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Dinner in Provence



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Dinner in Provence

The Times-Picayune,
New Orleans, May 23, 2002
by Marcelle Bienvenu

You don't have to cross the Atlantic to dine à la Provençale

“I've not been to Provence in southern France. I have not been to France
and, for that matter, I've not yet been to Europe. But I have friends who go
and go often, so I hear great tales of their jaunts across the big pond. When
my friends who go to Provence return, they go on and on about the lovely
region that bases its cooking on garlic, olive oil and tomatoes.
I hear them rave about the lavender fields, the aroma of rosemary, thyme,
and a host of other herbs that are used in the cooking there. They firmly
believe that the cuisine has more flavor than that of northern France.
A few years ago I read Peter Mayle's book about spending a year in
Provence with his wife. Through his irresistible prose, I was able to travel
with him and enjoy the landscape, comfortable climate, brilliant sun and
great cooking.
The people are a breed apart, shaped by invasions of every race around
the Mediterranean: short, dark, fiery, with their own language and
religious traditions. Probably not much different from the Acadians
of south Louisiana, I'd say.
Along the coastline of Provence, the fishermen work often by night and
bring their catch home for soups like bouillabaisse, bourride and other
soupes de poissons.
Tomatoes and garlic, justly synonymous with most dishes à la Provençale,
and herbs grow profusely. And, of course, good wines come from the rolling
land along the Rhóne River.
I understand that the people of Provence eat and drink everything that
grows in their seaside province with unflagging interest and enjoyment.
Life in this region is not always easy, but it is simple and good. Sounds
like they are my kind of people and theirs is certainly my kind of food.
So in late spring I often plan a meal à la Provençale, using local vegetables
like tomatoes, lots and lots of garlic and fashioning a bouquet of fresh herbs
from my tiny garden to set on the table on my covered patio. My cousin, who
lives nearby, raises goats and often presents me with fresh-made goat cheese
from her dairy house. The cheese makes a great appetizer, but it also can be
added to the tomato soup for a delightful treat.
It certainly isn't Provence, but then again, it's not too bad. A dry wind blows
from the south, and after a few sips of wine from the Rhóne and a vivid
imagination, I'm transported.
Hope you enjoy my version of a Provençal meal."


Aromatic Tomato Soup

Makes about 6 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large leeks, rinsed well,
trimmed and chopped
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed,
cored and chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
10 medium-size ripe tomatoes, preferably
Creoles, seeded and chopped
3/4 cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
plus extra for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Creamed goat cheese (recipe follows)

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the
leeks, fennel and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft and golden, about 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes, wine, stock and thyme.
Season with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce
the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for about 45 minutes,
stirring occasionally.
Transfer half of the soup mixture to a blender or food processor and
pulse two to three times to lightly puree. Return this mixture to the
remaining soup in the pot. Heat over low heat again to warm tho-
roughly. Ladle the soup into bowls, and drizzle each serving with
the goat cheese cream. Garnish with thyme and serve warm.

 Creamed goat cheese
4 ounces white goat cheese
1/3 cup heavy cream
Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Combine the goat cheese, cream and pepper in a food processor
or blender and process until smooth.


Roasted Chicken with Lots of Garlic

"There is no such thing as a little garlic.”
~ Arthur Baer 

Makes 8 servings

2 chickens, each about 3 pounds, quartered
1/4 cup olive oil
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary (or tarragon)
1 teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
3 heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
2 cups Vouvray wine

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees [F]. Put the chicken and olive oil in a
large bowl or shallow platter. Turn to coat evenly. Arrange the chicken
pieces in a single layer in a large roasting pan. Pinch off the leaves from
the sprigs of rosemary and sprinkle evenly over the chicken. Sprinkle
with the salt, black pepper and cayenne. Scatter and tuck the garlic
cloves over and in between the chicken pieces. Pour in the wine. Cover
the pan tightly with a cover or foil. Bake for one hour and 45 minutes. Uncover the pan and baste the chicken with the pan juices. Continue
baking until the skin of the chicken becomes lightly browned, about
30 minutes. Serve immediately with the garlic cloves and pan juices.
This is good served with new potatoes, boiled and tossed with a little
butter and chopped fresh parsley.


Peach and Blueberry Clafouti

Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 large firm peaches, pitted, peeled and
cut into one-fourth-inch slices
1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed
and picked over
1 cup Riesling wine
5 tablespoons butter
4 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Pinch salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Powdered sugar (optional)
Vanilla ice cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees [F]. Butter a two-quart shallow baking
dish. Put the peaches (or nectarines), blueberries and wine in a bowl and
allow to stand for 15 minutes.
Melt the butter and cool slightly. Whisk the eggs, granulated sugar, salt
and cinnamon in a large bowl. Whisk in the flour until blended. Whisk in
the milk, cooled butter, vanilla and one-fourth cup from the fruit mixture
until smooth.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the soaked fruit to the baking dish,
spreading it evenly on the bottom. Pour the batter over the fruit (some
of the fruit may rise to the top), and bake until puffed and set in the
center, about one hour. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
The clafouti can be served warm or at room temperature. You can dust
it with powdered sugar or serve it with scoops of ice cream.
Note: Two large nectarines can be substituted for peaches.

© The Times-Picayune. Used with permission.

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Emeril's Provencal Fish Stew
Scallops (or Shrimp) Provençale with
Pasta and Avocado

Poulet Sauté à la Poitevine
Ratatouille Riot
Soups from 'Patricia Wells at Home in Provence'
Arroz con Leche with Sangria Figs and Cherries
Sweet Cherry Clafouti from New York's Vong

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