Cuisine of Provence
Lavender-covered fields, wild basil and thyme perfume this region in France. Bordered by the Rhone to the west, the Mediterranean and Cote d’ Azur (French Riviera) to the south, and vast olive groves to the north, Provence has an abundance of ingredients available from the land and sea. Cuisine of Provence is bright, light and above all, fresh.
Classic ingredients found in Provencal cooking include:
- olive oil,
- goat cheese,
- fresh seafood and
- fresh herbs such as thyme, basil and lavender.
Mealtime is taken seriously and food is savored in the busy metropolis as well as the rustic villages. Families routinely sit down to steaming bowls of bouillabaisse, a fish soup; vegetables simmered in a tomato base, called ratatouille; salads using local produce and fish straight from the sea; and vegetables topped with aioli, a creamy garlic mayonnaise.
While we would all rather dine on Provençal cuisine while relaxing on a white-sand beach along the French Riviera, you can bring the flavors of France to your own kitchen. Fresh ingredients are key. But wearing a beret while you cook couldn’t hurt either. Bon Appetite!
Herbes de Provence
- 4 tablespoons dried thyme
- 4 tablespoons dried savory
- 4 tablespoons dried marjoram
- 1½ teaspoons dried basil
- 1½ teaspoons dried sage
- 1 teaspoon dried fennel seeds
Mix and store in an airtight container.
A well-stocked Provençal pantry
Almost every Provencal dish uses olive oil in one way or another. Choose extra-virgin olive oil for the freshest taste.
Olives are used in abundance in recipes as well as for snacking. Green and black olives are typical of the region, but don’t be surprised to find olives stuffed with peppers, almonds and anchovies. Buy olives from the deli case or packed in cello wrapping, if possible. If you’re interested in trying some of the stuffed varieties, you may be able to find retailers on the Web.
Garlic has become a staple of many tables already. Choose large, heavy bulbs and store them in a dry place. Do not store garlic in the refrigerator.
Capers are small buds from a plant native to the Mediterranean. They are packed in brine and have a strong, salty flavor. Capers are great in salads, seafood dishes and sauces. To remove some of the saltiness, rinse them in water before using.
Provencal cooking means using lots of fresh herbs such as basil, lavender, thyme, fennel seed, savory, rosemary and sage. Basil and thyme are the most widely used and can be bought fresh at most grocery stores. Fennel and lavender are usually used dried. Herbes de Provence, typically a mixture of basil, sage, fennel seed, thyme, savory, marjoram and sometimes lavender, can be made homemade or bought already mixed on the spice aisle.
Goat cheese is used most often in Provencal cooking, followed by sheep’s milk cheese. Goat’s milk cheese, or Chèvre, and can be found readily in most areas. It can be purchased plain, or mixed with different herbs.
Provencal cooking is fresh and healthy, and takes full advantage of fresh produce. Zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, chickpeas, spinach and fennel are used in many recipes. Dishes like ratatouille showcase the local produce and herbs.
The rich, salty flavor of these small fish adds depth and flavor to many Provencal dishes. They can be purchased packed in oil or fresh in many markets at the seafood counter.
Fresh seafood from the Mediterranean takes center stage in Provencal cooking. Items such as anchovies, sardines, cod, snapper, sea bass, mussels, squid, clams, shrimp and even eel are in many dishes.