The Food Lovers' Cookbook Collection
The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells
For the past twenty years Patricia Wells and her husband Walter have maintained their country retreat Chanteduc near the delightful town of Vaison-la-Romaine in the northern part of the Vaucluse area of Provence.
This is an area we particularly love. It ranges from the Enclave des Papes (the little section of Provence that is encircled by the neighbouring Drome) in the north, to the Rhone river in the west. It then crosses the magic rocky plains past Chateauneuf du Pape to the foothills of the jagged Dentelles de Montmirail range and on to the majestic Mont Ventoux.
In this area there are many lovely villages of which Vaison-la-Romaine is a particular jewel. However we also love places such as Seguret, Gigondas, Beaumes de Venise, Crillon la Brave and Bedoin which rise above the flatness beyond.
This area is also home to the great wines of the Chateauneuf du Pape, Côtes du Rhone and Côtes du Ventoux appellations as well as some of the best food shops, restaurants and markets in France. Whether it is the boulangerie in Vaison-la-Romaine, the evening Velleron market, the food shops of Carpentras or the local restaurants, we are always drawn back to this food lovers paradise.
So, whenever we find any book that talks about one of our favourite areas on earth we read it avidly. And this one will not disappoint those who long for the sights, smells and food sensations of Provence.
And so to the book. While the title suggests Provence as a whole region, the main concentration is on the area of Provence we have described above. But this does not detract from the book as there could be a myriad of similar books written about this vast culinary treasure trove.
Patricia Wells has always used the device of the sidebar or the inset to pepper her recipe books with tantalising information about wines, shops, restaurants or markets. So her Paris and France books offered much more than the title might have revealed.
This book is no exception. It is anchored on 175 recipes. However you can also read about the olives of Provence, Herve Poron the truffle expert, her favourite olive oil, where to buy coco beans, what AOC means, where to find good Provencal pottery and a short treatise on bread from the Vaucluse city of Carpentras.
And then there are the well-considered recipes which are explained in detail along with enough explanation of why she has included them including some of the influences that make the recipe special for her and consequently for the reader.
In the appetiser section there is a simple yet appealing recipe for sautéed dates stuffed with almonds. Fresh dates are pitted carefully and an almond placed inside. They are then sautéed in olive oil for a few minutes, dusted with sea salt and then served on a toothpick. Simple yet delicious!
In the salads section we were delighted to see the Garlic salad from the Bistrot de France in Apt described. This is one of our favourite lunch places in the region. We love to drop in here for traditional regional food served with care and some humour. In the same section we were also pleased to see sorrel elevated to its rightful place as the main protagonist in a salad of sorrel leaves and mint. This highly underrated tangy leaf is one of our favourites and we would love to see it used more.
We were also drawn to a mussel soup recipe in the next section. Often restaurants cook mussels in white wine but fail to properly 'cook off' the wine leaving an unpleasant wine flavour to the sauce. In this recipe the wine is boiled for five minutes before the mussels are introduced leaving a strongly flavoured cooking liquor to be combined with the mussel juices. The result is a strongly flavoured but mellow soup enhanced with saffron.
In the fish section there is a lovely recipe for squid stewed in tomatoes and white wine which is long cooked to ensure that the squid passes the tight 'rubber band' stage and gradually absorbs the liquid and learns to relax. The result is a tender tasty and deeply flavoured stew.
We could go on and describe the daube or the autumn walnut cake, but you probably get the idea. This book is an invaluable source of inspiration to all Provence lovers.