In May, with great anticipation and for the first time, we traveled to Provence, that legendary, surreal and almost magical region of France that so many artists and poets called home throughout the last couple of centuries. The ethereal light, healing air and that mystical “terroir” are only few of the remarkable attributes of this land. We were excited to see the lavender pastures, luscious countryside, breathe the air, soak up the sunshine, drink the wine and sample the wonderful cuisine!
Radishes with Chive Butter & Sea Salt is an easy hors d’oeuvres, French classic. Good quality, softened butter counterbalances the spiciness of the radish in addition with coarse sea salt it is a match made in heaven!
During the hot summer months ratatouille is one of the most popular dishes in south of France. The recipe and presentation vary with each preparation but all are based on the classical foundation of slightly sautéed summer vegetables with that unmistakably delicious zest and velvety texture for which this dish is known. Zucchinis, eggplant, tomatoes and bell peppers are the key vegetables in this unpretentious summer treat. It can be served hot, cold or at room temperature; its versatility works with any occasion. The presentation for our Provence Dinner was somewhat elegant – I used individual molds to shape each serving of this delectable concoction of sautéed vegetables. To add a briny bite, garnish it with few capers on top and two strings of chives. Drizzled with the viscous and sweet aged balsamic vinegar, this dish is a mouth melting delight.
Bouillabaisse is the trademark seafood soup of Marseille. Traditionally this dish is flavored withfish bones and various regional fish. Cod, monkfish, European conger or scorpion fish are all cooked in the broth to create a dense palpable flavor. The fish is then removed and served separately on a large platter along with hot broth and a thick slice of bread with rouille, a mayonnaise with saffron and cayenne, on a side. To put a spin a classic, I used all sorts of seafood- lobster tail, shrimp,squid, clams and black sea bass fillets. Steep the broth with all the aromatics, shrimp shells andfish bones including the head for almost an hour to develop a rich, fragrant flavor of the broth. You know it is ready when the fragrant aromas will overtake your olfactory sensors in the most satiating way. Drop in the potatoes (I like to use purple-skinned variety), thinly sliced fennel and only then your seafood but in the order of what cooks first. Garnish it with some cherry tomatoesand chopped parsley to add some color and extra taste! And voila the best summer seafood soup is ready to be served!
Lamb cooked to tender perfection and wrapped in a cabbage leaf served in a tomato sauce is a dish we tried in Gordes, a small exceedingly picturesque mountain village in Provence. French lamb that graze at the base of Mount Ventoux in Provence have a strong pronounced flavor that some may find a bit overpowering, so instead I used the American mild flavored ground lambwhich I mixed with finely diced sautéed zucchini and onion. Form a sizable ball of stuffing from the mixture and place it in the middle of the cabbage leaf, carefully enclose the leaf. Whip up a quick tomato based sauce and cook the lamb seam side down for 30 minutes or so. When serving, scoop some of the delicious broth into the each plate first and top it with perfectly cooked lamb stuffed in a cabbage leaf. This dish was received incredibly well by our friends and became an instant hit. The flavor of the lamb came through in a subtle wave with each bite, the sensation further heightened by the unique juxtapositions of textures of crunchy cabbage, diced vegetableand gently yielding lamb. You have to try it!
For dessert, the classic Cherry Bakewell Tart, the tart baked with cherries and almond paste. We decorated the tart slices with some fresh mint picked from my friend E.’s amazing garden, few berries and lots of sugar powder on top. It was not too sweet or heavy and proved to be an excellent finish to this summer Provencal dinner.
Bon appetite, Svitlana!
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