When you arrive in France, you will, no doubt, be very tired. You will not have slept a wink on the plane. You will wish for a hot shower, a chance to lie flat on your back, and 12-15 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Everything will feel like a strange dream. But your hosts will greet you with a kiss on both your cheeks and they will seat you on their terrace for a coffee and a croissant and they will introduce you to their handsome cat, Nikos. You will struggle desperately with the language. You will smile and laugh when you believe it is appropriate, and in the event that a comment is sent in your direction, you will hope and pray, first, that you understood it and, second, that you can formulate some response without sounding like a person who is either functionally delayed or whose mouth has been stuffed with gauze. You will be invited to dinner. Wine will be served outside, as the sun goes down and the air begins to cool. When the bottle is finished, there will be dinner–a steaming dish of pasta with stewed eggplant, tomato, pork, and herbs. More wine. Then dessert–a tender cake covered with all manner of the sweetest fruit, fruits you’ve never seen before. After dinner, you will be led to the den for another coffee (sans caffeine, s’il te plait). You will be handed an old guitar that once belonged to a greek poet and you will be asked to play and sing. You will play and you will sing. Your hosts will smile. You will then say goodbye. You will walk with your wife through cobblestone streets, flanked by 400-year old buildings and gothic cathedrals, in a darkness that is interrupted only by the soft glow of a few street lights. You will step into your well-appointed apartment and you will sleep a heavy sleep. When you wake in the morning, you will come to know that this is no dream. You will come to know that this is your reality: one year in Provence.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly three months since I last posted a recipe to Bread+Bourbon. Before summer began, I had made plans to post two times a week, to go on long walks, to play my guitar. But the days, instead, were spent moving out of our apartment, frantically trying to learn French, getting up at 4 in the morning to work at a bakery, and fighting for nearly two months with the French Consulate and other organizations to get our visas(I will spare you all the infuriating details). But we’re here now! I’d like to make a promise to each and every one of you that I will post, at least, one recipe each week. And if I break this promise, I will give you a full refund of the zero dollars you pay me each month to view this blog.
To get things started off, here’s a recipe for a uniquely Provençal dish. This is the kind of thing that good, country French people have been making for hundreds of years. Even in the worst of times, one could count on a few potatoes, a carrot, some green beans, and a piece of fish. And in an area where olive oil has always been cheap and abundant, it made sense to feature it prominently. In fact, the entire dish is named after the oil-based sauce that goes with it. It’s called aïoli. And you should make it.
Aïoli (serves 2)
6-7 small potatoes(about the size of a ping-pong ball)
A handful of green beans(haricots verts, if you can find them)
2-3 medium carrots
a small piece of firm-fleshed fish(cod works perfectly)
for the sauce:
1 egg yolk
a mild olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp dijon mustard
salt, to taste
To start, you’re gonna make an aioli. This is a rich, creamy, emulsified sauce–basically, the grandfather of mayonnaise. Start by pouring one egg yolk into a bowl. With a whisk in hand, pour in just a few drops of olive oil and stir gently, without ceasing. Once you see that there is no standing oil in the bowl, add in a few more drops of oil. Again, be sure that you do not stop stirring when you pour in more oil. As you continue, the sauce will begin to thicken. Continue this process until the sauce becomes so thick that it will adhere to the whisk without dripping off. Once you’ve reached this stage, add in the dijon, the garlic, and salt to taste. I must tell you that I also added two dashed of Tabasco sauce, which is, as I’m sure you would imagine, not in any way traditional. But you won’t regret it. Cover the sauce and place it into the refrigerator for later.
To continue, fill two large pots with water, adding a generous amount of salt only to one of them, and letting the water come to a boil. While you wait, prep your vegetables. Snip the ends of the green beans, cut the potatoes in half, and cut the carrots length-wise into three or four pieces. When the water comes to a bowl, throw the potatoes into the salted water, and put two of the eggs into the non-salted water. Let the eggs cook for 7 and a half minutes. Once the time is up, remove them from the water and put them into a bowl of ice water.
Meanwhile, check the potatoes now and again. You want them to be pleasant to the tooth, but not mushy. Once cooked, remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and set them aside to dry. Place the carrots into the pot that once held the potatoes. After two minutes of cooking, throw in the green beans. Be sure to check them for doneness. Once done, drain them.
Meanwhile, heat a pan with oil on medium-high heat. Once hot, salt both sides of the fish and place it into the pan. Let it cook for about 5 minutes on each side. While you wait, peel the eggs. Once done, you’re ready to plate it. Arrange everything on a plate and put the sauce in the middle. Open a bottle of rose, cut some crusty bread, pretend you’re a French person. That’s what I always do.