Tour France: Traditional Provencal Foods, The Aioli

Tour France: Traditional Provencal Foods, The Aioli

Tour France: Vacations in Provence and the Mediterranean

One of the best warm weather traditional Provencal dishes is the Aioli. Named after the garlic mayonnaise like sauce used as the centerpiece of the dish (the word Aioli comes from the words for ‘garlic’ and ‘oil’), this is quintessential Provencal fare. It has it’s roots, like many dishes of that region, in Roman times. It has been revered as a symbol of Provencal life for hundreds of years.

 

“Among the peoples living around the Mediterranean coasts, the use of garlic dates back to the very beginning of cooking itself. But as Leon Daudet observed, with the aioli it attained its peak of perfection, ‘the very highest degree of those truly civilized customs and habits that until health with well-being.’ So that we need feel no astonishment at learning that when the poet Mistral founded a Provencal newspaper (this was in 1891), he called it L’Aioli. The sauce had become a symbol. And he wrote of it with justice: ‘It concentrates all the warmth, the strength, the sun-loving gaiety of Provence in its essence, but it also has a particular virtue: it keeps flies away. Those who don’t like it, those whose stomachs rise at the thought of our oil, won’t come buzzing around us wasting our time. There’ll just be the family.’ And elsewhere again: ‘The ailoi goes slightly to the head, impregnates the body with its warmth, and bathes the soul with its enthusiasm…”
—The Hundred Glories of French Cooking, Robert Courtine [Farrar, Strause and Giroux:New York] 1973 (p. 137-140) 
[NOTE: This book offers a recipe for Aioli de Morue. We can scan/send if you like.]

another home made aioli served with tapenade

It’s served every Friday at the local cafe (because the fish monger comes on Fridays, and that’s the day of the Provencal market). It’s served at group meals –those community meals offered at village fetes and fares during the spring and summer months. This dish is a market fresh favorite.

There are many variations, but the mainstays are this:

Aioli sauce (recipes below)

Hard boiled egg

Boiled potato

Haricots verts (the thin French green beans)

Tomato (raw)

and steamed cod.

Then, the other items you might see are:

sea snails

cauliflower

zucchini

artichoke

mussels (along the Mediterranean)

 

Everything is served room temperature (unless you have steamed mussels, which of course, are served warm). The sauce is cold. You dip each item in the sauce to flavor it.

How to make a quick and simple Aioli:

Take mayonnaise (1/2 cup) and mixed with crushed garlic clove (4-6), a squeeze of lemon, a few tablespoons of white wine (you can determine how thick or thin you want the sauce by how much wine you use), sea salt –and optional flavors such as saffron or herbs de Provence.

Mix well, cover tightly and let sit for at least 3-4 hours. Best if left overnight to allow the flavors to meld.

For a traditional Aioli, this is what Escoffier says:

 

[1907]
“Aioli, or Beurre de Provence
. Pound 30 g (1 oz) garlic as finely as possible in the mortar, add 1 raw egg yolk and a pinch of salt and gradually mix in 1 1/2 dl (9 fl oz or 1 1/8 U.S. cup) oil allowing it to fall drop by drop to begin with, then faster as a thread as the sauce begins to thicken. The thickening of the sauce takes place by turning the pestle vigorously whilst adding the oil. The consistency of the sauce should be adjusted during its making by adding the juice of 1 lemon and 1;2 tbs cold water little by little. Note: Should the sauce separate it can be reconstituted by working it into 1 egg yolk as for Mayonnaise.”
Le Guide Cuilinaire, Escoffier, first translation into English by H.L. Cracknell & R.J. Kaufmann, 1907 edition [John Wiley:New York] 1979 (p. 29)

As the spring and summer seasons in Provence swing into action, you can be sure that people will be dining on Aioli, sipping rose, and enjoying the sunshine.  It’s Bliss!

Hope to see you there!

Wendy Jaeger

Owner, Bliss Travels

Advertisements

Tour France: New Year’s Resolutions & Provencal Dining: Bouillabaisse History & Recipes

New Year’s Resolutions & Provencal Dining

Traditional Summer Dining on Bouillabaisse & Soupe de Poisson, in Winter!

Summer dining in Provence is spectacular for the purity of the ingredients and the full rich taste of super fresh fish and produce. Those of you who regularly read our blog know that we are big proponents of seasonal dining. We don’t often advocate eating a summer dish in winter or visa versa. The food is not fresh or local and the flavors just aren’t the same. However, bouillabaisse or soupe de poisson is an exception to this rule. It is a dish that can be modified (indeed, as you will see below, it needs to be modified to be eaten in the U.S.) So, each January as we contemplate the excesses of the holiday season and how to get back on track, one of our “go to” fixes is to eat soups and stews. A great way to “rebalance”. So, the timing for this sort of dish is perfect. Try the recipe below or modify it to fit your favorite fish.

History: One of the most famous, traditional seaside dishes is Bouillabaisse. It’s truly an “experience”, not just a meal. Even if you can’t come with us to Provence in the summer to have this spectacular dish, you can try our soupe de poisson recipe (modified for the U.S.) and put on a good French CD and “passez un bon moment.”

Bouillabaisse served at the table

This dish is surrounded by myth.  Either it was either created by the Greeks around 500 years BC or perhaps it was created by Venus (goddess of love) to put her husband to sleep so she could have an affair with another god (Mars, the god of war). Certainly, the dish is so copious and so rich that this is believable. And as long as Venus didn’t eat with her hubby, she was probably still energetic enough to sneak away!

However the recipe was born, bouillabaisse is a fish stew –made from what was once considered the dregs of the catch…the fish that was boney and hard to sell. However, as it’s popularity spread, it became a culinary treat of the highest order, with gourmands traveling all day to experience this seafood smorgasbord.

The soup is made from fish broth cooked with fennel, tomato & leek, and seasoned with saffron, bay leaf and pastis. Unlike other stews, there is a full ritual associated with the service of Bouillabaisse.

The broth is served separate from the fish. The fish (and they are specific) are brought to the table on a huge plank or platter, whole. They are filleted  and then served in the bowl along with the other condiments: croutons, rouille or another form of sauce like a saffron aioli, and also shredded cheese. Sometimes whole garlic cloves are served. The diner takes these and wipes the toast with them, then spreads the sauce and plops the crouton into the soup.

Some places also serve the soup with potatoes. And some places serve the dish in courses.

One thing is certain. Bouillabaisse is serious business in Provence in the summer. It has become a sought after, highly gourmet treat. How many dishes do you know that have their own charter prescribing exactly which fish can be used? I know of only one! We have traveled all over the south to find the not just the “true”, but the “best” bouillabaisse. We have dined in Marseille, Saint Tropez, small villages dotting the coastline from east to west, and even on the coast islands of France. There are formal services, wood fired fish, copper kettle cooked stews, and rustic island treats. And the variations are very appetizing. We even tried a spectacular “play” on the dish in a small Provencal town this past October on our Fall foliage trip to Provence. One thing is certain. If you have good very fresh fish, a fine aioli or rouille and a hint of saffron, you have the makings of a great dish.

Tour France: Caio Chow Linda Blogs about Bliss Travels (Recipes included

 The official charter states that bouillabaisse should include at least four of the following types of fish:rascasse (rockfish or scorpion fish), araignée (weever or spider crab),galinette/rouget grondin (red mullet), fielas/congre (conger eel) andchapon/scorpène (red scorpion fish). Optional extras are: Saint Pierre (John Dory), bauroie/ lotte (monkfish), langouste(crayfish) and cigale de mer
Since some of these fish are found strictly in the Mediterranean, that means you can only make real Bouillabaisse in the South of France. (As if  you needed one more reason to go!)

If you’d like to experience this with us this summer along the Mediterranean (or learn what others say about traveling with Bliss), contact us! We have 2 rooms left on our July Provence, Mediterranean and Bastille Day trip!

Our Recipe: Bliss Travels, French Culinary Travel…Follow Your Bliss

 

Soupe de Poisson

¼ cup Olive oil

7-9 small Garlic cloves, chopped

1 ½ cups of chopped sweet onion

2 ½ cups of chopped Leek, white and light green only

1 cup of chopped fennel

4 ½ – 5 cups Tomato (peeled, seeded and chopped)

¾ cups of white wine

12 cups water  (or fish stock)

3-5 Tablespoons of Tomato paste, depending upon the flavor of the fresh tomatoes used above

Herbs:

Dried basil–optional

2 Tablspoons of fresh Thyme, leaves only

¾ Teaspoon of fennel seed

2 Bay leaves

2 -2 inch strips of Orange peel

¼ to ¾  teaspoon of Saffron

Salt and Pepper

Fish:

16 ounces filet of skinned flakey white fish, such as snapper, sole or halibut. Chef’s note: use sole if you wish to serve this incorporated into the broth as below. If you wish to poach the fish and place the fish filets into the broth table side, then a thick cut piece halibut is a great choice, as is scallop and some mussels.

Optional additional fish for poaching (a variety of bass, halibut, scallop, shrimp, mussels…are all good choices. ) DO NOT overcook. See below.

In a large soup pot, heat oil, then add garlic, stir for a moment, add onion, leek and fennel. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes until vegetables soften. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer mixture for 45 minutes to an hour. Use an immersion blender to thoroughly blend, after removing bay leaves.

 

Add the white fish and bring soup to a slow boil, check seasoning, adding salt if necessary. Boil until fish is done, 5 minutes or so. Break up fish into fine flakes with a fork, or by pulsing the immersion blender very very briefly.

 

If using additional fish, poach the fish at the last minute and add whole. DO NOT OVERCOOK. Your fish should be not quite fully cooked when you remove it from the poaching liquid. The heat from the poaching as well as the broth will continue cooking it.

 

Using wide, shallow soup bowls, place poached fish on bottom of bowl, ladle hot soup over fish, and serve with croutons, aoli (garlic mayonnaise with saffron, white wine, lemon and salt), and shredded parmesan or comte cheese on the table.

 

Tour France: Goat Cheese Salads (Chevre Chaud)

Goat Cheese Salads…

tour france provence goat cheese

From our favorite little cafe in Provence

…remind me of Provence in the spring and summer. So, today, when I went shopping and my favorite butcher Mike, told me his wife loved them, I though that this was a great excuse to start thinking about spring in Provence! This is a  traditional Provencal dish (which can be found all over Paris as well) and is made in many ways. Below are several recipes and our favorite variations of Chevre chaud (literally translated, warm goat cheese). And, of course, photos of some of the ones we enjoyed last season.

Greens: laitue (real lettuce in france is referred to as laitue. The closest we have to that in texture is hydroponic bibb lettuce or some varieties of organic baby lettuces). If you are making a salad of the sweet variety below, then you could use baby arugula or maybe other wild greens to add a bitter component to balance the sweet. Otherwise, use the most delicate lettuce available.

Wash and dry greens. Toss in vinaigrette. Add the various components below that you’ve chosen, and enjoy.

Vinaigrette
2-3 parts olive oil (extra virgin)
1 part white wine vinegar
Dijon style mustard to taste (about a teaspoon for every 2/3 cup dressing)

sea salt to taste
optional: finely chopped shallots

 

Tour france Provence Salad

A first course served at a private dinner in our inn

Note: Salads can be made savory or sweet. If you prefer sweet, think of adding fresh figs or cranberry or diced fresh pear — and then maybe toasted walnuts or toasted pecans (with the cranberry or pear). Drizzle with honey. If you prefer savory, you can add tomato, olives, tapenade…

Chèvre: The goat cheese can be served cold, crumbled in the salad or warm on a crouton or wrapped in phyllo dough or breaded in some way.

The “main” ingrediant: Of course the most important thing in a Chevre chaud is the chevre –or the cheese. You can make this salad using a variety of great goat cheeses. Fresh goat cheese, creamy goat cheeses with rinds, and crottins. Just make sure you don’t get a dried goat cheese. It won’t melt properly.

Tour France Provence

artisan goat cheeses made at the farm where they were served. It’s a mountain top picnic

You can use a Crottin de Chavignol for your salad, or any goat cheese with a rind. This is an easy and tasty way to make the dish. As you heat the goat cheese (usually you do this on a crouton), the rind keeps the melted cheese from losing it’s shape. The cheese is then placed on a green salad. Sometime tomatoes are added. sometimes tapenade. And sometimes figs or other fruits are used instead -as a counterpoint to the strong flavor of the cheese.

Crottin de Chavignol

 

Another way to make this salad is to use fresh goat cheese logs. You take a 1/2 to 1 inch slice of the goat cheese, and place on an already toasted crouton. You heat the goat cheese and put on the salad.

Tour France Provence Goat cheese salad

A starter of phyllo wrapped fresh goat cheese

 

Pair these with a Sancerre or a Provencal rose.Market Day Tour France Provence

And enjoy! Bon appetit, to you, and hope to see you a bientot in France this season.

 

 

Tour France: Recipes from Locals & Insider Experiences during Vacations in Provence

Tour France: Recipes from Locals & Insider Experiences during Vacations in Provence

I’ve been touring France and leading small custom groups on “insider vacations” for a while now. Some of what we do is haute cuisine and grand chefs with Michelin stars. But, some of the best, most authentic experiences occur in the countryside and about country cooking and local lore. I have been collecting recipes, adapting them and teaching French cuisine for almost as long as I have been leading trips.

Each recipe has a story. This one is very special. The story is as deliciously amusing as this country recipe is tasty.  So for a casual Provencal experience, try this story on for size!

Everybody should meet their local French butcher. He is charming, funny, full of advice and local color. One day several years ago, while attempting to test some new recipes as well as research an area winery, and be very efficient by accomplishing this in one afternoon, a woman who worked for me and I decided to visit the local butcher of Menerbes instead of the one in our nearby town. The weather was quite hot and we needed to order meat, but didn’t want to cart it around with us all day, to roast in the strong provencal sun. In this way, we two American women, entered the Boucherie in Menerbes, requesting, ever so politely, in French, to please have a chicken (and rabbit, if one was available) prepared for us. We asked if he would be so kind as to hold it for us in refrigeration for several hours. This was no problem. He would be glad to help us, but it’s not possible that we are American he says. He is convinced that since we speak French and wish to cook…..well, clearly we must be English or Australian or just simply confused. No, we assure him we are sure of our origins. To make conversation, we inquired politely about several of the prepared foods he has in his case.

In France, it is quite common for Butcher to also sell certain prepared items such as ratatouille, grated carrot salad, stuffed vegetables,  roasted tomatoes/eggplants, and the like. He starts waxing poetic about his ratatouille, which, coincidentally, he is in the process of making at this very moment.

When we mention that we also are planning to make this dish later that day, he insists that we follow him through his shop (which he cavalierly leaves unattended) through his living quarters, and laundry area to his kitchen where he is making the biggest vat of ratatouille known to mankind. As we look around, we see not only the vat of simmering fragrant vegetables, but colanders of cooked vegetables, tilted this way and that,  and a large fry pan still warm and oily from before we entered the shop. Next to the stove was a small metal framed kitchen table, with an ashtray, a water glass ½ full of red wine, and the corked bottle. Clearly this was the perch from which Monsieur le Boucher watched his ratatouille simmer. The Butcher painstakingly describes the secret to his ratatouille, which is that one must first cook each vegetable separately, and then drain them before finally creating the mélange. He thoughtfully stirs the pot. After we thank him, showing our appreciation for his generosity, he guided us through the doors of the now reopened Boucherie, and bellows into the street a hearty  “a bientot”.  When we return several hours later, the butcher is in the shop, but comes to the street with our bird, to chat with us. That we are stopped in the middle of a tiny one lane winding road  (one of only two that exit the entire village) is of no consequence to him. He  chats boisterously with us, asking us about our day, the recipes, whether we’d like to take some ratatouille and nobody seems bothered by the fact that they are held up in ‘traffic’. Nobody other than us, that is. The car behind us is content to wait. After all, this is important. We are discussing dinner!

Ratatouille recipe* It must be stated that Ratatouille is to the Provencale what meatloaf is to the typical American family. Every family has their own recipe with it’s own special ingredients. More often than not it is made with a handful of this and a handful of that. Like meatloaf here, it is the sort of dish that non-cooks, cook. And like meatloaf, it is often best the next day served cold, or even reheated. Sitting overnight allows the flavors to meld nicely. Below is my favorite recipe. It seems to be what works best both in France and the United States, with their different sorts and size s of produce. But that doesn’t mean you can’t alter the proportion of vegetables, or even substitute them….Just make sure to take the butcher’s advice, and cook each one separately before creating the mélange.

1 Red Pepper

10oz Eggplant, cut into ¾ inch cubes

2 lb small green zucchini, cut into ¾ inch cubes

2 lb ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 ib sweet onion, coarsely chopped

12 T olive oil or peanut oil (peanut oil can be heated hotter, but olive oil lends a nice flavor)

1 bay leaf

2-3 sprigs of fresh Thyme

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper

6 leaves of basil, chopped.

Heat 2 T of oil, cook peppers for a couple minutes. Drain peppers and transfer peppers to a colander. Wipe pan clean of  excess oil,.Add 3 T of oil to the pan and sauté onions on medium heat for several minutes until lightly browned. Transfer onions to colander, and wipe pan. Add 2 T of oil and reheat pan. Brown zucchini at medium high heat and drain, and add to colander. Last, add 2 more T oil to pan, heat at medium high heat and brown eggplant for several minutes, stirring as needed, and drain and add to colander. Heat  a large pan, one large enough to accommodate all the vegetables. Add the remaining oil and heat. Add garlic and sauté for one minute. Add tomatoes, sprinkle with sugar (if you have very sweet, ripe, flavorful tomatoes, the sugar will be unnecessary) and add herbs, except basil.  Bring the the tomatoes and their liquid to a boil. Add salt and pepper and all the other vegetables, stir, reduce heat and cover. Cook for 30 minutes  or more until very tender. Stir occasionally to avoid burning. When finished,  remove the pot from the heat and remove Thyme sprigs and bay leaf.  Add the fresh basil. This dish is best the longer you let it sit, so the flavors of the vegetables can meld properly. Let the ratatouille sit in the pot off of the heat at least another 30 minutes, or better yet, cool the pot down and refrigerate overnight.

So, if you can’t attend one of our amazing trips to Provence, and experience Bliss with us, then at least visit your local farm and enjoy some freshly made ratatouille!

Cooking Lesson in Provence

How To Make Soupe au Pistou!

Soupe au Pistou is a Provencal dish (and a real treat). It’s a vegetable soup laced (read: filled) with a garlic and basil pesto. Everyone has different recipes for it. Bliss Travels recipe is below. We taught it to a group last May, and they loved it. Of course, they picked herbs on a farm in Provence, sat outside, using a “summer kitchen” and drank wonderful rose! Dinner was served on a terrace, by candlelight, and everyone thought it a great success. Needless to say, people were happy!

My preference is to use a small amount of potato for the starch, rather than the slightly less traditional pasta. I do this because the potato essentially dissolves and the starch thickens the broth. Pasta doesn’t do this. And pasta will continually expand and “eat up” all of the liquid in your soup. This soup is better, better, best room temperature after sitting a few days. Yum! Serve it with a roast Camembert (not at all Provencal) or some local sausages and bread (much more “local”) and have a wonderful evening in and “from” the garden!

Soupe au Pistou

4 Medium Leeks, white and light green only, thinly sliced

12 ounces onion, thinly sliced

12 ounces carrots, cut into quarters and thinly slice

1 to 1 ½ pounds of potatoes, thinly sliced

Bay leaf

Thyme, 1 stick celery

12 ounces or more of haricots verts and other varieties of green beans

2-3 zucchini, sliced thinly

2 Tomatoes, finely chopped

Pistou:

4 cloves of garlic

3 plus ounces of Basil leaves

Salt/pepper

3 ounces of grated parmesan cheese

Approximately one cup of Olive oil

Lemon, if desired Continue reading