This view is from my parents-in-law’s house in the Luberon, the heart of Provence. It has always been special, whatever time of year; as in this picture, even if the pretty lavender from the fields has been harvested in August, watching the smoke rise from the distillery’s chimney down below conjures up all sorts of ideas as to what uses we have with lavender oil. (Which reminds me, I must share a lovely lavender cream recipe with you next.)
But today we’re going savoury for a change and thinking of the French’s favourite time before dinner: the apéritif. And as we’re heading to Provence this weekend to see good friends, I’m “spreading” the holiday mood with you and opening the rosé wine.
This winding road takes us from Saignon to Apt, a popular Provençal market town. On summer Saturdays it transforms from sleepy town into a giant beehive of swarming tourists amongst the locals in every street and hidden nook and cranny, as we dodge past the buskers and look for the best olives, tapenade, honey, vegetables, cheeses and garlic, to name a few.
When we shop at the market, my Corsican mother-in-law and I have very different items in our shopping baskets. One of them is she doesn’t use much garlic and heaven forbid if I add any raw garlic if she is to join us. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles at her place.
I also love stocking up on good olive oil. Here is one of the popular olive market stalls. Just be aware of scams. There are stands that exist that don’t sell the genuine article so ensure that you look for the quality label, AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) on decanted 3-5 litre plastic containers.
On the other hand, our good friends adore garlic and the local specialities. So when they invited us for lunch “up the road”- passing the villages of Rousillon and Bonnieux – we knew it would be a Provençal treat. Valérie is the most wonderful cook. Her recipes are not only eleven out of ten on the tasty scale but they are above all simple, using the freshest of good quality local ingredients. This means there’s just enough time to have a dip in the pool.
As the chilled rosé is opened before the meal, Valérie produces something different each time. Last time she brought out Poichichade (pron: pwah-sheesh-ad). It’s rather like Lebanese-style Hummous or Humus. In Provence it’s served as an apéritif accompanied by fresh toasted thin slices of baguette and fresh crudités or vegetable sticks. Not only was it rather addictive, but it also contained a good punch of garlic, using both cooked garlic and just one fresh clove at the end to give it that touch of Provence!
Julie and Lucie were itching to make it so much as soon as our return last time, I didn’t even have time to run out and get dried chick peas! Dare I even say it? We used handy tinned/canned chick peas (pois chiches). I took a quick photo of it and although it was good (and er, yellower), it wasn’t a patch on Valérie’s. I added some parsley to make up for the different texture, even if the garlic packed a punch. What was wrong? We should have taken the time to soak dried chick peas. It’s far creamier and smooth.
Apologies for this photo. I did it quickly, as the heat was so intense last night that I didn’t manage to do a photo staging: instead just helped myself to a glass of chilled rosé and had a taste before anyone came home!
La Poichichade – Provençal Chickpea Spread
Thanks to my friend, Valérie for the recipe. Please do use dried chickpeas and not the ones in tins: believe me, the taste is completely different. The hardest part is just remembering to soak them in advance!
Pre-soaking time: 12 hours (or overnight)
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Cooling/Chilling time: 30 minutes
250g dried chickpeas (soaked overnight in water)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 + 1 cloves garlic, peeled
Juice of a lemon
1 tsp tahini paste (optional – or 2 tsp sesame oil)
3 tbsps olive oil
salt & pepper
1. Leave the dried chickpeas to soak overnight in water.
2. Next day, rinse well. Rub them between your hands to release the skins, discard the skins and rinse again using a sieve.
3. Transfer the sieved chickpeas to a heavy based pan. Add enough water just to cover the chickpeas and add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (this makes them easy to digest). Add 3 large cloves of garlic and the bay leaf. Cover and cook over a low-medium heat for 45 minutes. After the first 10 minutes, skim off any impurities that rise to the top and also discard of any more chickpea skins.
4. When cooked, drain the chickpeas and garlic, discard the bay leaf plus any more skins left, and leave to cool for 15 minutes.
5. Mix the chickpeas using a hand blender or mixer with the rest of the ingredients (adding the extra clove of garlic – or even more to your taste but beware – could be potent!), dribbling in the olive oil gradually until you have a good dipping consistency. Chill for about 15 minutes.
Spoon into a bowl and drizzle with more olive oil. Add some sesame seeds, smoked paprika or fresh parsley. Serve with slices of good baguette, radishes, cucumber and carrots. Oh and chilled rosé – cheers!
Well I’m off to pack. I wonder what Provençal recipes I can return with this time? Let me leave you with a view of last year’s fireworks display for Bastille Day celebrations on 14th July.
Wishing you all a wonderful long Fête Nationale weekend for the quatorze juillet from a hot and sunny Paris. Cheers! See you in the South on Instagram.