In the kitchen...
Provençal cuisine is sunny, fragrant, generous, mindful of tradition and open to the world. Here, in the kitchen, mixing ingredients is an art, and the opportunities to pair food and wine abound. Here is a review of a few basics.
The base of Provencal cuisine is a tasty trilogy of tomato, garlic and olive oil, which are aggregated by the essential herbs of thyme, rosemary, sage and basil. With this colourful base, Provençal cuisine has developed many specialties and happily adopted some from its borrowings countries, including Italy, with the ubiquitous pizza, which can reach heights when homemade.
Delicacies with vegetables and olives
Among the many specialties in the vegetable section, we find fried zucchini flowers from Nice; eggplant caviar, the only vegetable preparation allowed to be labelled caviar; stuffed vegetables (or ‘petits farcis’) that can combine tomatoes, zucchinis, onions, artichokes, peppers or eggplants, hollowed and stuffed. And of course there is the famous ratatouille which, when done correctly, should see all of its vegetables cooked separately and at length before being mixed in the end. As delicious hot or cold, it can be served as a starter or as an accompaniment to meat or fish.
On the Provencal table, you’ll find of course the olive, which in addition to being offered to civilization as oil of the same name, delights gourmets by itself. Three registered designation of origin, AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) of olives are in the perimeter of the Wine Route: two in Les Baux-de-Provence, black olives, the third being the olive de Nice. As an aperitif, toasts of green or black olive tapenade are the best companies for a glass of rosé or white wine.
Truffles, rice and figs
When it comes to mushrooms, truffles are what fuel all desire. The black diamond is the star of Carpentras’ market; the region of Aups in Haut-Var, on the road to the Verdon gorges, is recognized as "Grand Cru" of truffles in France. A black truffle market is held every Thursday morning in Aups, from November to February. For cereals, milling wheat from Apt is recognized as sentinel of taste by the international association of Slow Food and Camargue rice. In its red form, it’s organic whole rice, rich in magnesium and with high gustatory quality.
Among the most typical meat based dishes, there is of course the Provençal stew (daube provençale) that can be made of mutton, lamb, beef or bull meat, diced and marinated the night before in a white or red wine. Meat lovers should have a taste of leg of lamb, feet packets (a specialty from Marseille and Sisteron, made from sheep offal) or the Camargue bull.
As for fish, note three pillars: Aioli garni, a traditional dish of cod and boiled vegetables and a olive oil and garlic sauce. Poutargue (A Martigues specialty made with dried mullet eggs) and of course Bouillabaisse, this traditional fishermen dish consist of a pot of several varieties of fish, brought to a boil then simmered, cooked in a delicious rock fish stock.
The fruits are plentiful and tasty; grapes too, of course, but also almonds, melons, apples, peaches, plums, apricots and figs, with, for the latter, delicious AOC Sollies, sun-ripened in Toulon hinterland. On the dessert and confectionery side, we enjoy calissons of Aix, oil pump (made of flour, olive oil, sugar and orange blossom water), navettes, Tropezian pie and of course the thirteen desserts without which Christmas would not be quite Provencal.