As America celebrates its Independence Day, I find myself in another county where hamburgers, hot dogs and barbecue sauce are not too easy to come by. I can’t say that I can complain though, because this country has some pretty amazing food. My husband and I are visiting some friends in Provence, in the south of France at the moment.
Even though we’re pretty far up in the mountains, we still have a “bread truck” (yes, much like an ice cream truck) that visits us twice a week to sell bread, pastries and fruit. And at the local bakery, there are 3 options for French baguettes – lightly baked, medium baked and well done – all for less than a Euro. There’s dozens of other types of breads at the “boulangerie,” but the French baguettes are just so delicious that I haven’t been able to bring myself to try anything else just yet.
Since the offerings at the local grocery store are much different from what I’m used to, I thought it would be a good idea to find some recipes for Provencal cooking. Herbs de Provence really do grow wild around here and rosemary, thyme, lavender, mint and oregano are quite abundant.
I picked up a Provençal cookbook and discovered that a few ingredients are key to Provençal cooking: olive oil, garlic and herbs de Provence. Tomatoes, green beans olive, capers, eggs and cheese make up many other traditional Provencal dishes.
Lunchtime is the main meal and everyone takes about two hours for lunch – even in school! Dinner is usually later and lighter than by American standards, but if you are making food for company you’ll serve several courses.
Our friends explained to us that the order of serving food is very important here in France. A dinner should start with an appetizer (like olives or tapenade, not cheese!) and should be followed by a raw vegetable salad (not necessarily a green salad). Next you can bring out your main dish, and then follow it up with several selections of cheese. Plenty of bread should be available during the entire meal, as it is used to clean your plate of any leftover sauces or salad dressing. Afterward you might serve some chocolate or fruit.
I’ve taken it upon myself to learn a few Provencal recipes, which I shared below. (Note: all of these recipes are translated from French and many use European measurements, or just say “a spoonful of ___.” I’ve tried to translate as much as I can to American measurements.)
- 1⅓ cups pitted olives (green or black, your choice, “gourmet” ones by US standards are best)
- As many capers as you want
- A bottle of anchovies (if you dare…I chose to skip this ingredient!)
- A spoonful of mustard
- A spoonful of olive oil
- Grind the olives, capers and anchovies in a mixer.
- Add the mustard and enough olive oil to create a good paste out of the olives.
- Serve on little slices of the best French baguette you can find.
- 2 chicken breasts
- 1 tomato
- 2 cloves of garlic
- A small spoonful of capers
- Some pitted Kalamata olives
- Salt, pepper and olive oil
- Sautee the chicken in olive oil until the juices run clear.
- Remove the chicken from the heat. Leave the remaining oil in the pan.
- Add all of the other ingredients and more oil if needed. Stir it just until the tomatoes are slightly soft. Add the chicken back in for a minute.
- Serve with rice and steamed vegetables.