- Beth Ellis & Forrest Maddox
4.27.2021 Dinner in Provence
Soupe d’Orge Perlé
While restaurants themselves have been around since the Middle Ages, the actual word - restaurant - is derived from the notion of the restorative power of soup. An enterprising Parisian opened a shop in 1765 selling bouillons restaurants (restorative broths) to heal his customers’ ailments. He added more menu items, and the word restaurant slowly evolved from its original meaning to describe a public gathering place where one might get a meal without cooking it oneself. This pearled barley soup with leeks and sugar snap peas has a light broth made from the rinds of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and we think it will help restore your faith and optimism (with the help of some sunshine and spring weather)! (Contains gluten, dairy).
Poulet au Pastis
Pastis is the anise-flavored apéritif of Provence - it is both made there, and relished there. (It is imbibed across all of France, but is especially emblematic of Provence). Pastis is generally enjoyed in the afternoons, perhaps in a café or with friends while playing pétanque, which is the Provencal version of lawn bowling. Pastis has a fraught history in France, as it is the offspring of the overly-loved and then overly-despised absinthe. Absinthe was made popular by Henri-Louis Pernod in the 19th century, and for various reasons, the French generally enjoyed it a little too much. There is some disagreement about which ingredient was to blame for the moral and physical downfall of the French people (the high alcohol content or the hallucinogenic wormwood), but eventually, absinthe was banned by the French government. Absinthe producers regrouped and thus pastis was born - very much like absinthe, but without the wormwood. Today, pastis is ubiquitous in France, with consumption averaging two liters per person annually. The pastis in this dish - along with fresh fennel and tarragon - contributes to its light licorice flavor. Asparagus is a classic spring addition to many Provençal meals, replacing the squashes and root vegetables of winter. (No gluten, no dairy).
Riz Safrané à la Tomate
While tomatoes originated in the Andes of South America, Spanish conquistadors brought them to Europe. Tomatoes arrived in France (indeed, via Provence!) in the 16th century from Italy, and for a long while, they were considered dangerous to eat and were considered decorative; they are a member of the nightshade family, whose members do contain the toxic compound solinine, though in widely varying amounts (eat the tomatoes! Don’t eat the belladonna!). It wasn’t until the 18th century that they were widely accepted as edible, and now are a staple in many home gardens. This lovely saffron-scented rice features sweet grape tomatoes. (No gluten, no dairy).
Haricots Blancs à l'Artichaut
Though artichokes are native to Italy, they were brought to France in 1533 when Catherine de Medici of Italy married King Henry II of France. At the time, however, women were forbidden to eat them, as they were thought to have great powers as an aphrodisiac (and who even knew where that might lead?!). Artichokes are common in Provençal cuisine, and are grown in many home gardens in addition to being cultivated to distribute throughout France. April is when they first come into season, and Provençal purple baby artichokes are highly sought after by chefs all over France. We’ve used a more readily available preserved artichoke here, and this preparation with tender white beans is a favorite springtime dish in Provence. (No gluten, vegan).
Salade de Pois Chiches
This classic Provençal salad has many iterations, but overall showcases the Mediterranean influences in Provençal cuisine. Chickpeas, lemon, feta, and fresh herbs - mint, cilantro, and fennel - combine for a refreshing and surprisingly indulgent salad. Chickpeas are a common ingredient in French cooking, and they are native to the Mediterranean region, indeed there is evidence of them in the Provence region as early as 6790 BCE. (Contains dairy, nuts; no gluten, vegetarian).
Tartines de Chèvre aux Herbes de Provence
Most Provençal cheese is of the goat variety, for the simple reason that the climate - hot and dry in summer, cold and dry in winter, always windy - is so suited for the scrubby vegetation that only goats can love. Goat cheese from Provence is nearly impossible to purchase in the US, due to a prohibition on unpasteurized cheese imports. The mild cheese we’re including here, though, is perfect with herbs and flaky sea salt. The combination of herbs that makes up Herbes de Provence was not packaged under such a name prior to the 1960s, when it was first bundled and marketed by a large spice company. Rather, it was a general name applied to the aromatic herbs that grow wild in Provence, and thus are characteristic of the food - marjoram, sage, savory, thyme, rosemary, and lavender. Cheese is a classic ending to a French meal, and while we are delivering one lovely cheese for you to enjoy, there is an etiquette specific to cutting and eating French cheese (with others! If you’re all alone with your French cheese, you eat it however you want!) - see the link in the resources section if you’re curious. (Goat cheese: contains dairy; vegetarian. Tartines: contain gluten; vegan).
Clos Cibonne Tentations Rosé 2020 - $20
Available at Arbor Farms Market
Provence is the undisputed king of Rosé, and this 2020 vintage from Clos Cibonne is an excellent representation of the style that dominates the region. Much like our snowstorm last week, Provence also had a late season frost in 2020, and this vintage is all the better for it. Light, clean and crisp, with strong floral and white peach notes and hints of red berries, this wine is the perfect way to welcome spring - easily one of the best Rosés we’ve had in a while that is a showstopper with the goat cheese.
Few places in the world are as romanticized as the Provence region of France. Vacationers come for the hot and dry weather, the Mediterranean coastline, the ancient castles and Roman ruins, the fields of lavender, the mountains, caves, canyons and rivers, and, in no small part, the food. Artists have flocked here for centuries to capture the truly unique and superior quality of light. Even this - the very sunlight that shines - has a poetic quality to it; it is a byproduct of the mistral - a wind that blows only here, down the Rhône Valley to the Mediterranean Sea. The mistral clears the dust from the air, producing a clarity of light described as translucent, transcendent, otherworldly, luminous, and magnificent. The air smells of sun-warmed sage, lavender, rosemary and thyme, as these herbs grow wild in the dry Mediterranean soil. While people often envision Provence as a fertile area, it is actually a harsh climate for agriculture, and for most of its history, its people have lived a subsistence lifestyle, coaxing vegetables from the dry and rocky soil. Aside from extensive vineyards, most farming in the region happens on relatively small and diverse farms. Today though, tourism is a substantial contributor to the region’s prosperity.
The coast of Provence has some of the earliest evidence of human habitation in all of Europe. Primitive tools have been found dating back to 1 million years BCE. The Cosquer Cave, which is below sea level and was discovered in 1985 by a scuba diver, has walls covered with animal paintings and handprints dating to at least 20,000 BCE. The area was occupied by Celtic and Ligurian tribes before Greek occupation in the 7th century BCE. The first permanent Greek settlement was named Massalia, and is modern-day Marseilles. Eventually, the Greeks gave way to the Romans, and “Provincia Romana” became the first Roman outpost beyond the Alps. Because of its Roman history, Provence has some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in all of Europe. It wasn’t until 1481 that the region became part of France.
Provence’s proximity to the Mediterranean and its historical association with Italy and Greece have set its food apart from that of the rest of France. A dish served “à la Provençale” is a dish prepared with olives, olive oil, garlic, and tomatoes. The food is lighter than typical French cuisine, and heavy on seasonal vegetables and fresh herbs. It typically features fresh ingredients and simple preparation and presentation, in stark contrast to the meticulous methods and precision of French haute cuisine. The town of Nice is the birthplace of ratatouille, the famously delicious and simple vegetable stew celebrated in the eponymous Disney movie (which we highly recommend, if you haven’t seen it!). The region is also famous for its wines (especially rosés), cheeses (especially goat varieties), pastis (aniseed liqueur), olives, and olive oil. It truly is a food lover’s paradise!
Several other famous French dishes have their roots in Provence: bouillabaisse, salade Niçoise, and aioli are among them. Traditional aioli is made with only oil and garlic (no eggs!), mashed gently and purposefully in a mortar and pestle. Not many people still make aioli this way, because it is so laborious and time consuming - when Anthony Bourdain witnessed this process in Provence, he was told to keep his voice down so as not to break the emulsion! Aioli garni is an entire meal revolving around the garlicky sauce. Provençal cuisine is so dependent on fresh vegetables and herbs that the most popular dishes rotate with the seasons - truffles, beef and lamb in winter; asparagus, melon, beans, and strawberries in spring; cherries, peaches and nectarines in summer; wild game and mushrooms in the fall. To this end, we’ve chosen dishes that highlight spring produce - radishes, artichokes, leeks, sugar snap peas, and asparagus, and fresh herbs like fennel, mint, cilantro, and tarragon.
Typically, a French meal begins with the entrée (here is an interesting explanation of how “entrée” came to refer to the main course in American cuisine - it’s not due to American ignorance!!), in this case a soup, then to the main course (le plat principal, sometimes preceded by a fish course), then to salad, and eventually to cheese and/or dessert. You can enjoy this meal in any order you’d like, but we recommend giving the traditional French progression a try - we’re big fans of the cheese to finish! Bon appétit!
Featured Recipe: Salade de Pois Chiches
Adapted from “Provence: The Cookbook” by Caroline Rimbert Craig
Makes 6-8 servings
Chickpeas, 2 cans, drained and rinsed
Garlic, 6.5 g finely minced or crushed in a mortar & pestle (about 2 cloves)
Red wine vinegar, 4 tsp
135 g Fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and finely sliced (about 1 small fennel bulb or ½ of a large bulb)
220g Green bell pepper, seeded, cored and diced (about 1 large bell pepper)
150g English cucumber, 4 in piece, diced
Radishes, 120g, scrubbed and thinly sliced into rounds (about 5-6 radishes)
Mint, 20 g chopped (about ½ cup)
Cilantro 20 g, chopped (about ½ cup)
Feta, 80 g
Extra Virgin Olive oil, 4 tbsp
Unrefined Walnut oil, 4 tbsp
Freshly ground black pepper, 1 tsp, 2.5g
Lemon juice, 2 tbsp (the juice from about 1 lemon)
Salt, ¾ tsp
Place the crushed garlic into a large salad bowl and cover with the vinegar
Add the drained chickpeas and fennel
Add green pepper and cucumber
Add the radishes
Add the mint and cilantro
Crumble in the feta
Add the oils, black pepper and lemon juice
Mix and taste for seasoning, adding more lemon juice or salt as desired
Recipes Inspired By:
Provence: The Cookbook by Caroline Rimbert Craig.
The Cook and the Gardener by Amanda Hesser.
Anthony Bourdain’s charming episode of No Reservations in Provence.
Everything you ever needed to know about aioli.
All the tips on cheese etiquette in France.