Winter in Provence

Some weeks to go until spring, but in the meantime the scenery is beautiful.

The kitchen

The current object of my obsessions is this space.

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Recipes abound in print and online for Soupe au Pistou, a bean and vegetable soup that is a Provençal classic. Mine is not much different from the rest, but it's here because I love it so much. It reminds me of why I wanted to move here in the first place. When a pot of Soupe au Pistou is simmering away on our crappy hotplate (yes, it can be made on a hotplate) it makes my continuing kitchenless state somewhat tolerable. A big bowl warms me up when the temperature drops to the single digits celsius, and the chill seeps into this old stone house from all the gaping gaps in the doorways and windows and walls.

I make it around this time of year with fresh, undried beans - coco blanc and coco rouge - that we can buy at the markets here. They are so gorgeous, before and after shelling. However, it's probably a lot easier for most people to get a hold of dry beans so the recipe calls for them. If you can get fresh beans, just use a tad more - 3 cups total - and skip the soaking and pre-cooking part.

For the first time on Just Hungry, I've included a Japanese version of the recipe too. This is mainly for my mom and aunt to read, but take a look if you are studying Japanese - or point your Japanese friends to it. It is not a translation of the English, but a version specifically for making this soup in Japan.

Heirloom tomatoes for lunch

Ahh, tomatoes. What temperature is right for them?


In February 2009, I left the house I'd been living in off and on for years, and embarked on a quest for a new place to live. Last week the quest finally ended, and we're now settling into a new house, which is actually a pretty old house, a new country and a new area for us - Provence, France.


I have not doing a lot of serious cooking lately, at least not the kind that results in a useful blog post. Most of my cooking energies have been expended on another project, which is wearing me down a bit (more on that at a later time). What I have been cooking for actual meals is very simple food, that requires minimal kitchen time, though not necessarily quick to cook.

The subject of this article is zucchini (courgette) slices that are slowly braised in a fragrant oil. It requires perhaps 10 minutes of actual kitchen time, but an hour or more to complete. Days even, if you choose one option. You don't need to hover over the pan for that time, but you do have to be nearby, to keep an eye on the hot oil, not to mention any errant pets, children or clumsy adults that wander in.

The wait and vigilance are worth it though. The zucchini slices, scented with the pine-mintiness of rosemary, become brown and sticky and almost caramelized on the surface, and soft and creamy on the inside. It's great as an accompaniment to roast or panfried meats or fish, or as part of a vegetarian meal (try it with pasta). I could have it every day, just on its own, if it weren't for the rather ruinous effect it has on my waistline, even if the oil is good-for-you olive oil.

This is the taste of late summer in Provence for me.

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Originally published on December 9, 2006: We won't be able to go to Provence this winter because of work, but I still dream about it, and plan for the next trip hopefully in the spring. Here is an article from our trip last year, about a wonderful truffle market in northern Provence. I hope you enjoy it!

The lady vendor with the intense blue gaze and the black beret on her head looks a little like a French Resistance worker from an old movie. She gestures with her hands as she talks, occasionally taking one of her wares gently in her slender fingers. Around her a curious group of people gathers, looking and sniffing intently, asking questions. I slowly inch my way to the front and look into the bowl, then up to her face, my meager French deserting me. She smile and tells me to pick one.


For the last two weeks I was in the Provence, I tried a short term experiment of cooking vegetarian dishes only. Here are some thoughts on that experiment.

As I've stated here before, I'm not a vegetarian though proportionately I don't eat much meat. Therefore, I thought that the experiment should go quite easily. It was easy in some respects, due to the easy availability of an abundance of fresh produce.

monsegur-lostsign.jpgThe sign that is no more.

As we approached the tiny hilltop village of Montsegur-sur-Lauzon in northern Provence, my mouth was already watering in anticipation of the bread at the one and only boulangerie (bakery) there. I'd been looking forward to this for months, ever since last November, when we'd made one last stopover to load up on bread to sustain us for the long drive back home and a couple of days beyond.

I've written about my love for this boulangerie before. The bread there was the best I've ever had - bursting with flavor and character. Even when the loaves turned a bit stale after a couple of days, they were still so good. I was convinced that if the baker, Monsieur Metaud, was in Paris, he'd be world famous.

It was a Sunday, and there was a small queue of people waiting for their bread in the tiny store. Neither of the two people behind the counter, a young man and a middle aged woman, were Madame or Monsieur Metaud, but that didn't concern us - they had other people selling bread there before, especially on weekends. But as we shuffled closer to the front of the line, something seemed a bit off. The collection of exotic teas that used to line the wall shelves were gone. The pretty display of confections was quite pared down.

The comments on the post about whether vegetarian restaurants should only be reviewed by vegetarians have been really interesting - if you haven't read them yet, please take a look here. This has made me decide to do a small experiment. I'm here in Provence for three weeks, and I'll be cooking most of our meals (that's why we like to rent a place with a kitchen whenever we come here, as I wrote about last year). So, I'm going to make all of our meals in-house vegetarian. Lacto-vegetarian to be precise, since not having any of the delicious cheeses here would be too much of a sacrifice and the self-proclaimed 'bovo-vegetarian' in house will rebel before we've even started. We will be giving up eggs though (a hardship in itself since I love eggs), and meat and fish. (We might have a bouillabaise once at a restaurant.) I'll also try to stick as much as possible to locally produced food, though I'm not going to be as strict there. (E.g. I will use spices and things like lemons from elsewhere.)

Admittedly, here with all of the glorious locally produced fresh produce it should be a breeze. I doubt it will change my palette much but it will help me concentrate on coming up with different and tasty vegetarian dishes. The better results will be posted here of course!