If there is one thing to do in Provence it is to eat. The food and especially the ingredients in the south of France, combined with the nearby wine regions both here and in Italy, are insanely good. After being here this past May I swore I could never eat strawberries from anywhere else in the world again. It was a transformative experience and made me rethink the power of good food.
The farmer’s market… NYC vs. Provence
I have been cooking at home quite a bit over the past few years. The highlight of my week back in New York was my Upper West Side Sunday Farmer’s Market and now, on my extended stay in Provence, it is our Saturday Farmer’s Market that winds through the ancient narrow walkways of my small town which I most look forward to. I had to learn to adapt my New York style of cooking to what is now available to me in France… or rather what is NOT available to me. Jalapeños? Impossible to find. Tortillas? Forget it. It’s taken me three months to figure out how to communicate “chicken stock” to the boucher (butcher), which as I’ve now learned, is called bouillon maison. I am inspired by the region, by the food, by the people and their hospitality around the table.
A Dinner Party of Cultures
I wanted to put together a holiday dinner party inspired by these aspects I’m falling in love with during my immersion. Instead of a seated, formal dinner I liked the idea of a casual buffet. Serve yourself as much as you wish, as often as you wish. The wine bottles, unpretentious and welcoming to refills gathered in an old metal vessel plays in contrast to the antique floral etched glasses you see all throughout the south of France. Mill about inside by the fire, or table-side, or wander out into the garden with your food and wine. Be free, be easy. Be as natural as possible, the ease of country living. Through all my extensive European travels I have come to find the most important moment of the day is shared around the table, around the fruits of the land.
What to make?
I thought about serving a traditional coq au vin but I kept lusting after this mushroom creamed chicken I had recently in Paris and how beautifully it paired with a white wine. For the past few years I have been working in partnership with Ecco Domani Wine and I felt this decadent yet cozy creamy chicken and pasta dish would make a perfect pairing to the citrus-y and crisp Italian made Pinot Grigio of Ecco Domani which boasts a higher acidity of wine style.
So I got to cooking! First I found the most amazing locally made, hand-painted serving ware from a small hill top village in my region called Moustiers Sainte-Marie. I ordered a Poulet de Bresse which comes from a region in eastern France that grows the finest chickens in the world. My boucher was so proud and ecstatic about the birds she showed them off for me on Snapchat. It was a completely different poultry shopping experience than I’ve ever had back in the states.
I hit up my Saturday market buying herbs, dried fruits, nuts, cheeses, the most beautiful mushrooms, garlic, lavender, farm fresh eggs, honey and locally made tapenades. I tried to get truffles, which is so famously French and Italian, but it’s too early in the season; something I look forward to hunting come January. When the day came, I went to my local patisserie and loaded up on a variety of freshly baked breads, not for the faint of gluten free hearts, and began constructing my Provençale buffet. It was a ‘grand succès’, the spread of country elegance. The highest quality food served with a down home approach to family-style fare. The wine was cool and bright against the creaminess and glowed in that famous French light. A true European delight.
So perhaps this holiday season when you break bread with friends, family and loved ones consider straying from the traditional fare we all know and join me in France with a splash of Italian wine. Some Herbs de Provence and Eau de Vie (water of life) for the pallet does a body good…. I can contest.
Cheers and special thanks to Ecco Domani for inspiring me to dig deeper into this culinary life.
Serves 8-10 people
1 head Boston lettuce
1 head Red Leaf lettuce
1 large handful Arugula
Handful toasted Walnuts
Handful of golden raisins
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Fresh lemon juice from 1 1/2 lemons
2 tsp. Fleur de Sel de Camarague
1 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic finely minced
Fresh cracked peppercorn to taste
Rinse and dry lettuce, tearing up larger leaves into bite sized pieces.
In the bottom of a large salad bowl, combine the garlic and lemon juice. Add the salt, pepper and mustard and whisk. Add one tablespoon oil and stir vigorously until all the oil has been incorporated by the mustard – it should make a thick emulsion. Repeat with the second tablespoon of oil, and then the third to create an even consistency. Toast the walnuts for a few minutes on high heat in a cast iron skillet until they begin to darken. Place the lettuce on top of the sauce. Add walnuts and raisins. Toss the salad by lifting from the bottom and folding over several times to coat the leaves evenly. Top with a touch of fresh salt and pepper and serve.
In an olive green wool two piece dress by Brooklyn designer Christine Alcalay.
Coq au Vin Blanc Recipe
Serves 8-10 people
2 Poulet de Bresse each quartered, bone and skin on– substitute any ideally free-range chicken
10-12 slices thick smoked bacon cut into ½ inch strips
1 lb Chanterelle mushrooms – substitute a wild local mix or button mushrooms
2-3 small/medium onions rough cut
3 large shallots minced
I head garlic minced
3 tablespoons flour
1 bottle dry white wine
2 cups fresh chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
1 bouquet of thyme, rosemary and bay leaves
Fleur de Sel de Camarague to taste, substitute any nice sea salt (1-2 teaspoons)
Fresh cracked peppercorn to taste (1-2 teaspoons)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In Le Creuset or a similar heavy Dutch oven over high heat, fry the bacon until the fat is rendered. Using a slotted spoon, set aside bacon strips and reserve.
Season chicken pieces with the salt and pepper. Brown the chicken pieces in the hot bacon fat and butter, in batches as necessary, until golden on all sides. A touch of olive oil can be added if an additional base is needed for brownining. Transfer the chicken pieces and set aside. And the chopped onion, shallots and garlic cloves to the Dutch oven and cook until soft, 5 to 6 minutes.
Clean any remaining soil off mushrooms by patting gently with a towel or paper towel. Do not rinse them or use water in cleaning.
Add the mushrooms and cook for an extra 5-10 minutes until they’ve released their liquid and have begun to brown. Add the flour, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Slowly add the wine and stock, stirring constantly. Add the herb bouquet, reserved bacon and chicken. Bring liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and cook the sauce at a gentle simmer for 15 minutes, until liquid begins to thicken. Bring the sauce to a boil and cover the pot. Place in the oven and cook for about 1 1/2 hours until the chicken is extremely tender. Remove chicken pieces. Return pot to burner at medium heat. Add the heavy cream and cook until the sauce has thickened and begins to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Return the chicken to the Dutch oven and cook for a few minutes to heat through. Serve upon fresh linguine.
I always hand-make my pasta, it’s really so simple and makes a world of difference. To be honest, you can’t screw it up. I never let it rest, I change the amount of eggs and egg yolks I use. I never measure my flour, I never whisk my eggs, I just go with my gut, kneed it together until it’s not too moist or too dry. A simple pasta machine is easy to find and the flavor is far superior. However, this was a lot of pasta. I did a little research and found an amazing organic dried pasta from the Alsace region of France known for their thicker linguini and stronger egg yolk base. It worked perfectly for this occasion, using 4 bags cooked according to the package.
A quick mince of parsley and some local olive oil tossed on top before serving.
Happy Holidays! See all my Ecco Domani stories here…