05 July 2015

Zen and the Art of Provencal Cookery, Part 6

My last day in Provence was one of the best. It started with a visit to the weekly market, or marché. The one in Carpentras has been held every Friday since the middle ages, which in itself is amazing. I wish we had markets like this in Canada (and I really wish I had taken some pictures--although you can see a few photos here or here). First of all, the food selection puts the average farmers' market to shame. Not only can you buy everything from honey to eggs, bread, cheese, meat, seafood, and sweets (almond nougat is a local specialty) but you have your choice of several vendors. Gina has her favourites in all categories (although it was a bit of an issue when it turned out her seafood guy was on vacation). Besides food there's all kind of clothing and shoes, costume jewellery, soap (something Provence is famous for), art, trinkets, sewing machines (!), toys, pottery (I so wish I could have bought some, but I was worried it wouldn't have made it home in one piece) and--my personal favourite--linens (I ended up buying a selection of gorgeous Provencal tablecloths).

I also tried a sample of blue cheese. No, not the kind of cheese marbled with veins of tasty blue molds--cheese that was dyed blue. Smurf blue. The vendor claimed it was naturally dyed with lavender, but I don't think so. Lavender doesn't yield that vivid shade of blue and neither do natural dyes in general. I don't even know what made me want to try smurf cheese, but Gina's complete disgust at it amused me, and that prompted me to go for it. I'm weird that way. It actually tasted pretty good--but not good enough that I felt compelled to try the samples of green and red cheese also on offer.

Back at Maison Trevier, Gina and I got to work on our last lesson: Aioli (with seafood and vegetables--also known as Le Grand Aioli) and Cherry Clafoutis.

Veggies to be served with aioli
The veggies were steamed before being placed in the casserole dish with pieces of whitefish
Steamed shrimp were also added before the dish was covered and everything was baked at a low temperature
Gina didn't realize her hands were damp when she tried sprinkling piment d’Espélette (Basque pimento) over the veggies :)
The preparation of aioli is simple but needs focus and so I couldn't take photos of the process. If you've ever made mayonnaise, it's similar but heavy on garlic. Basically you combine egg yolks with some salt and pepper, crushed/minced garlic, and olive oil added in streams to a running food processor/blender/hand mixer--or as you whisk vigorously, if you've got stronger arms and more stamina than I have--until it forms a thick sauce (like mayonnaise). I didn't record amounts because we just added until we got the right consistency, but here are some recipes that are similar to what I made with Gina, if you'd like to give it a try. Note, our version contained only raw egg yolks and (as far as I remember, no vinegar or lemon juice).

Cherries are a specialty of the Vaucluse region of Provence--lucky me they were in season while I was there. Gina takes the extra step of roasting the cherries before making the clafoutis.
Cherries are baked in a thin batter that was reminiscent of pancake batter.

Clafoutis is one of the few dishes Chef Gina Trevier has a set recipe for--and here it is:

Serves 6

Fresh cherries – enough to cover the bottom of a 9X9 cake pan
3 eggs
3 Tbs organic cane sugar
1 1/2 Tbs organic wheat flour
1 1/2Tbs organic rice flour
3 cups organic milk or almond milk
A few drops of olive oil

1-    Rinse cherries and remove stems but not the pits. 
2-    Put a few drops of olive oil in the bottom of a cake pan.
3-    Cover the bottom of the pan with the cherries and place in the oven at 300°F for about 15 minutes.  The secret to a perfect clafoutis is to remove the excess moisture from the fruit.
4-    While the fruit is in the oven, put the  eggs  and sugar in a bowl and whisk until foamy.
5-    Add the flours and whisk again.
6-    Add the milk and whisk again.
7-    Pour the thin mixture over the cherries.
8-    Put in 350°F oven for about 40 minutes until the top is golden. Serve at room temperature. Do not cool in the refrigerator.

Le Grand Aioli. Steamed mussels were also served on the side.
Le Grand Aioli: Steamed & baked veggies and fish with a healthy helping of aioli and bread on the side. I forgot to take a shot of this with my camera, so this is a phone pic.
The clafoutis was also delicious as leftovers--I ended up having a piece for my last breakfast at Maison Trevier

Although the aioli was excellent (and potent), unfortunately Le Grand Aioli was not my favourite dish of the week. It turns out I don't care for mussels (not really a fan of shrimp, either, although they're surprisingly photogenic). I think when I make aioli again, I'll buck tradition and serve it with raw veggies (maybe some roasted too, but not steamed) and fried fish (sort of a combination of Provence and Greece). But, despite my lack of enthusiasm for the results of my last cooking lesson, the week didn't end on a bad note at all. Gina prepared a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean farewell feast that was perfect.

Tabbouli (made with the local variety of spelt), baba ghanouj, cucumbers in yogurt, hummus, and shish-ka-bob
I had a fantastic week at Maison Trevier: the lessons were excellent, the food was some of the best I've had, Gina was a wonderful hostess. I tried all sorts of dishes and ingredients I had never tried before. I even learned to like wine. I left inspired and excited about coming back again (I hear winter is truffle season in Provence...)

Okay,, so enough about food--what about France? More posts coming soon...

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Photos ©Whimsy Bower

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