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Food of Provence
“Provence is a country to which I am always returning, next week, next year, any day now, as soon as I can get on a train.” Elizabeth David
Mother Nature is abundantly generous in this part of the world, and Provençal cooking is naturally delicious and flavoursome due to the sun-kissed produce that is readily available in this region. Not to mention the aromatic herbs which grow plentifully here. Thyme, rosemary, oregano, fennel and basil are widely used in Provençal cuisine. And of course there are the biggest stars of all – garlic and olive oil. There is no good cuisine without good oil and there is no Provençal cuisine without garlic.
Provence is famous for a number of dishes. Bouillabaisse is their classic seafood stew made with an assortment of fish and shellfish, tomatoes, garlic, saffron, herbs, wine and olive oil. Best eaten at Chez Fon Fon in Marseille (www.chez-fonfon.com) or L’Oursinado (www.oursinado.com). Pistou is the Provencal equivalent of pesto. It is used as a sauce and flavouring agent in the hearty vegetable Soupe au Pistou, Provence’s version of Minestrone. Basil can be bought with the smallest emerald leaves or large juicy ones, perfect to be torn up on top of a tomato salad.
Another famous accompaniment is Tapinade, a ground mixture of olives, anchovies, capers, olive oil and lemon juice. This can be homemade, but the olive man in the Friday Village Market has the most delicious Anchoiade and Tapinade. He also sells a dozen or more kinds of olives from the smallest Niçoise, to stuffed olives with lemon and feta. These are all delicious and make a perfect lunch with a crunchy bagette L’ancienne. Our favourite boulangerie is on right of the R8 just after you leave Le Beausset towards La Daby.
The meat of this region is prepared in a variety of ways. Daube is perhaps the most popular with the meat being slowly cooked in red wine and stock along with black olives – a comforting winter stew. The nearby hills of Aix provide an abundance of rabbit which is delicious stewed, or marinated and then cooked on a barbique.
All year round there is a plentiful selection of fresh fruit and vegetables. In the summer we enjoy succulent aromatic white fleshed peaches and nectarines, every sort of melon, figs, cherries, downy apricots as well as the humble tomato – which with basil, sea salt and olive oil, makes a staple dish day in / day out.
Le Beausset has an extensive market on Fridays, with a smaller farmer’s market on Sunday. During the summer months, most nearby villages provide a weekly market – including at Bandol and Sanary sur Mer – but serious food lovers should go to Toulon where the locals do their shopping, and produce is generally cheaper.
Provence is the home to the best goat’s cheese or chevre in France, with the fresh ones crumbling into frittatas and being perfect fin salads. A mature goat’s cheese with a just ripe pear is the best simple dessert. Often you will be offered as many as 20 different goats cheeses, as well cheeses from other regions. Do look out for the Tomme specialist in Le Beausset market who sells this ewe’s milk cheese with the nuttiest smoothest flavour.
Being so close to Italy, freshly made pasta can be readily bought, and Le Beausset has its own wood fired pizza takeaway which is a great excuse for the cook’s night off! Indeed, you will find small vans dotted around all over selling whole, or just slices, of pizza.
Although, there is every opportunity to eat fabulous gourmet food in restaurants, it is also easy to eat well and cheaply. Moules frites by the sea or the plat du jour in a shady place. Most restaurants will have a menu de jour which will always be fresh and delicious. The steak and Roquefort Panini’s after the Sanary night market are best eaten with legs dangling over the quayside whilst watching the world go by! Come and join in the fun!!
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