The Food of Provence

July 15, 2015 Updated: July 16, 2015

The olive tree, introduced to the south of France well over 2,000 years ago, was the gift of the Greeks to Provence. Olive groves are everywhere in Provence, the trees finding nourishment in even the most austere soil, bending but not breaking when the mistral blows, roaring its way down the Rhone Valley to fill the vacuum that comes about when the warm air of this region rises over the sea.

When olive oil and garlic come together, the result is aioli, the most typical dish of all Provence. On Fridays, aioli is still made in many homes. It is eaten with poached snails and codfish, cold boiled potatoes, green beans, perhaps some small artichokes, and hard-boiled eggs or Lima beans.

Other traditional dishes include onion and olive pie and fish and garlic soup with la rouille (red pepper sauce)—wonderful with poached fish.

For those who wish to have a taste of Provence without leaving home, here are some recipes.

Aioli (garlic mayonnaise)

Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups

• 6 cloves garlic, crushed
• 4 egg yolks (pasteurized)
• 500 ml (2 cups) olive oil at room temperature
• Lemon juice to taste
• Salt to taste

Combine garlic and egg yolks in a blender and mix at low speed. Gradually add the oil in a very slow stream until the mixture is like mayonnaise. Season with lemon juice and salt to taste.

Rouille (red pepper sauce)

• 2 or 3 garlic cloves
• 2 hot red peppers
• 15 ml (1 tbsp) soft breadcrumbs
• 50 ml (4 tbsp) olive oil
• 50 ml (4 tbsp) fish stock (can be from cubes)

Soak breadcrumbs in olive oil and add peeled garlic and peppers. Place in a mortar and press to eliminate excess oil. Mix well and crush with a pestle until a smooth paste results. Add fish stock, mix well, and serve.

Pissaladiere (onion and olive pie)

Makes 4 or 5 servings as a snack

• 1 kg (2 lbs) onions
• 125 ml (1/2 cup) olive oil
• 500 ml (2 cups) flour
• 50 ml (4 tbsp) butter
• 125 ml (1/2 cup) water
• 12 anchovy fillets
• 20 stoned black olives
• 4 sliced tomatoes

Chop onions and simmer over a low heat in olive oil for an hour. Do not brown. Make dough with the flour, butter, and water. Remove onions from the stove and drain. Add to the dough a little of the oil in which the onions have cooked, roll out and line a greased pie plate. Cover the dough with the onions. Garnish with anchovy fillets, olives, and tomatoes. Cook in a hot oven for about 40 minutes.

Bouillabaisse aux Pommes de Terre (fish stew with potatoes)

Makes 6 servings

The recipe calls for the following fish but 1 kg (2 lbs) of white fish may be substituted, along with the crayfish.

• 1 mackerel
• 2 lemon sole
• 4 red mullet
• 2 sea perch
• 6 crayfish
• 1 conger eel
• 500 g (1 lb) potatoes
• 2 onions
• 2 cloves of garlic
• 250 ml (8 oz) tomatoes
• 50 ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
• Bouquet garni (thyme, bay leaf, parsley, fennel)
• 5 ml (1 tsp) saffron
• Salt, pepper, and 6 slices of white bread

Heat 1 litre (3 to 4 cups) of water in a large pot. Prepare the fish, which must be very fresh. Peel and cut up the potatoes, onions, garlic, and tomatoes.

Put the vegetables into the boiling water, followed by the fish. Add the oil, bouquet garni, saffron, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes. Pour this bouillon over slices of oven-dried white bread which have been placed in a large soup tureen. Serve the fish and vegetables on a heated platter.

Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings, and Doctor’s Review, among others. She is currently the European editor of Taste & Travel International. Email: hallett_susan@hotmail.com