Results tagged Provence from David Lebovitz

The Glass Half-Full

white wine

I usually have to spend a lot of time speaking in the conditional around here (using “it could be said that”, or “in most cases”…which is starting to make me sound like a politician) because there are always exceptions to every rule. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that one rule that is almost steadfast in France is that glasses are rarely filled more than half-full. (Noticed how slyly I popped in “almost” and “rarely”- which are obvious proof that it’s going to be a hard habit for me to break.) It was never explained to me why, or in the case of a glass being half-empty, why not. Yet I think it’s one of those “only in France” rules that gets implemented because a full glass is simply pas joli, or not attractive.

It’s a hard concept for us Americans to fathom, a place where full=better, and an oversized steak hanging over the edges of a plate is more appealing than a few slices of beef neatly plated up and arranged on the plate. And it amuses me that many people judge the quality of a restaurant by how full they are when they leave. Probably the biggest complaint, in fact, you hear coming from people when they didn’t like a place was because they left and weren’t full.

I don’t know how that’s possible because when I go back to the states, I can barely make it though my main course because the appetizers are about the same size as a French plat principal. And I am bound to be stripped of my San Francisco stripes because I can no longer make it through a Mission burrito. But when it comes to wine, I somehow find the willpower to get through whatever is put in front of me.

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Mirazur

pink grapefuit sorbet, panna cotta, peaches

During my trip to the Côte d’Azur with Matt and Adam, after the second or third day, we realized that we hadn’t eaten in any restaurants. With the fresh ingredients available, we were preparing our own meals (pretty well, I might add), and we didn’t feel the need to hand over the cooking duties to a third-party. It was a bit of heaven being in part of the country where garden-fresh vegetables are abundant, and we found ourselves gorging on local specialties that we made ourselves, like aïoli and socca, and not craving any meat or cheese.

But one restaurant did catch my eye, which many consider the best restaurant on the Côte d’Azur, and that’s Mirazur, located in Menton, a small town that meets the radiantly blue Mediterranean and is literally walking distance to Italy. When I wrote to Rosa Jackson, who teaches regional cooking classes in nearby Nice, about the restaurant, she wrote me right back; “… if you go, you should arrange in advance to visit their vegetable garden, it’s amazing!”

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Fenocchio Ice Cream

2 ice creams

Every time I go to Provence and the Côte d’Azur, I keep remembering that I want to share Fenocchio ice cream with you. But I’m not all that good at sharing, when it comes to ice cream, so I hope you’ll forgive me for keeping this all to myself for a while. But after tasting more than my share of their ice cream down in Vieux Nice, the old part of the city of Nice, I summoned up the courage to ask if I could step behind the counter and into the kitchen for a look behind the most famous ice cream maker of the region for a little bit of a look, and a few licks.

chocolate ice cream makers

Fenocchio is a family-owner and operated business that has been making ice cream since 1966, and their production facility is up on the hill in La Gaude, overlooking the Mediterranean. So to get up there, you’ll have to take a bit of a drive up a few rather steep roads.

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Classic Salade Niçoise

summer tomatoes

There were various responses on my Strawberry ice cream recipe, requesting a retraction of the moniker ice “cream” since it didn’t have cream in it. And a respected food writer pointed out that pumpkin was obligatory in Soupe au Pistou. I, too, know that folks will sometimes call something hot ‘chocolate’ even though it was made with cocoa powder instead of chocolate. And have been served fried onion rings that were actually broken circles, not neat, closed rounds of onions. And don’t get me started on thinly sliced fruit being called carpaccio.

So I have seen the error of my ways, and you’ll be happy to know that I slavishly followed the recipe for classic Salade Niçoise, as espoused by Jacques Médecin in his book Cuisine Niçoise. (Not this one.) Which everyone in Provence agrees gets the last word on cuisine from their region.

French olives Salade Niçoise

For example, once can not put grilled or seared tuna on the salad and call it a salade Niçoise. Canned tuna or anchovies are acceptable, but not both. And he cautions “”…never, never, I beg you, include boiled potato or any other boiled vegetable in your salade niçoise.”

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Artichoke Tapenade

tapenade toasts

Should you happen to see a ray of sunshine in Paris, if you follow it, chances are pretty good you’ll find someone sitting in a café, face-forward, basking in its warming rays. And although unofficial in most of the parks and public places, folks here also like to celebrate the arrival of any good weather with un picque-nique.

Picnicking in Paris can be a dicey proposition, and you must navigate where and when it’s okay—and where and when it isn’t. Nature is meant to be admired, yes, but only from afar. Like those gorgeous pastries lined up in the shop, you’re not supposed to touch, unless permission is expressly granted.

tapenade

However in the past few years, the rules have become more relaxed and often park guards will look the other way if you whip out a sandwich en plein aire, although I recently saw a team of whistle-blowing guards rousting a group in the place des Vosges that had the audacity to start unpacking their fare on the grass.

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Socca Recipe

When people come to Paris, they often ask me where they can find good bouillabaisse. And when I tell them, “You can’t”, they’re always very surprised.

“Well, isn’t it French?” they’ll reply.

adding olive oil rose

Yes, it is. But to get many of the regional specialties in France, you need to go to the region. Hence my frequent visits to Nice, to get socca at the fiery source.

And although you can make it at home, making it in a home oven is like baking off a batch of S’Mores in there: it’s close, but not exactly the real thing. You really do need a wood-fire to get that blistered crust. Still, after much experimentation, I got it close in my home oven and I now make it all the time to serve with an apéritif before dinner.

mixing socca batter

Socca is basically street food, intended to be eaten off napkins to blot up all the excess olive oil, with plastic cups of frosty-cool rosé.

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Olive Picking in Provence

olive harvest

Quite a few of you were interested in what happened around here on Thanksgiving. Even though my internet service is on it’s second week of vexing me, and I’d just assume go on strike like everyone else around here, in protest, I don’t think I’d get much sympathy, so I thought I’d better get my Thanksgiving post up.

ne pas touchez

I just saw a report on CNN that of all the countries around the world, the people in Israel eat the most amount of turkey, per capita, than anyone else. There are les dindes in France, but it’s almost impossible to find a whole bird, and one usually needs to be ordered in advance.

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Nice

socca, pizza, pissaladiere, wine

If there’s anything nicer than taking a break and heading to the south of France, I can’t imagine what it could be right now. My first day in Nice, we ran from socca stand to socca stand, tasting as many as we could. Fortified, we hit the wonderful market in the old part of town to select our fixings for a lovely dinner.

socca

The way of life down here, and the cooking, are a world away from Paris. Generous bunches of basil find their way into pistou, which we pounded in the mortar and pestle until almost smooth.

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