My good friend and colleague, Kathie Alex, lives in Provence in a small town just above Cannes, and not far from the picturesque village of Valbonne. Her home, a charming bungalow that overlooks the hills and valleys of the area, is the setting for a cooking school that she runs there.
Her house is truly special because it was built by Julia Child and her husband, Paul, back in the 1960s; they named it La Pitchoune (which means “the little thing”). When Julia lived here, she organized the kitchen so she could easily find all her utensils. A cornucopia of equipment hung from hooks on pegboard-covered walls. The items were outlined in black by Paul so that each piece of her “batterie de cuisine” could be efficiently returned to its proper place.
Kathie knew Julia and even assisted her in this kitchen on earlier occasions, so she has carefully preserved this room close to its original state. Those early outlines still remain and the pegboard is still covered with an amazing variety of cooking equipment.
I’ve been lucky enough to come several times to La Pitchoune, and to cook in this kitchen never fails to raise goose bumps. Chopping, dicing, roasting, and sautéing in this space where Julia spent so much time—what could pair the earthly and the celestial better for the dedicated chef!
On my most recent visit, I took advantage of the marvelous seasonal produce so abundant in this region. I roasted eggplant slices, topped them with diced tomatoes, and seasoned both with that glorious mélange known as “herbes de Provence.”The owner of a Parisian bistrot, La Laiterie St. Clothilde, had shared this recipe for eggplant prepared Provençal style with me after a delicious meal there.
I’m including the recipe along with information on Kathie’s classes here at La Pitchoune just in case you too would love to cook in Julia’s kitchen.
Cooking in France with Friends- Fall Sessions 2011
Roasted Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Herbes de Provence
2 small eggplants about 3/4 pound each and 4 to 5 inches in diameter
1/2 cup olive oil plus extra for the baking dish
4 generous teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence (See note.)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ripe medium tomatoes (about 1 pound)
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence, divided
Fresh basil sprigs for garnish, optional
Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Generously oil a large baking dish or a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil.
Cut off the ends of the eggplants, but do not peel them. Cut each eggplant crosswise into four 1-inch thick slices. (Save extra eggplant for another use; it’s good cubed and sautéed in olive oil until golden, then seasoned with fresh or dried basil.) Place the slices in a baking dish or on a baking sheet. Brush each one with a tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic and with 2 teaspoons herbes de Provence. Season generously with salt and several grinds of pepper.
Roast eggplant uncovered for 15 minutes, and then remove from the oven. Carefully cover the baking dish or pan tightly with foil. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F, and return the eggplant to the oven. Roast until the slices are very tender when pierced with a sharp knife, but still hold their shape, 55 to 60 minutes. Skins will look slightly puckered.
For the topping, stem the tomatoes, halve crosswise, and scoop out and discard the seeds. Then cut the halves into 1/2 inch dice. You should get about 2 cups. Place in a medium bowl and stir in 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
When eggplant is done, remove foil and spoon some tomatoes on top of each slice. Sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of herbes de Provence over the tomatoes and season lightly with more salt. (Eggplant can be prepared 3 hours ahead to this point; leave at cool room temperature, covered loosely with foil.)
To finish, return eggplant to the oven, and roast, uncovered, until both eggplant and topping are hot, 6 to 8 minutes. If desired, garnish each slice with a basil leaf. Makes 8 servings.
Note: Herbes de Provence, a mixture of Provençal herbs that often includes basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, fennel seed, lavender, marjoram, and summer savory, is available in many supermarkets.