Here in Aix, I’m still in awe of the number of food-related businesses that stud the narrow, cobble-stoned streets. Along with all manner of restaurants, you’ll find bakeries, fromageries, and butcher shops; little stores devoted entirely to tea, or exotic spices. It would not be a figure of speech to say that, standing on our terrace, I could lob a stone over the roof and hit a Japanese restaurant, a vietnamese place, a super-good pizzeria, or a classic brasserie. In fact, I did a little research on Google Maps to find that within 5 minutes walking distance (walking distance!), there are over 60 restaurants, bars, and cafes.
Just yesterday, I was on my morning walk to the market. In the hours before noon, the city is pretty quiet. The freshly-cleaned streets glisten with cold water and most days it’s just me and the pigeons. But this morning felt different. I could hear a dull commotion a few blocks down. When I turned the corner, I could see a large truck filled with what looked like recording equipment. Several men were unloading the truck and moving things into our favorite cheese shop. At first glance, I worried that a news crew had discovered some grisly secret beneath the giants wheels of cheese. My primary concern was that we could no longer count on them for the most perfectly ripe morbier. Our cheese toasts will never be the same! I thought. But as I got closer, I could see that there in the middle of the stacks of cheese was a tiny table, outfitted with two chairs. On top, there was a single rose. Outside the shop, there was a woman working on a prop, a giant black sign whereupon she was painting the word “Cremerie.” It was a film set. Alas! I would do my cheese shopping elsewhere. But first, the market.Our first couple weeks here were financially wreckless, which meant that today, I was on a mission to exercise some restraint. I eyed the various stalls of produce to find very fresh, very beautiful bunches of broccoli. And it was cheap. What’s more, I had been wanting to make a big dish of roasted broccoli, with fresh garlic, lemon, and lots of black pepper. I had considered studding it with raisins for some sweetness. But the market doesn’t have raisins. And just as that moment, as I began to consider the word for raisins in French (raisins sec), I had a better idea. The french call raisins ‘dried grapes.’ And they call grapes, well, ‘raisins.’ Here, nearly lost in translation, I stumbled upon something delicious. In a moment, I had swooped up a great big handful of grapes, a wedge of parmesan from down the road, and I found myself back in my kitchen, anxiously at work, ready to make something good.I would make a dish with crispy roasted broccoli, the edges beginning to brown. There would be earthy black pepper and cider vinegar for brightness. It would be flecked with minced garlic, studded with sweet muscat grapes, and once out of the oven, I would top it with ripe and crumbly parmesan cheese and a few pockets of hot chili oil. It would be perfect. And it was.
Spicy Roasted Broccoli with Muscat Grapes and Parmesan(serves 2)
1 large bunch of broccoli
1 cup of muscat grapes(or another sweet grape)
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 tbsps of good parmesan cheese, crumbled
hot chili oil, to taste
black pepper and salt, to taste
Preheat your oven to 460 F. Chop off the broccoli florets, leaving some of the stem. Place the broccoli onto a large sheet pan and evenly distribute the grapes and the chopped garlic. Season it with salt, pepper, and the 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar. Place it in the oven to cook for about 25 minutes. Let it cook long enough that the florets begin to crisp up and to turn brown. This is essential! Once cooked, remove the broccoli and plate it up. Top each plate generously with parmesan, more black pepper, and some hot chili oil. Rejoice.