Uncomplicated and frugal
Faites simple, they say in Provence, where it is claimed that women always stay slim because they eat with all their senses and thus get a little bit full. The Provencal cuisine is characterized by the surrounding, coastal and mountainous landscape, where the vegetables and wine are grown in the large, sunny valleys in the hinterland up to the pre-Alps.
Forced by the circumstances, one takes pride in creating simple but very tasty dishes that are built on a foundation of the region’s own ingredients complemented by the gifts of the Mediterranean.
The mountainous area is not suitable for cattle farming, which is why the meat dishes are often based on game and birds from the hunting districts, supplemented with goats and chickens, which provide meat, eggs and good cheeses for the dinner table.
Salt, oil and spices
The basic taste in many of the regional dishes comes from a few ingredients, which are found in abundant quantities in Provence. Olive oil is indispensable both for frying and for salad dressing, just as salt is always included as a spice and preservative for fish and meat.
The food is also seasoned with garlic and a mixture of the area’s wild-growing spices, “Herbes de Provence”. The world-famous spice blend typically consists of dried thyme, rosemary, marjoram, sar, oregano, basil, lavender, tarragon and fennel seeds. All spices that can be picked in large quantities on the sunny mountain sides towards the Mediterranean.
The black gold
Further up in the mountains, the large oak forests that hide the black gold dominate, namely the truffles, which are sold fresh for large sums in the markets during the winter. The truffles are an important flavor enhancer that gives the food umami.
Therefore, the truffles are often included as the fifth basic taste, which together with the sweet, sour, salty and bitter rounds off the taste experience to perfection. Locally, truffles are often eaten in scrambled eggs, “Brouillade aux Truffes”, as breakfast or a light lunch.
Bread for all meals
An important accessory to the food, which is always seen on the table morning, noon and evening, is bread. White bread in many shades, of which the long and thin baguette is probably the most famous. The bread is often served as an appetizer, sliced and toasted with tapenade, pistou or aioli. All three types of puree are classic accessories made from capers and olives, basil and pine nuts, as well as garlic in mayonnaise.
One should be careful not to get satiated in these small appetizers, which are often served with a small glass of pastis. It is the yellow aperitif of the French with the characteristic anise flavor, which is also recognized in the Greek ouzo and the Italian sambuca.
Soup for starters
If you then have a sufficient appetite for an appetizer, a good choice can be a hearty vegetable soup or the well-known Bouillabaisse, the fish soup with mixed seafood, which can also easily be a main course. And if you are close to the Mediterranean, you can find fresh fish, seafood and squid at reasonable prices for most meals.
Main courses with many vegetables
In addition to the ingredients, a local cuisine is often characterized by certain cooking methods, which, however, also vary with the seasons. In the summer, you eat lighter and quick-cooked dishes, while the winter meals are often stews or oven-baked stews with a strong taste and heat. One must accept that the vegetables after several hours on the stove are not served al dente.
The kitchen is also characterized by what is not used. In Provence, you can almost always be sure that the food is not spiced up strongly with chili and curry, which are largely not found in the classic regional dishes. On the other hand, you often find a salted anchovy on the pizza or in the salad, which adds a spicy taste to the food that not everyone is completely happy with. Historically, anchovies were an important protein supplement in mountain towns, where the diet often consisted of low-meat vegetable dishes.
As a main course, you can hardly miss the famous and classic French vegetable dish Ratatouille, which is the season’s many vegetables such as squash, eggplant and peppers cooked with tomato and onion in a pan. For the vegetables, you can of course ask to be served a piece of meat or fish, both of which go well with the hearty and filling vegetable dish seasoned with garlic and fresh rosemary.
Another classic is the oven-baked, stuffed peppers, squash and tomatoes, Légumes Farcis. It can be a little different what the vegetables are stuffed with, but always with the characteristic taste of Herbes De Provence, and often they can also be ordered in a vegetarian version completely without meat.
The dinner is usually rounded off with a little sweet, and again, the mild and warm climate offers plenty of options. A piece of dessert pie with apple, apricot or fig plays very well with a cup of strong coffee or a glass of the local dessert wine.
Wine and other beverages
In this section, beverages for food are not described, but in addition to remembering to drink plenty of water in the hot climate, Provence is especially famous for its delicious rosé wines, which go well with most Mediterranean food. You can read much more about the wines in the article on Wines from Provence & Côte d’Azur.
Your own Provence cuisine
When you come home from holiday and have to try to create the wonderful delicacies that you have brought home in your memories, you are often disappointed that you can not hit the same powerful relish.
Something is missing! This may be due to the fact that the vegetables at home have simply not had the same growing conditions as in Provence, where the tomatoes get their very own deep sweetness in the southern sun. A sprinkle of sugar can sometimes help a little. And here is a list of the basic ingredients you need for the stove:
Mediterranean salt and freshly ground pepper
Herbes de Provence
Salted anchovy fillets
Wheat flour and yeast
Cheese from goat
Truffle (preferably fresh, but otherwise dried for soaking)
And then you go to the supermarket and find the seasonal vegetables and some fish, meat and fruit as well as a good bottle of rosé wine or two so you can enjoy the food, both while you make it and when you eat it. Remember the slim version “faites simple” – then you can eat healthy Provencal food seven days a week.
By Mikael Mortensen/2021