A Weeknight Provençal Getaway

In order to balance out the rigors of credit analysis, I felt like a little getaway was in order on a Wednesday night. No, we are not travelling AGAIN, don’t worry :-). I just wanted to recreate a little piece of Provence in my own home. Nothing fancy, just honest rustic food.

French are big on apero (aperitifs). They don’t like rushing into anything, especially not a meal. The first question from your waiter is ALWAYS what aperitif you would like. Armed with a kir, a pastis or something else that suits your fancy, you can leisurely ponder the menu and the wine list.

I want a kir, dammit!

On a side note, your language proficiency in France is always judged by your confidence. The French always know what they want, and make drink ordering decisions quickly and confidently. Hesitation is interpreted as inability to understand the question, or speak the language altogether. That was a steep learning curve for me who likes to hum and haw :-)

A kir is easy to make and to like; it is a sparkler or white wine topped off with crème de cassis (a blackcurrant liqueur). Now you can relax, while munching on pain complet and pain aux cereales with goat butter (I LOVE the 89 cent Harvest, olive, and whole wheat rolls at WholeFoods, they are pretty awesome!) 

A little asparagus with homemade hollandaise for Jeff, and au pistou for me (think pesto, but sans pinenuts, – a Provencal specialty). Speaking of hollandaise, I used one of Julia Child’s recipes who describes this sauce as being “well within the capabilities of an 8-year-old child.” Granted, this is the easy, shortcut version made in a blender, – MY kind of French cooking!

It takes a whopping 1 minute to make, and it is error-proof, unlike numerous other versions that have a strong tendency to curdle . 3 yolks, salt, pepper, 1 tbs lemon juice. Beat for 2 seconds on high, and without turning off the blender, slowly pour in hot melted butter (1 stick). Drizzle over asparagus blanched for a minute and a half. Et voila!

I have a new secret weapon – European-style goat butter! It was perfect for making a little sauce for my monkfish (lotte). Take a tablespoon of goat butter, salt, pepper, a few strands of saffron pre-soaked in hot water, a dash of nanami togarashi (a fantastic Japanese pepper and spice blend which I love as much as the goat butter) and a squeeze of lemon. Baste the fillet with the butter mixture, place a few spring onions in the baking dish, and roast in the oven at 400F for about 15 min, depending on the thickness of the fillet (mine was plump!).

To serve, arrange on a bed of primeurs (first spring vegetables), and drizzle with a bit more jus (a simpler version of what we had at the wonderful restaurant L’Oustalet in Gigondas). I used little carrots, sugar peas, spring onions, and asparagus which I had blanched for a couple of minutes, and then quickly tossed with a bit of pistou. By the way, if you do not feel like getting out a mortar and a pestle on a weeknight, you can often find decent fresh versions of that at a local organic foods store.

Jeff’s vegetarian ways prompted me to do one more classic: pommes persillade. Persil is parsley, so once again, we are looking at a mixture that is olive oil, garlic, vinegar, and herb-based (with possible additions of Parmesan, anchovies, chili flakes, and zest). Here is my quick version: parboil slices of potato for 7 minutes, cube and toss with a persillade spiked with chili flakes. Saute for another 5 minutes or so in olive oil (the South is olive oil country!), give it a lemon squeeze, and serve immediately.  Bon Appetit!

A little piece of sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees pushed us right over the edge, almost into the arms of Morpheus, and a nice long postprandial walk was certainly in order… just like in Provence!

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26 thoughts on “A Weeknight Provençal Getaway

  1. Wonderful post! Makes me want to make something French again for a change :-)
    Did you know kir royal is made with champagne and kir with white wine?
    The hollandaise is indeed great although a bit messy (I never seem to be able to pour the hot butter neatly into the blender without pouring some all around and on the cover as well) so I like Harold McGee’s nearly fool-proof method as well (In a cold saucepan, add 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar, 1 tbsp of lemon juice, 1 egg yolk, 75 grams (1/2 stick) of cold butter in small pieces, salt and freshly ground white pepper. Now heat over low heat while beating. The butter will melt. Keep beating until the sauce has the desired thickness. This will take several minutes.)
    Another trick from McGee: add a pinch of baking soda to the water when you blanch the asparagus: they will stay bright green as well as cook faster.

    • Your sleeve is full of tricks :-) – thanks for sharing!
      The Provencal are not fussy about kir; having asked for a kir, I received VERY different versions. The only thing I have been asked is what kind of liqueur I wanted in it (besides cassis, there are other berry-based ones, such as mure (blackberry)). They simply call it “kir maison” (translation: whatever we feel like putting in it :-)).

  2. I love Cassis but am unable to get it here in Egypt. When you cook french food does it taste the same as it did when you ate it in France? I always find that when I try to recreate a dish, even with the right ingredients, it never quite matches. I always find it frustrating! If it does match for you how do you do it?
    The Hollandaise I have definitely got to try!!!

    • The quick answer is no, it does not taste the same. But I start with that premise, and go for the type of feeling I am seeking (comfort food, or bright flavors, or something else entirely) rather than a match. Also, I do not typically “do” recipes, so I end up adjusting anyway for my degree of laziness, ingredient availability, level of skill, etc. One thing I miss desperately here in the US is fresh raw milk goat cheeses. Right now I am trying to investigage options available at the nearby goat farms…

      • Ah…that makes sense. I used to find, when returning from Egypt and trying to duplicate what I had cooked there, that the vegetables themselves acted differently! Because vegetables are grown locally and have very little ‘shelf-life’ they are riper and taste sweeter. They cook faster. Food in the UK is stored for ages, probably mostly imported and therefore unripe to begin with. It takes an impossibly long time to cook!!! Raw milk goats cheese we can actually get in the UK but not here. I have been thinking of getting my own goats…

  3. Delicious! The potatoes seem so classy in France, too (classier than “French Fries” for sure). Enjoyed this part: “Hesitation is interpreted as inability to understand the question, or speak the language altogether. That was a steep learning curve for me who likes to hum and haw.” I must work on this skill before heading to France :). What specifically caused you hesitation on the menu?

    • I don’t know if you have French friends, but they always state their preferences and their position with the utmost conviction (and they LOVE to argue, – that is their national sport). As a visitor, you should try to learn to do the same.
      A French person certainly knows what aperitif they want, and they cannot imagine anyone wasting any brain cells on that question. My hemming and hawing resulted from the complex calculation of just how drunk I would be if I had an aperitif and half a bottle of wine.

  4. I love the potato recipe. The photo helps me understand the ratios. Do you use Italian Parsley or English? (I’m assuming Italian.)

  5. Thanks for stopping by my blog! I’m so glad you did, or I may never have gotten to read about your weeknight getaway to Provence. It’s about so much more than the food itself, the “apéritif” being every bit as important as the main dish(es). Bravo!

    • Thanks so much for your kind comments! We (as you might have surmised) have recently gotten back from spending a couple of weeks in Provence. I am jealous of your decision to move to that part of the world. And yes, there is so much to that way of life, and so much for all of us to learn.
      Cheers,
      Natasha

  6. I love Provence and have spent many happy holidays there (not so far for us!). I bought a pot of thyme yesterday and just the smell takes me back and don’t get me started on figs…

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