this is probably the first my dad has heard of this!

I love cookies–they are one of the few things I would lie for. In this week’s French in a Flash on Serious Eats, I get inspired but all the buttery cookies I’m devouring here in Provence. I flavor crumbly, salty-sweet shortbread with South-of-France tisane staples lemon and lemon verbena. The result is unusual, clean, comforting, and irresistible. Definitely worth a bigger nose. As always, click here for the full story and recipe!

Tisane Shortbread Cookies with Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena ShortbreadIngredients

  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 heaping tablespoon finely ground verbena (3 tea bags)

Procedure

  1. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and lemon zest until just combined.
  2. Separate the dough into two parts, and place each half on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Roll the dough into two logs about 2 inches in diameter and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until cold throughout, about an hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Take the dough out of the fridge.
  4. After the dough has sat out for about 10 minutes, carefully cut the dough into 1/2-inch thick discs, trying not to crumble the dough. Lay the discs onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with a dusting of sugar to form a sparkling, firm crust on the top of each cookie. Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden and firm. Allow to stand for a few minutes, until they are firm enough to move. Remove to a wire rack to cool, and serve with tea.
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Papiers Provence: 27 Mai NICE

The Coast of Nice

I was eager to get to Nice from a culinary point of view. Though I have been to the South of France before, I have never been here, and I have always considered it something of a New Orleans: surrounded by traditional Southern fare, but with a cuisine all its own. As you will see, I was not disappointed. What struck me most besides the individuality of Nicoise cuisine was the way it integrated Provencal flavors with Italian and North African influences that were prevalent in everything from kebabs and couscous to gnocci and polenta pistou.

The Salts of Nice

Whether I am the salt of the Earth is not for me to decide; but if I could decide, I would be a salt of Nice. I came across this little salt and spice shop in the old city, selling salt flavored with everything from Moroccan rose and Provencal lavender to luxurious truffle East Asian wasabi and bamboo.

Truffle Salt, Pink Peppercorn Salt
Wasabi Salt, Bamboo Salt, Salt from the Camargue
Garlic Salt, Lavender Salt, Moroccan Rose Salt, Salt for Vegetables, Spiced Salt, Crazy Salt
Australian Salt, Salt for Vegetables, Lavender Salt, Spiced Salt, Garlic Salt, Crazy Salt

More Navettes

Yesterday, I told you about those enchanting orange flower navette cookies that I found in La Cadiere d’Azur. Here in Nice, I came across a cookie haven, piled high with all sorts of Navettes, from orange flower to cinnamon to chocolate, and their Provencal cousins, from calissons to pine nut crescents.

Chocolate Navettes
Vanilla and Orange Flower Navettes
Cinnamon Navettes
La Plage, Nice

Fenocchio Ice Cream

Fenocchio was the best ice cream I have ever had, for two reasons. First, the texture is like gelatto: it has that creamy elasticity that moves with your mouth when you eat it. Second, they are like alchemists with their flavors, spinning sweet gold from the most basic provencal ingredients. I was able to taste black olive ice cream, lemon verbena ice cream, lavender ice cream, thyme ice cream, fig sorbet, and poppy ice cream. And I walked away with a cone of my very favorite: fleur d’oranger. Orange flower. You won’t believe the other flavors they offer. Everything is inspired by the culinary traditions of Provence, and made from ingredients farmed on the surrounding land.
Fenocchio Glacier

Fenocchio’s 96 Flavors

Vanilla & Pink Peppercorn, Tomato-Basil, Black Olive, Thyme, and Rosemary Ice Creams
Cactus, Melon, Lemon Meringue, Pear, Lemon, Grapefruit, Lime, and Mandarin Sorbets
Black Currant, Blackberry, Fig, Strawberry, Raspberry, Sour Cherry, and Apricot Sorbets
Rose, Lavender, Beer, Calisson (Provencal Almond Cookie), Cranberry, and Candy-Embellished Ice Creams

Jasmine, Poppy, Violet, Rose, Rosemary, Thyme, Tutti Frutti, Pina Colada, and Beer Ice Creams
Avocado, Orange Flower, Lemon Verbena, Jasmin, Cabbage Tart,
Vanilla & Pink Peppercorn, Tomato-Basil, and Rosemary Ice Creams

Orange Flower Ice Cream

Oliviera, Olive Oil Dealer

There is a restaurant in New York called Fig and Olive. When you sit down, they bring you bread and a tray of four different olive oils. I am always surprised, after using the same olive oil day in and day out in all my salads and breads and meals at how extraordinarily different they taste. The phenomenally well-versed owner of the shop allowed me to try four oils: Arlesienne, which had the salty, olivey finish of black olives, Baux de Provence, which was grassy, Picholine, which was bitter, and Bouteillan, which had an almost tropical fruitiness. He insisted that his menu was equally imaginative, and if I ever get the chance, I will go back to try the zucchini flowers stuffed with vegetables and the pasta with picholine pistou.

Olive Oils, kept in dark bottles to prevent oxidation

A Large, Quaint Selection of French First Cold Press Extra Virgin Olive Oils



Olive Oil Tasting
Nicois Street Food at Lou Pilha Leva

My guide book ordaned all sorts of gourmet places to stop and try the specialties of Nice. As per Provencal tradition, they all closed at one o’clock. Oops. A local sent me to this corner-window joint on the Place Centrale, and while nothing was freshly made to order or indeed quite perfect, it gave me the perfect late afternoon glimpse into some of Nice’s most traditional foods. Pissaladiere is pizza dough topped with sweet, soft onions, Nicoise olives, and anchovies. Socca is a chickpea flour and olive oil pancake, thin as a crepe. And zucchini and zucchini flowers beignets are little fried fritters of dough surrounding one of Provence’s most iconic vegetables. I’ll be back for those beignets.

A Corner Outdoor Fast Food Joint with Nicoise Specialties
Nicois Street Food

Zucchini Flowers

Zucchini & Zucchini Flower Beignets with Lemon
Socca

Socca’s Crisp Edges
Pissaladiere
Me, and the Coast of Nice
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Papiers Provence: 26 Mai, La Cadiere d’Azur

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 Farm Stand


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.

Zucchini Flowers

Cherry Tomatoes on the Vine

Tiny, Tart Groseilles (Red Currants)

Tiny Melons de Pays
(orange like cantaloupe, sweet like honeydew
)

Local Lavender Honey

Heirloom Tomatoes, Jolie-Laide (pretty ugly)

Long Radishes (for dipping in salt)

Prepared Bouquets Garnis

Fresh Beans

Endives (finally on the cheap!)

A hot and spicy Provencal Olive Blend

Signature Black Cured Olives

Green Olives with Herbes de Provence

Le Moulin de Saint Come

After spending yesterday on the coast amidst rail-thin sailing masts and tubby tourists, we were ready to get away from it all. I read in the guide book about a town called La Cadiere d’Azur. On our way there, along a highway of poppies, we found this little shop that sells its own olive oil, but also all sorts of Provencal delicacies. I was entrances by their selection of liqueurs–you could have a Mimosa or Poppy Kir if you like. My mother was spotted with a 1 Kilo tin of tapenade. Here were some gorgeous finds:

Liqueurs of Indigenous Mimosa and Poppy

Verbena Liqueur

Liqueurs of Raspberry, Black Currant, and Bitter Orange
Liqueurs of Violet, Rose, and Blackberry

Syrups of Thyme, Fig, and Poppy

Sacks of Lavender

Dejeuner in La Cadiere d’Azur

City Hall 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.”

Our Lunch Spot, La Chaise Bleue


A lovely, modern table in a chic, old town

Baked Tomato Stuffed with Goat Cheese

Melting Goat Cheese Croutes

Three-Ways Goat Cheese Sald with Honey, Eggplant, and Pine Nuts
Grilled Dorade with Root Vegetable Quenelles and Seared Zucchini (Maman)
Monkfish in a Marsala Cream Sauce with Mushrooms, Carrots, and Root Vegetable Quenelles (Alain)
Grilled Calamari with Parsley and Mild Red Chilis, with Grilled Potatoes and Salad (Moi)

A Cool Glass of Rose

Au Vieux Four

How can you argue with a baker who puts a sign reading “the best bread in my street is here”? Still in La Cadiere, we found a bakery that actually closed for three hours for lunch. Ah, la vie Provencale. We took home Pain au Levain, Pain d’Epice, and an Olive Loaf. But my favorite things were little tiny, crumbly navette cookies, flavored with orange flower water. I ate them overlooking the valley below, under a fig tree. It was perfect!

Varieties of Pissaladiere

Pine Nut Tart
Used for the Famous Nicoise Sandwich, Pan Bagnat

Olive Loaf

Pain d’Epice, a spiced bread that tastes of orange and honey
Orange Flower Butter Cookies

Floral, Hardly Sweet, and Perfect in Every Way

A Farmstand Dinner

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.

Cherry Tomato Salad
Asparagus with Brebis
Artichokes Vinaigrette

Mache and Fennel Salade with Tapenade Vinaigrette

Melon de Pays

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The Secret Ingredient: Rosewater

 

Rosewater

Rosewater

I am in Provence, and it’s rose season here in the South of France. After all the April showers in New York and Oxford, the May flowers finally ring true. For this month’s The Secret Ingredient on Serious Eats, I showcase one of my favorite (and coincidentally very French) ingredients: rosewater.

 

Rosewater and Melon Salad

Rosewater and Melon Salad with Mozzarella and Crispy Prosciutto

I begin with a salad of matching boules of cantaloupe, watermelon, and mozzarella, tossed with a rosewater vinaigrette, and topped with crisp Jambon de Bayonne. Next, jewel-ripe raspberries and blackberries spooned over with a lacy rosewater sabayon. And finally, to drink, a rosy rose–rose wine spiked with rosewater, in a glass rimmed with rose petal sugar.

Berries with Rose Sabayon

Berries with Rose Sabayon

Spring is here; and finally, it is time to stop and smell the roses.

Rose Kir

Rose Kir

Bon app!

Provence Rose

Provence Rose

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The Secret Ingredient (Rosewater) Part III: Rosy Rosé

RECIPE: Rosy Rosé
Rosy Rosé

Rosy Rosé

Get the whole story at Serious Eats.

This simple but unique cocktail pairs good rosé wine with a splash of rose water. The pair obviously plays on the color pink, but the rose water also accents the often fruity-floral notes of a good rosé. As an optional crown, I whirl sugar and dried rose petals together for the prettiest in pink wineglass rim.

Rosy Rosé
serves 4 to 6
Rosy RoséIngredients
  • 1/2 cup sugar (optional)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried roses (optional)
  • 1 bottle rosé wine, lightly chilled
  • About 6 splashes of rosewater

Procedure

Make the optional rose-sugar rim by combining the sugar and dried rose petals in a small food processor, and whirling it around until the bits of rose are the same size as the sugar grains. Place on a saucer.

Dip your clean finger in water, and run it around the rim of 6 wine glasses. Dip the wet rim into the rose sugar, so that the sugar sticks to the rim.

Divide the wine between the glasses, pouring to avoid disturbing the rose-sugar rims. Pour a splash of rosewater into each glass thereafter.

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Categories: Cocktails, Drinks, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Series, The Secret Ingredient