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"To cook is to
create. And to create well...is an act of ingenuity, and faith."
“If I had to choose just one plant for the whole herb garden,
I should be content with basil.”
~ Elizabeth David
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Cooking with Herbs:
The Flavor of Provence
By Michel Biehn, English translation by Josephine Bacon ©
2001 Flammarion Inc.
Peel 3 1/3 pounds (1.5 kg) of old potatoes. Cook them in boiling
water for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile wash and wipe dry a large bunch of flat-leafed parsley and a
large bunch of small-leafed basil. Remove the leaves from the stems and discard
any stems that are too tough. Grind the leaves and soft stems in a
In a saucepan, warm 3/4 cup (200 ml) milk with 3/4 cup (200 ml) olive oil. When
the potatoes are cooked, drain and mash them in a food mill or potato-masher.
Mix the milk and oil with the potatoes, stirring with a wooden spoon, and
finally add the herbs. Salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
This puree makes a splendid accompaniment to fish.
“Provence owes much of its identity to India, including, of
course, brightly colored cotton calico, printed with sprigs of exotic blooms,
and indigo, the deep blue dye used for denim, originally ‘de Nîmes’(from Nîmes).
One day, hidden among the bales of cotton cloth, the silks, sacks of spices, and
other treasures imported from India, there arrived an herb that is considered
sacred in its native country. A few centuries later, it has become the herb that
is considered most typical of Provençal cooking – basil. In India, basil is
dedicated to the god Vishnu who will not suffer the plant to be badly treated
in any way and who rejects the prayers of those who destroy it. Curiously, these
sacred legends also made their way to Provence. At one time, the picking of
basil in Provence was accompanied by an intricate ritual. The herbalist had to
purify his right hand, the one he used to pick the plant, by taking an oak
branch and dipping it in the water of three different streams before sprinkling
it over the hand. He had to wear clean clothes and
distance himself from any impurity.
Today, basil is widely cultivated in various varieties. The commonest is ‘fine
green basil; which the producers call ‘Marseillais.’ It grows in compact, round
tufts which makes it particularly suited for growing in pots. But there are
many other varieties including ‘purple,’ ‘large green,’ and ‘bush’ basil. It is
important to note that basil is best if eaten fresh. When dried it loses all its
flavor and personality, and if preserved in oil its flavor is denatured. But you
have the whole summer to enjoy the sight of a pretty pot of basil in the kitchen
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