Monday, August 27, 2012

Sunday in Provence - Garlic Festival and a new War Memorial

We just love to go to local food festivals and village fêtes and although we had already been to the Garlic Festival in Piolenc having visitors was reason enough to go again. Arriving there we were astonished to see quite a few American Flags beside our French BleuBlancRouge and respectfully joined the crowd of spectators to find out what this was all about.

Alongside local dignitaries and highly decorated military men members of the "Confrerie d'Ail" (Garlic Brotherhood) were watching the inauguration of a memorial commemorating the liberation of Piolenc on this very day 68 years ago by the soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division of the US Army. A very touching ceremony!

 Confrerie d'Ail
 Commemorating the liberation of Piolenc
But then  of course we concentrated on the garlic - the displays were so tempting that my kitchen is well stocked now. And I paid close attention when one of my culinary heroes - the Michelin starred Chef  Christian Etienne  from Avignon gave a cooking demonstration. I was quite flattered when he asked me to come up onto the stage to have a closer look. And best of all, my brother was real quick and took a photo!
Beautifully presented: garlic, garlic and more garlic

 Cute but maybe a bit heavy: Garlic Earrings
Chef Christian Etienne and me

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Master of the Mussels

Moules Frîtes - steamed mussels and french fries being something close to a national dish in France, I am more often than not surprised how it is  sloppily thrown together not very well prepared. Just pouring some white wine over the mussels, adding a few onions and a bay leaf just doesn't cut it and then the fries are lukewarm and pale - well, you get the picture.
But there are exceptions. I think we ate the very best mussels ever (à la plancha and marinated in a garlicky herby mustard sauce) on a bull farm in Camargue - a dish we still dream of and never found as good again.
But now we were invited to the Master of the Moules. Moules Marinières - cooked by our friend and neighbor Claude on his BBQ. 15 kilos of fresher than fresh, big, fat and juicy mussels. What a feast! And I was so fascinated by the slow and very precise preparation I never got around taking photos of the fries - dark, crunchy, home made proper french fries. How come we never get them like that in restaurants? Would you believe it - 11 people managed to eat all 15 kilos of mussels. La vie est belle - life is good!
Mussels on the BBQ - Ice and all
Claude  - the Master of the Mussels

15 kilos of fresh mussels cooked on the BBQ in a custom made pan
with lots of chopped flat leaf parsley and shallots and white wine

Later there was a bit of trouble with a cork that went into the bottle and had to be filtered....

.... before our host presented the digestif - his home made herb liquor


Monday, August 6, 2012

Carrots need Butter

Our "potager" (kitchen garden) is spoiling us this year - not only are the tomatoes ripening almost faster than we can eat them, we also have plenty of herbs and salads. And now carrots. Many carrots. Some I peel and chop and freeze for winter soups but for tonight I peeled some that I am going to prepare as a side dish to some roasted chicken.
Years ago I used to cook carrots as our mothers used to - in plenty of water to which a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar was added. Cooked them until soft - and bland.
Then I read an article by one of my favorite cooks Lea Linster who taught me that carrots need butter but not water or just a few drops to be precise. I have never looked back and this is how I always cook my carrots now:
Peel and cut carrots diagonally, then very finely slice a clove of garlic.

 Melt a generous dollop of butter, add the carrots and garlic slices, a pinch or two of kosher salt plus a little slug of water. Put lid on pan and let simmer over moderate heat for about 15 minutes, stirring once in a while.

When cooked nicely al dente add a few turns of the pepper mill and plenty of freshly chopped Italian (flat leaf) parsley. Simple but delicious!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Artichauts en Barigoule

Petits Violets

I have always loved artichokes. They have such beautiful colors, they taste great and  are great detoxifiers - if you don't eat them with buttersauce that is....
But I had never heard of artichoke ragout or "Artichauts en Barrigoule"  - a very Provençal recipe that Laurent (see pic below) told me about when I met him at Vaison's Tuesday market with a basket full of "petits violets". Laurent is not only a great chef but he also comes from Bretagne, the land of artichokes, so no wonder he knows everything about them. The recipe he told me about sounded rather complicated so to my great delight, Laurent offered to give me a private artichoke cooking class in my very own kitchen.

Chef Laurent

The ingredients

But first, I had to get: A bunch or two or three (depending on how many you want to feed) of "les petits violets" - small artichokes, two or three carrots, a few cloves of garlic, a laurel leaf, two or three small mild onions, olive oil and a bottle of dry white wine.
 First you have to trim the artichokes: remove the tough outer leaves
trim and peel the stalk

to prevent oxydation, soak in lemon water

finely chop all other ingredients 
take out the "straw"with a melon baller

When all your artichokes are evenly  and prettily trimmed

softly fry all ingredients in a splash of olive oil

Then, after a little while add two quarters of the bottle of white wine and let simmer gently until the artichokes are soft but still al dente. Artichauts en Barigoule, served at room temperature with baguette on the side make a great starter. They are also a wonderful side dish to roasted lamb.

Artichauts en Barigoule