The mere whisper of the word Provence awakens images of flowing lavender fields, charming picture-perfect towns and farmers markets overflowing with heads of lettuce still sparkling with the morning dew and fresh milk and cream ladled from tall metal canisters, all being sold by the quintessential French farmer.
Provence's traditional cuisine, "cuisine du soleil" is built on fresh produce, olive oil, herbs, tomatoes, garlic and of couse, le soleil (the sun). No surprise as Provence kisses the top west border of Italy so much of the cuisine has these Italian influences, or vice versa as the French would no doubt claim. It's similar to Switzerland looking like France, but I digress....
You will see the similarities in other distinctive Provencal dishes including ratatouille (eggplant) and soup de pistou (with fresh basil and pine nuts) ,daube (stew) and probably the most often associated with the south of France, bouillabaisse (fish soup with garlic, olive oil and saffron).
The delights don't stop there. The region is home to some world famous wines with ties all the way up to the sky. Opulent red wines include Cotes du Rhone and the noble Chateauneuf-du-Pape (new castle of the pope!). Crisp white and rose wines include Coteaux des Baux-en-Provence and Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence and don't forget the apres-meal with a Beaumes-de-Venise Muscat, an unctuous amber dessert wine.
I learned this dish in cooking school. In our last quarter, we cooked for the restaurant within the school, aptly named l'Ecole (the school). This is so popular and such a traditional French dish, it is still on the menu!
Daube de Boeuf Arlesienne ~ Beef Stew from Arles
16 tiny Red Potatoes
16 Pearl Onions
16 Baby Carrots
16 Beef 1-1/2" cubes
1 Onion, finely diced
1 cup Dry White Wine (from Provence!)
1-2 tsp Herbes de Provence
20 Hazelnuts, toasted
1-2 slice Dry Bordelais Bread, toasted
3 clove Garlic, chopped to paste
1 cup Parsley Leaves, chopped
2 Tomatoes, peeled & seeded
20 Nicoise Olives
2 tbsp Capers
Thyme & Rosemary sprigs
Step 1. Prepare your mise en place which means everything in its place (literally 'put in place'). Set out all the equipment you will need (pots and pans, spoons, etc) and all the ingredients. This way, you won't get half way through a recipe and realize you are missing a key ingredient and guaranteed, all the stores will be closed. I always keep a small bowl or plastic bag next to me for garbage such as carrot peelings, vegetable ends, garlic skins, etc.
Step 2. Prepare the vegetables
1. For these tiny red potatoes, the recipe calls for peeling only half way around so you can still see the beautiful red skin contrasted against the white flesh.
2. Trim and peel the baby carrots and pearl onions.
3. Cook the onions and carrots separately in boiling salted water. Shock (drop in ice water when done to stop the cooking), drain and set aside in a bowl. Save the cooking liquid.
4. Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water but do not shock. Set out on a plate on a piece of paper towel. Save the cooking liquid.
5. While the veggies are cooking, peel and cut the large onion into a fine dice.
6. Depending on the size of tomatoes, cut lengthwise into 6 or 8 sections from top to bottom. Cut out seeds and then set the slice of tomato skin side down and cut through as close to the skin as you can. Then cut the slice into triangles, approx 3 per slice, or what ever shape you want.
Step 3: Cook the beef
7. Brown the beef cubes in a pot in a little olive oil. Remove meat, set in a bowl.
8. Saute onions in the same pot. Add a little olive oil if the pan is dry. Move cooked onions to the bowl with the meat.
9. Deglaze the pot with the wine.
10. Add the meat and onions back to the pot. Add the herbs to the pot.
11. Add the cooking liquid from the vegetables to cover the meat. Do not salt.
12. Cover the pot with foil or a lid. Cook for 1 to 1-1/2 hours on the stove so that the liquid is at a low simmer.
Step 4: Arlesienne mixture
13. Toast the hazelnuts and bread (cut into small pieces, any country or hearty bread will do) in 350F oven for 5-10 minutes
14. Chop the garlic to a paste.
15. Chop the parsley. Set aside a few pinches for garnish
16. Put the toasted bread, hazelnuts, garlic and parley in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
Step 5. Mangez!
17. Just as the meat is finishing up cooking, add the carrots, pearl onions, potatoes and Arlesienne mixture to the pot. Stir to combine and thoroughly warm the vegetables. The Arlesienne mixture will thicken the broth.
18. At the last minute, add the capers, olives and tomato triangles. Stir to combine and taste for seasoning. Add sea salt and fresh ground pepper to your taste.
19. Plate in a bowl and garnish with chopped rosemary, thyme and rosemary sprigs.
Step 6. Buvez!
Now most Provencal recipes beckon for a light, crisp white or rose but for this dish, and the fact that it is still winter with near arctic temperatures, I'd prefer a stronger wine from the north of Provence, one with papal ties preferably so for this I would serve a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, specifically one from Domaine du Banneret. I had the pleasure of tasting this glorious Rhone with a wine expert (not-so-coincidentally the nephew of the winemaker!) on a recent trip to Provence and what a treat! Cheers!
Bon appetite d'Arles et Vive la France!