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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Provence -Ten Reasons Why Food Lovers Love it!

1. Olives
Picholine, Niçoise, and countless other varieties abound in Provence’s markets. Black and green tapenades are produced from the local crops, and make great appetizers to spread on crusty baguette slices. Of course, olive oil is sublime in Provence, and replaces butter in most recipes.

2. Squash Blossoms
Zucchini produce beautiful trumpet-shaped, edible yellow flowers, which cooks in Provence use  imaginatively. They dip them in a light batter and fry them until crisp and golden, or they stuff them with delectable fillings. Either way, they are a mouthwatering treat.

3. Figs
In warm weather fresh figs are displayed prominently in the “marchés’ of Provence. They are delicious eaten out of hand, or can be embellished with a drizzle of honey. I love to pair these figs with cheeses (especially bleus and chèvres) for a sweet/salty combination.

4. Cavaillon Melons
Melons grown around the Provencal town of Cavaillon are famous throughout France. They are extra sweet and juicy, and typically smaller than cantaloupes. Cut into wedges, they can be served unadorned, or you can offer them halved and chilled with a little port poured into their cavities. Balls scooped from these melons can be skewered along with thin strips of prosciutto and rounds of mozzarella for a great appetizer.

5. Almonds
Omnipresent in southern France, these nutritious nuts appear in many different Provencal dishes. What is interesting is to see them in the outdoor markets where they are sold fresh, still in their attractive light green skins.

6. Chèvres
Nowhere is goat cheese more revered or incorporated into daily dining than in Provence. Chèvres can be purchased in rounds, logs, or trapezoidal shapes, and come fresh or aged. They are sold  plain or seasoned with coatings of herbs or ashes. 

7. Fougasse
A flat bread, found in bakeries and markets throughout Provence, fougasse is often enhanced with olives, cheeses, or other creative accents. I buy plain ones to serve with meals and use the embellished ones as snacks or for light lunches.

8. Rosés
Chilled, light in color, and amazingly refreshing, rosé is the wine of choice for many in Provence, and partners admirably with the robust specialties of the area. One of my favorites is DomainTempier Bandol.

9. Herbs and Spices
Although herbs and spices are readily sold in all of France, to me they seem more prolific and tempting in the South.  Rosemary and basil are everywhere. In fact, rosemary grows so well in this climate that it’s not unusual to find it the size of a scrub. Parsley, thyme, and savory are other popular choices. Spices sold in the markets are colorful and robust, and often include seasonings from Morocco and Spain.

10. Pizzas
Provencal pizza is truly special. Southern French cooks prepare theirs with  paper-thin, exceptionally cripsy crusts and top them with finely balanced tomato sauces and cheeses that melt to a velvety smoothness. Grilled eggplant slices, anchovies, and fresh herbs are just a few of the popular garnishes. The pizzas are often cooked in hot pizza wood-fired ovens.

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