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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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Some Spring cooking here from Susan Gish who is missing going to the market….

 

Here are some Asparagus Tips: Floss Daily! Be Awesome!

I bought 10 asparagus at the store but when I got home I realized I had 11: It was just a spare, I guess.

 What do you call strawberries playing the guitar? A jam session 

 What is a scarecrow’s favourite fruit? Straw-berries 

 

Yay! It’s spring! Asparagus and strawberry season – soon to be fresh peas, wahoo! 
We haven’t gone out shopping in weeks, and although I’d fully prepared in advance we were missing seasonal spring veggies and fruit.
 
I still want to support the local farmers especially since the markets are closed in Aix. There are a few that are delivering, so we ordered from a bio (organic) farm in Eguilles*.
It was expensive, but as we’re not spending money on coffees out or glasses of rosé or lunches or ice cream, it was worth it…(speaking of which, when will we be able to go out again for ice cream or rosé or coffee or rosé – did I say rosé?)
 
Look at what we got! 
 
A few ideas off of the top of my head for the asparagus:
-soup or gazpacho
-tart, pizza, feuilletée, quiche
-butter, vinaigrette, hollandaise 
-roasted or steamed with morels or with wild leeks or garlic
-wrap ham around it for an appetizer
 
Ideas for strawberries:
– topping for your muesli with yoghurt or milk for breakfast
-crushed to make a quick jam to top toast 
-coulis for under lemon tart or slices on top of it
-marinated in a little Grand Marnier or brandy and a little sugar for dessert or as a tart 
-ice cream
 
Ideas for aubergine/eggplant
-baba ghanoush
-grilled with herbes de Provence and olive oil
-slices in a vegetarian lasagne
-stuffed with ground lamb, pine nuts, and mint
 
Here is Sam’s Super Simple recipe for an Asparagus, Tomato and Mozzarella Feuilleté Tart. (You can add chorizo slices or not for a vegetarian option).
 
Sam makes his own pizza dough, but he won’t make puff pastry so we bought pure butter feuilletée from the supermarket.
 
Pre heat the oven to 200ºC. Cook the asparagus until it’s not quite done. Drain. Unroll the feuilletée leaving it on the parchment paper. Place the pastry on the paper in a tarte pan or quiche pan. Gently press it into the sides of the pan. Poke holes in the pastry using a fork. Put the slices of chorizo on the pastry, then thin slices of tomato, followed by the lightly cooked asparagus. Cover generously with grated mozzarella or Emmental. Lower the oven temp to 175ºC. Cook according to the instructions on the package or until the cheese is brown on top. If you want a crisper bottom crust, cook the unfilled feuilletée for 10 or 15 minutes. Then fill it and bake until done. If you’re not using chorizo, before you add the tomatoes brush the pastry with Dijon mustard. 
 
Chef Sam and Susan
*  Susan’s produce box came from Le Jardin de Manon at Eguilles. In normal times they are at the market in Aix’s Place des Precheurs, but can be found at present on Friday mornings at the market at Puyricard which has authority from the prefect to remain open.

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Chicken for caring in cooped up crazy times?   

Preparing poulet properly or perhaps poussin or pintade?

Too chicken to go out? You should be, writes Susan Gish. It’s fowl out there! No clucking about it please!

We’re on for at least 2 more weeks of lockdown, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch. I started thinking about comfort foods in this difficult time. Foods that make you feel better. (more…)

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Tarte au Citron -this time written by Chef Sam and photos by Susan Gish – we switched roles this time!
With updated ingredients
 
The almost easy Tarte au Citron recipe  I’ve been making this tart for almost 18 years and I still go back to the recipe I found in Cuisine At Home back in 2002. The filling is very tart and lemony. One of the first times I brought this to a friend’s house, their 13 year old son had a piece, said, ‘This is really, really too tart. Can I have another piece?’ 
 
The big thing to remember is to do your mise en place before you start and you’ll be fine. I’m putting the essential equipment, proportions and full ingredient list at the end.
Let’s start with the crust. After trying almond crusts, hazelnut crusts, pre-made store bought crusts, it turns out that making your own paté sablé is the best one to use. Lots of people are freaked out by crust but it’s really easy – patience and cold butter are your friends and will not let you down. That and using your hands to make it; not a food processor, not a stand mixer, not a blender, not a pastry cutter – your hands.

 

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Harry’s Bar Coming to Cannes

My 2020 diary is looking decidedly bleak with a cancelled holiday in April and lots of empty pages as we enter a period of social isolation; but we can dream, we can plan.  And I am starting a Post Lockdown List.

How does cocktails at the new Harry’s Bar in Cannes sound for starters?

The original in Paris is the oldest cocktail bar in Europe; it was in 1911 that the Scottish Harry MacElhone opened the first Harry’s Bar in Paris, to bring to the French capital the fashion of American “cocktail bars”. Mission accomplished as Harry’s Bar became “Paris’s place to be”, chosen by Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, Coco Chanel and many more American and French celebrities. Now, it is in Cannes that his great grandson, Franz Arthur MacElhone, has chosen to expand.

Harry’s Bar Cannes will cover an area of 127 m2 with a 150 m2 terrace on the wide-open space of Port Canto a newly-developed area abutting La Croissette. (http://www.cannes.com/fr/cadre-de-vie/amenagements-et-travaux-en-cours/port-canto-phase-2-espace-grand-large.html)

The company has made cocktails its speciality: Bloody Mary was allegedly born in there in 1921, White Lady, Monkey Gland and the Blue Lagoon were invented by Harry’s Bar. There are over 300 references of whiskeys and a choice of 400 cocktails made by experienced bartenders.

I doubt its opening date – June 2020 – will be possible, but cocktails in the Cannes sunshine is pencilled in my 2020 ‘Post Lockdown List’.

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Lock ‘Down and Out in Aix-en-Provence’
or
Lockdown Recipes at Chez Gish
Susan Gish writes:  All the restaurants are closed. Since we are self isolating / quarantining / social distancing, we can’t have people over for dinner parties that Chef Sam is known for. He loves to cook but now the meals will only be for the two of us. I am so spoiled, because he cooks a wonderful meal most nights, except when we go out…Now, of course, it will be every night. Lucky me!
This new series will be recipes for simple meals or desserts for you to make at home. I’m sorry we can’t have you over for dinner!
BL (before lockdown), I would shop every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at the marché, sourcing seasonal food as much as possible from the local producteurs. Once home, I laid out everything I bought out on the table. Sam looked at his choices and created (of course for dinner parties he would have an idea and I would shop according to what he needed).
This lockdown is tricky. I tried to buy as much fresh food as possible in advance, so that we could have fresh vegetables and fruits. Did you realize it’s asparagus season? The asparagus we’ve had the past few nights is grown locally in Cucuron! So tasty already, it’s going to be a great season!  We have a full refrigerator with all the staples – including wine, bien sur!
Our freezer is stocked with everything homemade: cassoulet, bolognese, pizza dough (yes, homemade!), fond de viande, duck stock, chicken soup made with homemade chicken stock of course… (why can’t we get chicken soup here in France? I only see vegetable soups or soupe de poisson). We have homemade mirabelle compote from a tree near our apartment. Also we have duck legs and chipolatas.
Duckchetta. (A take-off on Porchetta)
Stuffed magret/breast
Chef Sam says:
“Really easy and delicious – The stuffing is equal parts of grated Parmesan, chopped rosemary, chopped fennel seeds. Two or three cloves finely chopped garlic. One large chopped mushroom and some fresh fennel.  
Served it with roasted cauliflower seasoned with turmeric.
With a small sharp knife, make a pocket in the duck breast – insert the knife in one end being careful not to slice through the sides. Push the filling into the pocket – I used a small funnel and a chopstick. 
Make sure the filling is evenly distributed. 
Turn the oven on to 350-400F. Put a small casserole dish in to pre-heat and add some duck fat. Cook the duck skin side down in a heavy bottomed pan until it’s golden brown. Save the rendered fat! This can be used for duck fat potatoes at a later time. 
Put the breast into the pre-heated casserole and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes (internal temp 125F for rare). Take it out, season with sea salt and let it rest for 5 minutes. 
Slice and serve. 
Next time I’m going to vary the recipe, possibly using pine nuts and chopped spinach and lemon peel. Or maybe reconstituted dried apricots or prunes with almonds. The Parmesan will be a constant. 
Full disclosure – This is a variation on a Mark Bittman recipe from the NYTimes.
 
I don’t want french fried potatoes, red ripe tomatoes
I’m never satisfied
I want the frim fram sauce
With oss-en-fay with sha fafa on the side
I don’t want pork chops and bacon
That won’t awaken, my appetite inside
I want the frim fram sauce
With oss-en-fay with sha fafa on the side
Chef Sam & Susan Gish

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Aix Market Talk – L’Oceane

Christianne at L’Oceane

…with Jean-Jacques, Christianne & Romain, thanks to Susan Gish who writes: I’m sharing this sole plaice with you so I won’t be shellfish. I don’t want to flounder around! There’s nothing fishy going on here, so no need to be crabby but I just can’t clam up about this.

My favorite at L’Oceane is their Coquilles St. Jacques. I buy it in the shell and j’adore the corail (the roe). We can’t get the corail in the US. For some strange reason the fishermen cut it off right at the boat and throw it back into the sea. Quel dommage, the best part.
Scallop season is November through April and the best are from Normandy says Jean-Jacques.

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Who has the most Aix-citing pizza in Aix? writes Susan Gish.

                                                         Let us know your favorite in the comments! (more…)

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