From the Med to the foothills of the Alps,Provence is blessed with some of the most delicious natural produce in the whole of France, with vegetables, fruit and harbour-fresh fish. Not to mention the newly invigorated wine scene that’s causing a rosé storm. Justin Postlethwaite browses the menu
From the juiciest olives used in tapenade to the plumpest grapes squashed for rosé wine, and not forgetting the most fragrant of herbs so essential in the Herbes de Provence mix, the region of Provence has a trump card up its sleeve: a fabulous, sun-kissed climate that gets the most from its fertile land.
Let’s start with the starters. Any Provençal meal worth its fleur de sel should begin with a glass of something fizzy and a small plateful of toasts slathered in tapenade (black olive purée blended with garlic, anchovies and capers) – or anchoïade (anchovy and garlic paste sometimes served with raw vegetables). Anchovy and onion, meanwhile, combine perfectly to form the pizza-like tart pissaladière.
The purest of olive oil is also used drizzled over salads or as a marinade or dip – no salade Niçoise is complete without a fresh dressing to complement the winning combination of tuna, egg and green beans. And oil is also a key ingredient in aïoli and rouille, two tasty mayonnaises served with the fish stews like bouillabaisse that are so popular in the region around Marseille. Of course, the region flanks the Mediterranean so expect to choose from red mullet, snapper, sea bass and more when perusing the menu.
Vegetables are a staple, too – keep an eye out for aubergines, bell peppers, courgettes and tomatoes simmered slowly for a delicious ratatouille – while carrots, fennel, potatoes, mushrooms, cabbage, artichokes and asparagus all have their place on the menu according to the season. Slow-cooked stews like beef daube or herby lamb, as well as basil-infused pistou soup with beans, are all hearty fillers, while Banon goat’s cheese drizzled with honey is a sweet teaser. For dessert, take your pick of dishes using fruits like melons, berries, apricots and figs.
Raise a glass of rosé
If a splosh of watered-down pastis is the region’s terrace bar favourite, then increasingly sophisticated, locally-produced AOC wines are the perfect lunch or dinner accompaniment. Reds and whites abound but it’s the light, chilled rosés that are undergoing a major popularity boost.