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Recipes and Ingredients for French Cuisine

Bringing Home the Flavors of Provence

Lavender-covered fields, wild basil and thyme perfume this region in France. Bordered by the Rhone to the west, the Mediterranean and Cote d' Azur (French Riviera) to the south, and vast olive groves to the north, Provence has an abundance of ingredients available from the land and sea. The cuisine is bright, light and above all, fresh.

Classic ingredients found in Provencal cooking include garlic, olive oil, goat cheese, tomatoes, capers, eggplant, figs, apricots, fennel, lemons, fresh seafood and fresh herbs such as thyme, basil and lavender. Mealtime is taken seriously and food is savored in the busy metropolis as well as the rustic villages. Families routinely sit down to steaming bowls of bouillabaisse, a fish soup; vegetables simmered in a tomato base, called ratatouille; salads using local produce and fish straight from the sea; and vegetables topped with aioli, a creamy garlic mayonnaise.

While we would all rather dine on Provencal cuisine while relaxing on a white-sand beach along the French Riviera, you can bring the flavors of France to your own kitchen. Fresh ingredients are key. But wearing a beret while you cook couldn't hurt either. Bon Appetite!

Bouillabaisse

8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (15 ounces) whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 bottles (8 ounces each) clam juice
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 pound of assorted fish (swordfish, halibut, snapper, sea bass or monkfish works well), cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 pound mussels, cleaned
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and garlic and cook over medium heat for two to three minutes. Add the tomatoes, clam juice, fennel seeds, half of the saffron threads and salt and pepper to taste. Cover pot and slowly bring to boil. When it begins to boil, reduce the heat and add the fish. Cover and cook six to seven minutes. Add the mussels, cover and cook just until the mussels open up, one to two minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Aioli
3 cloves garlic
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 egg yolks
Pinch of salt

Place the garlic, egg yolks and salt in a blender. Pulse until blended. Slowly drizzle in the oil until a thick mayonnaise develops. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Ratatouille
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 onions, chopped
4 to 5 garlic cloves, minced
4 medium eggplant, diced
5 zucchini, cut into rounds
3 bell peppers, diced
1/4 cup water
2 cans (14 ounces each) whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil
1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano
2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook until soft, about five minutes. Add the garlic and eggplant; cook five more minutes, stirring often. Add the water, cover and continue to cook until the eggplant is tender. Add the zucchini and bell pepper. Cook until crisp-tender. Stir in the tomatoes and liquid. Cover and cook about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Nicoise Salad
1 small head Bibb lettuce, cleaned and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 jar (4 ounces) marinated artichoke hearts, drained (reserve liquid*)
8 to 10 tiny new potatoes, cooked and cut in half
1 red pepper, cut into strips
1 cup fresh, steamed green beans
1 red onion, cut into rings
1 cup kalamata olives
2 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 to 3 tablespoons capers
4 hard-boiled eggs, cut in half
4 anchovy fillets (optional)

Dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup wine vinegar
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Combine all the dressing ingredients. Mix well. Set aside.

Line four plates with the Bibb lettuce leaves. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, artichoke hearts, peppers, green beans, red onions, olives, tomatoes and capers. Drizzle with desired amount of dressing and toss to coat. Divide evenly between the four plates. Place two egg halves on each plate and an anchovy fillet, if using.

* For a quicker salad, use the reserved artichoke marinade as your dressing, or reserve for another use.

Braised Fennel with Lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered
3/4 cup vegetable or chicken broth, divided
1/4 cup dry white wine
Juice from half a lemon
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes; cook one minute, stirring constantly. Add the fennel and 1/4 cup of the broth. Cook, stirring, until the fennel softens up and begins to get light brown. Add the remaining broth and wine, and cook until all the liquid evaporates. Stir in the lemon juice, cheese, salt and pepper. Toss to combine.

Herbed Eggplant
1 large eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Brush both sides of the eggplant with the olive oil. Place in a large lightly greased casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees F until tender, about 20 minutes. Top with the chopped herbs, salt and pepper and cook another five minutes, uncovered.

Lamb Provencal 1 leg of lamb, about 8 pounds
8 garlic cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried lavender
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 large onion, cut into rings
2 ribs celery, sliced
2 carrots, cut into rounds
3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth

Make eight cuts into the leg of lamb and insert one clove of garlic into each. Rub the entire leg with the herbs, salt and pepper. Place into a lightly greased roasting pan. Add the vegetables. Bake at 350 degrees F for about three hours, or until it reaches desired doneness. Remove from the roasting pan and let the leg rest about 15 minutes.

While it rests, deglaze the pan with the broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the leg of lamb.

Tomatoes Provencal
4 tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup fresh soft breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice the tops of the tomatoes. With your fingers or a spoon, remove the seeds. Place in a lightly oiled baking dish. Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with half the olive oil. Then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese, minced garlic, breadcrumbs and herbs evenly over the tops. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes.

Poached Pears with Apricot Sauce
6 pears, cored from bottom, leaving stem intact
4 cups water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup apricot nectar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

In a large pot, bring the water, lemon juice and sugar to boil. Add the pears and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, or until tender. Remove the pears and place each on an individual serving plate.

In a bowl, beat the powdered sugar with the eggs until smooth. Stir in the apricot nectar. Pour into a saucepan and cook on low heat until sauce begins to thicken, about seven minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract. Drizzle the sauce over the pears.

A Well-stocked Provencal Pantry Olive Oil:
Almost every Provencal dish uses olive oil in one way or another. Choose extra-virgin olive oil for the freshest taste.

Olives:
Olives are used in abundance in recipes as well as for snacking. Green and black olives are typical of the region, but don't be surprised to find olives stuffed with peppers, almonds and anchovies. Buy olives from the deli case or packed in cello wrapping, if possible. If you're interested in trying some of the stuffed varieties, you may be able to find retailers on the Web.

Garlic:
Garlic has become a staple in most American homes already. Choose large, heavy bulbs and store them in a dry place. Do not store garlic in the refrigerator.

Capers:
Capers are small buds from a plant native to the Mediterranean. They are packed in brine and have a strong, salty flavor. Capers are great in salads, seafood dishes and sauces. To remove some of the saltiness, rinse them in water before using.

Herbs:
Provencal cooking means using lots of fresh herbs such as basil, lavender, thyme, fennel seed, savory, rosemary and sage. Basil and thyme are the most widely used and can be bought fresh at most grocery stores. Fennel and lavender are usually used dried. Herbes de Provence, typically a mixture of basil, sage, fennel seed, thyme, savory, marjoram and sometimes lavender, can be made homemade or bought already mixed on the spice aisle.

Cheese:
Goat cheese is used most often in Provencal cooking, followed by sheep's milk cheese. Goat's milk cheese, or chevre, and can be found readily in most areas. It can be purchased plain, or mixed with different herbs.

Vegetables:
Provencal cooking is fresh and healthy, and takes full advantage of fresh produce. Zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, chickpeas, spinach and fennel are used in many recipes. Dishes like ratatouille showcase the local produce and herbs.

Anchovies:
The rich, salty flavor of these small fish adds depth and flavor to many Provencal dishes. They can be purchased packed in oil or fresh in many markets at the seafood counter.

Seafood:
Fresh seafood from the Mediterranean takes center stage in Provencal cooking. Items such as anchovies, sardines, cod, snapper, sea bass, mussels, squid, clams, shrimp and even eel are in many dishes.

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