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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Chef Sam’s Pizza at Home

Everybody loves pizza, writes Sam Gish, because as Karl Marx famously said – ‘La Pizza est L’Opium du Peuple’. Well, maybe he didn’t actually say it, but he got the sentiment right. The trouble is that there’s Pizza! and then there’s pizza. Going out for pizza is a bit like playing roulette or rolling dice. Sometimes you get lucky and find the ideal crust, with the right proportion of sauce and cheese, perfectly cooked. And sometimes you find a cardboard crust with plastic cheese and something that almost but not quite resembles tomato sauce – a slice of pizza that has less flavour and texture than the paper napkin you use to wipe the ‘sauce’ off of your chin. 

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This week, Susan Gish visited the historic village of Cucuron in the Luberon and had her first restaurant meal in three months.  She writes:
Finally the start of “A Good Year” with A Good Meal at MatCha in Cucuron!
We’re having a genuine spring! The mornings are cool and the afternoons warm but not too hot. Now there are less airplanes and road traffic and you can actually smell springtime: lavender, broom/gorse/genisteae, magnolia, honeysuckle, rosemary, thyme, and pine. The perfume of the flowers, the garrigue, are stronger than we’ve smelled in years. The poppies are still here and the lavender fields are just about in their prime. Gorgeous splashes of colour in the countryside. The grapevines are in full leaf, while olive and almond trees are showing the beginnings of fruit. Mirabelles! Cerises! Driving around we’re always reminded of how France still has deep agricultural roots. We visited a friend’s garden a week ago in Puy St. Reparade. There’s a gorgeous 300 year old mulberry tree that was planted when the silk merchant from Lyon built the house. Just amazing. 
So we took a lovely drive and ventured out for our first restaurant meal in 3 months in Cucuron.
Cucuron’s l’etang (or pond) is beautiful and has been featured in two movies: “A Good Year” and “The Horseman on the Roof”. The basin is surrounded by plane trees and its water was originally sourced from the Luberon massif, which helped to operate a flour mill. The present village dates from before the 11th century. The basin now is only ornamental.
The commune of Cucuron suffered a serious plague epidemic in 1720, exactly 300 years ago! 
We have dined at the restaurant MatCha quite a few times previously, and thought that a Monday lunch would be perfect as there wouldn’t be very many people wandering about. It was just what we needed as we missed dining out – to relax and have lunch for a few hours. We reserved to sit outside, not close to others. Everything was very, very clean, I felt totally comfortable. (Their toilet was really clean as well, which was a concern of mine). Matthieu, the pleasant front of the house owner and waiter, was wearing a mask. 
The little details and the creativity of the food at MatCha impress us every time. Owned by a young couple, Charlotte D’Angelis is the amazingly talented chef and Matthieu Charrier runs the front of the house. They use seasonal ingredients sourced locally. 
It’s probably the most creative and delicious restaurant we’ve been to in a few years in Provence. No kidding. Even better than a few 1stars we’ve eaten at. Beats anyplace in Aix. 
MatCha is listed in Michelin and Gaut Millau but the restaurant is not fussy at all. In fact it is very casual.
They have a 3 course weekday lunch menu for 22 euros which I had.
Sam ordered off the regular menu which was 39euros for 3 courses.
We had a delicious white Burgundy from Macon-Azé for 33 euros.
Sam started off with petit moules, fresh petit pois with a light curry bouillon poured over at service. It was served just lukewarm, perfect. I had rillettes of maquereux. Normally mackerel is too strong and greasy for me. This was melt in your mouth delicious. Crispy cucumber, radishes, spicy sprouts and scallion added to the party my mouth was having.
For our main courses, I had cabillaud with an aioli foam, accompanied by vegetable beignets, carrots, potatoes, beets, and grilled zucchini slices. Sam’s plat was loup with a lightly fried zucchini blossom, courgette mousse with pumpkin seeds and verveine oil.
Our desserts were a chocolate mixture of all sorts of textures and chocolate pieces with Sarrasin ice cream! Wow! Also a Praline Dacquoise with chocolate, citron and topped with tarragon. Very unique, and the flavors all worked together.
Funny that we both chose fish for our first meal out. They do have vegetarian options as well as meat on the menu.
Chef Sam and Susan
P.S. There’s even a gentle ‘house’ english setter dog named Litchee!
MatCha – the details
Montée du château vieux – Cucuron. It is located just off l’etang up a little street at the other end from the parking lot, but there is a little view of the plane trees if you sit outside.
Tel: 04 86 78 55 96;  you do need a reservation as they get booked up
@matcharestaurant – also on Facebook
Open Thursday thru Monday, lunch and dinner. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays

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Anxiety and Observation …both states were experienced by Susan Gish who describes Tuesday 19th May, the first day of the market in Aix after lockdown ended.

She writes: My anxiety apartment had been narrowed down to an anxiety closet the past few years since we’ve lived in Provence. It took many years from a stressful career, but I finally started to just ‘be’ and enjoy the moments. Unfortunately, with the lockdown and what has been happening in the world, my anxiety closet changed once again. This time into a full blown chateau. Although we live close enough to walk, I stayed away from the center of Aix the past two months. I took my walks away from town into the hills where I didn’t see any people, and got our food delivered. The very few times I walked into town I almost had a panic attack.

So yesterday morning going to the market I was a bit apprehensive. I put on my mask and carried hand sanitizer. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Hooray! I was really happy to see some of the market vendors that I totally missed. (more…)

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To market, to market to buy a plum cake! The markets will be opening in Aix again from Monday next week! writes Susan Gish.

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Just after we got our Aix apartment, I remember going to the local market one very warm May day, flinging off my cardi and remembering NOT to say ‘Je suis chaude’.  The lady at our veg stall told me in no uncertain terms not to take any good weather for granted until the feasts of the saints de glace had passed.  These turned out to be Saints Mamert (11th May), Pancrace (12th) and Servais (13th).  Apparently there is some meteorological backing for this phenomenon of a cold-snap mid-May …so hopefully we are now set for sunny days.

And I need to thank the same veg lady for her advice on cooking the new garlic which also arrives on the stalls at this time of year.  I had never seen it before.

She told me to put the whole bulb into the microwave for a minute (more if it is very large) and then extract all the milky white cloves which by now are steaming hot.  You mash them with a fork and mix them into creme fraiche and chopped parsley – eh voila!  A wonderful sauce for meat or grilled vegetables.

Now a firm family favourite.

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News from the Mairie of ‘la Market Place Aixoise’, a digital map of shops open, when, where and what they can provide.

It’s to help us all quickly source supplies – and to provide a platform for shops to advertise their products, offer deliveries and contact-free payments and launch promotions.

New addresses will be added as they re-open for business. A local company has developed the platform which is free for the next few months.

A useful service for both businesses and inhabitants of Aix.

Here are details: http://www.aixenprovence.fr/La-market-place-aixoise-de-proximite

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Since the beginning of the pandemic, local food-banks have seen demand increase by 400% and, as a result, stocks are low.

Several charities have joined together to organise an Aix-wide collection, with the town authorities helping logistically to get the food through to the isolated elderly, the homeless, one-parent or struggling families and students. They are counting on local generosity for donations, all day 2nd May, at the following supermarkets:

Carrefour Les Milles, Géant Casino (Jas de Bouffan), Petit Casino (rue de Lattre de Tassigny), 2 Monoprix (Mirabeau et Allées Provençales), Super U (Place Romée de Villeneuve), Intermarché Club Hippique.

More here: http://www.aixenprovence.fr/Campagne-de-collecte-alimentaire

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One recent delivery of vegetables included mushrooms that were just a day or two passed their peak, so I started searching my cookbooks for recipes that I could do easily, writes Sam Gish.

I thought about champignons à la Grecque but found a recipe for champignons Cévenols – mushrooms cooked gently in olive oil and then dressed with chopped garlic, parsley and fried bread crumbs. 

The recipe was in ‘South Wind Through the Kitchen’ – an anthology of articles and recipes by Elizabeth David (1913-1992). Originally found in ‘French Country Cooking’ the recipe originated in the Cevennes, that beautiful and still wild rural part of France to the north of Montpellier. 

Despite her reputation as a major influence on the cuisine of post war England and as the starting point for many of the present generation of English chefs and a few American ones, for many people, she has ‘slipped off the radar’. This is unfortunate because her writing brings the joy of both French and Italian food to vibrant life.

When she began writing rationing was still in effect in England, and many ingredients in her recipes weren’t readily available. She seldom pointed towards substitutions telling her readers to wait until they could find what was needed, or to try something else. 

Her books are especially wonderful today, because they paint a picture of a France that, in these days of chain restaurants and television chefs, barely exists. The little restaurants frequented by locals and passing lorry drivers that served two or three dishes at lunch, the family run hotel where it was possible to find a delicious meal at a good price made completely from local ingredients are mostly gone. It is unlikely that places like the café attached to the petrol station in Rémoulins as described in ‘French Provincial Cooking’ still can be found. 

My discovery of Ms David and her writing began when I lived in England in the 1970’s. I bought a Le Creuset pot and for an extra 39 pence, a little spiral bound book entitled Cooking With Le Creuset written by her. This started me on a culinary education which continues today. One of the first dishes I cooked in that pot was pipérade – a Basque dish with eggs, onions, tomatoes, and green peppers. I still make it, though unfortunately my original Le Creuset in the signature ‘flame’ colour, is long gone. 

So, let’s cook!

At the beginning of this I mentioned Champignons Cévenols which is a great dish to serve at lunch with crusty bread and some cheese or to serve as a side dish at dinner. It could also work as a starter.  

You need about 500g of mushrooms. Wipe them and take the stems out. Gently heat some olive oil in a heavy saucepan and add the mushroom caps. Do not let them fry but cook them slowly. While they are cooking cut up the stems (You did save the stems, right?) and finely chop two or three cloves of garlic, along with some fresh parsley or thyme or oregano. The original recipe calls for parsley but variations are good. When the mushroom caps are cooked, use a slotted spoon and put them in a dish. Add some more oil to the pan and sauté the stems. Remove them from the pan, add a bit more oil if needed and then fry some fresh white breadcrumbs to a nice golden colour. Sprinkle the herb and garlic mixture over the cooked mushrooms and then pour over the breadcrumbs and oil. You can serve this warm or cold. The choice is yours. 

Now, pipérade, which despite its name, is not particularly spicy. This is a substantial dish which I don’t do often enough. You can make this vegetarian by using olive oil, though duck, goose, or pork fat is often used. 

Ms David recommends peeling the tomatoes, but I seldom do, because it’s fiddly and tomato skin doesn’t bother me in a dish. And in another departure (and because this comes from the Basque region) to add a bit of heat I like to put in piment d’Espelette or ezpeletako biperra in Basque. 

For two people – Two or three medium green bell peppers, cored and sliced into one inch diamonds or triangles. A finely sliced medium yellow onion, four chopped ripe tomatoes and two large eggs (three if you’re really hungry) beaten until the whites and yolks are completely combined and seasoned with salt and pepper. If you can’t find ripe tomatoes, this is a dish where a small tin of good San Marzano or Roma tomatoes is acceptable. 

In a heavy bottomed pan heat the fat, then add the onions and cover. Don’t let them fry. After about 10 minutes they should be soft, almost melted. Add the green pepper, stir and cover. Cook them gently as they must have a bit of crispness in the final dish. Then add the chopped tomatoes, stir and turn up the heat, cooking them until they start to almost dry out. 

Turn the heat to low and stir in the beaten eggs. Cook about 4 minutes, stirring once or twice so that they are incorporated into the vegetable mixture but somewhat soft. Season with salt and fresh ground black pepper or a good sprinkle of piment d’Espelette and serve on heated plates with slices of good bread. To quote Ms David – ‘To make a more substantial meal: serve with the pipérade slices of French bread fried in olive oil or whichever fat you have used for the dish, and/or grilled or baked gammon or bacon rashers (in the Basque country there would thick slices of fried Bayonne ham).’ 

One nice thing about this dish is that you can make the vegetable mixture a day or two in advance and gently heat it and then put in the eggs. 

Tomato season is just around the corner which means it will soon be time to make one of my favorite Elizabeth David dishes: Fettucine alla marinara. 

You have to have really good ripe tomatoes for this. Not the plastic supermarket varieties, but bright red, juicy, tomato-y tasting tomatoes. Get 6 or 7, core them and chop coarsely into about 6 pieces each. Thinly slice 3 or 4 cloves of garlic and cook that in hot, but not smoking, olive oil for about thirty seconds. Do not let the garlic brown.

Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan and cook for about 3 minutes. You want the tomatoes to release their juice and combine with the olive oil. Then add some fresh basil leaves torn into several pieces(don’t chop the basil!). Season the sauce with fresh ground pepper and salt and pour over the cooked, drained fettucine. Grate Parmesan over the sauced pasta or let your guests add it to their taste. 

This dish is from the 1963 Penguin Handbook edition (price 5 shillings) of ‘Italian Food’ first published in 1954. I found a copy in a used bookshop in Philadelphia in the late 1980’s, and fell in love with the dish. I wrote a fan letter to Ms David, telling her how much I liked the book and the tomato sauce recipe. I sent it to Penguin, and probably nine months later I received a handwritten note from her:

August 25th 1990

Dear Mr. Gish

Thank you so much for your lovely letter. How good of you to take the trouble to write.

That simple tomato sauce which you like is one of my own favourites. As soon as ripe tomatoes become available here I start making it. No need to bother with any other version – 

Yes, I am very aware of American resistance to my writing. My books get terrific notices in the American press but nobody buys them. I don’t worry too much. I have many American friends and often go to stay in San Francisco. I love it there.

Best wishes, Elizabeth David

24 Halsey Street – London SW3

Elizabeth David 

Chef Sam and Susan

 

 

 

 

 

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Rose et Marius is a delicious little shop in the heart of Aix: it’s all beams, pretty tiles and terracotta pots, plus artistic displays of locally-scented candles, soaps, perfumes….but of course closed to visitors right now.

I had intended to write a post about it, its owner Magali, and its workshops, but that will have to wait until the lockdown ends.

Until then, they are selling online as well as posting deliciously Provencal recipes on their blog in English: https://www.roseetmarius.com/blog/en/ Some lovely ideas!

Pictured below: Summer Cod on a Fig Leaf and a typically Provencal Tian

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Susan Gish explains how to source the components for a perfect cassoulet and how to find them in Aix, even during lockdown, in ‘Monsieur Cassoulet and the Cassoulet Diaries’.

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