You don’t need much to be happy. Bread, garlic, olive oil, and all of it topped off with a good vintage or a glass of Pastis makes for moments to savour.
Those born with an epicurean soul and connoisseurs of fresh, natural cuisine will find a world of delicious savours in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, and a bounty of sunshine right along with it. Whether keeping to tradition or touching on modern trends, regional products are well worth discovering in market stalls or directly through producers and restaurateurs. From the sea to the hills and mountain pastures, the ambassadors of Provençal cuisine are happy to greet you in their establishments or in the market and offer you a taste of the very best of Provençal gastronomy.
The sale and consumption of absinthe was officially banned in 1915 after being tarnished with a bad name. It’s true that the « green fairy » had a devastating effect on its fans. But the aperitif tradition was very much alive and kicking around Marseille: cold water, aniseed and liquorice. 1920s Provence saw the beginnings of a real frenzy over the « petit jaune » drink and it became the star of the bars. Following his drink’s success, Paul Ricard created his own pastis. The Marseille businessman was both smart and stylish: he created such a great network of salesmen and traders that sales took off from the very first year of production. Six years later in 1938, « anisetiers » were finally allowed to sell pastis at 45% which is its artisan alcohol content. Pastis has never been off Provence’s tables since then. Here’s what you need to make a good pastis: green aniseed, star anise, fennel and any plant with similar aromas plus dried liquorice roots. The list of ingredients in itself exudes Provence and makes you want a « petit jaune ». When drunk responsibly, pastis is synonymous with the bright blue sky, seaside and sun-soaked summer days.
BREAD AND HERBS
Lovers of fine cuisine will tell you that no dish can succeed with this secret aromatic alchemy of herbs that is stirred into all the different Provençal sauces. Likewise, no meal is a success without bread. It’s an adage hat has been used in Provence for many years for this favoured partner of meals shared in the fields while its hardiness has come back into favour again.
The bread it’s a part of every meal or it can be a meal in itself. Dribbled with olive oil, rubbed with garlic and embellished with tomato and anchovies, it becomes a delectable dish. As a sandwich with raw vegetables like the « Pan-Bagnat », a speciality from Nice, it’s all you need to satisfy any big appetite. This comes from bread’s qualities, which reside in its variety as well as its simplicity. Wheat, rye, or the distant ancestor, spelt, also known as « Gallic wheat », which today has been lauded for its numerous virtues, all of them can be one of the ingredients. Nutrition also plays a part in its virtues by revealing the benefits of these grains.
Along with the proverbial French baguette, at a Provençal table you can find classic types of bread made from old recipes that are again part of modern tastes.
The strong resurgence of natural products has inspired a new passion for this emblematic fruit. Because what could be more Provençal than olives and their delicious oil? Tanche, Picholine, Saloneque… As many olive varieties as local terroirs can be found here.
From there, it’s all a matter of taste.
The favoured partner of regional dishes, olive oil, today and more than ever, is recognised for its gustatory qualities and its cosmetic and health benefits.
Forever in fashion, olive oil makes for unforgettable cuisine. In Provence, different olive oils can be distinguished by their wide variety of flavours. While in former years it lost some of its stature to the strong competition of other oils such as peanut oil, today it is touted for its merits and the qualities it has possessed for centuries have again become fully acknowledged.
RECIPE – TAPENADE
- 100 g pitted black olives
- 20 g capers (“Tapene” in Provençal dialect)
- 40 g anchovies
Crush up all ingredients or run them through a mixer with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and a bit of freshly ground pepper It’s ready to serve. While today it’s a cold appetizer, this classic dish for harvesters served as a meal for working in the fields…
WHITE GOLD AND BLACK DIAMONDS
Rare and expensive, the truffle, also known as the black diamond, has a powerful taste that has very few matches on the plate. Whether long or short-grain, rice is a faithful companion to pair with this powerful diamond. As luck would have it the Camargue region is the main place of production in France. Labelled “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” (AOC), the rice from Camargue works well in numerous recipes.
A successful blend!
It is difficult to lift the veil on all the mysteries surrounding the truffle, which today is harvested primarily in the Vaucluse region. A jewel of French gastronomy and a luxury product, the black diamond or « rabasse », its Provençal name, is found hiding primarily on the slopes of Mont-Ventoux or in Luberon, however it also can be found in the Var region and on the Valensole plateau, in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.
CONFISERIE DU ROY RENÉ HAS MADE IT IN MARSEILLE!
The cheeky Calisson candy. In the early 20th century, Aix-en-Provence was the world’s leading hub for the almond trade. Almonds were first introduced into Provence in the 15th century and the invention of the Calisson dates back to the same era. This story of this little, lozenge-shaped candy, made with ground almonds and candied fruit, is traditionally tied to that of the fight against the Great Plague. Another – more romantic – legend tells that it was a love note created by a cook for the austere Queen Jeanne. When she tasted it, she is said to have exclaimed « di calin soun » (these are like cuddles!). So, is the Calisson sacred or simply cheeky? Every year on September 2nd, Calissons are blessed at Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, before being borne by their makers to Eglise Saint-Jean-de-Malte. Now, the Confiserie has revisited the classical recipe by creating a new range of calissons combining flavours such as raspberry and matcha tea, candied chestnut and vanilla, …for the delight of gourmet taste buds in search of new flavours!
NEW Musée du Calisson
Set inside the premises of Aix’s world-famed confectioner Roy René (the company was founded in 1920), on Route de Puyricard, this museum offers a fascinating insight into the history of the almond in Provence and the birth of the town’s applauded candy.