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A Taste of Provence with Chickpea Spread: Poichichade

We’re going savoury for a change and thinking of the French’s favourite time before dinner: the apéritif. As we’re heading to Provence this weekend to see good friends, I’m “spreading” the holiday mood and opening the rosé wine with the Provençal equivalent of hummus, Poichichade – with plenty of garlic!

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.

View from Saignon in Provence

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.

garlic at the Provencal market of Apt

Ail, ail, ail!

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.

Olive stand at the market in Apt Provence

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.

Provence swimming pool with olive trees

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!

Chickpea spread or French poichichade

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
bay leaf
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!

Chickpea Spread or French poichichade - Hummous from Provence

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.

Fireworks-Paris-Bastille-Day

Confiture de Lait Recipe and How to Store Vanilla Beans

I don’t normally like jars of nectar that’s so sweet but after trying this recipe, I’m loving this confiture de lait recipe, or Milk Jam, discovered while shopping at my parents-in-law’s market in Provence.

I have a confession to make. I’m glad it hasn’t really snowed in Paris this winter but I caught myself displaying a surprise tinge of jealousy the other day, admiring our Provençal friends’ snowy winter wonderland photos. They’d taken them just before they left Avignon on the TGV (speed train) to visit us snow-deprived souls “dans le nord“.

French clock tower of the town of Apt in the luberon

The paradox is that when it’s cold in the south, it can be lovely in Paris, and vice-versa. In winter, Provence can have the added wind-chill factor with the southern Mistral winds but in summer, they are blessed with the most sun-kissed, flavoursome fruit and vegetables.

Seeing Rome’s legendary Campo dei Fiori market last week reminded me of our favourite Provençal market in Apt. My parents-in-law live nearby in the hilltop village of Saignon, so this is our local market pilgrimage during summer visits. Apt is also where we stock up on candied fruit.  Renowned as the world capital for fruits confits, buying direct from the factory by kilo is far cheaper and better quality than we can find at our Parisian super-markets.

roofs of the French market of Apt in Provence

Apt’s market is far from small; here’s just a fraction of it in the square of the Hôtel de Ville (town hall), as it snakes out into the main cobbled street, the shady side streets, and a few more animated squares. In the summer, it’s crammed with more Dutch, Belgian and British tourists than locals, and musicians from around the globe come to busk in the atmosphere.

Stocking up on our favourite lavender honey, this time around we also met Monsieur Jean-Pierre Setti, selling the most plump, natural sticky Bourbon vanilla pods/beans from Madagascar.

Vanilla beans at the French market of Apt in Provence

Can you smell their perfume? Counting up each exotic stick of fragrant magic, he gave some simple advice how to preserve vanilla pods/beans: put them in a long, sealable jar with just 1/2 cm of rum, close the lid, et voilà!

Madagascan Vanilla on sale at the market in Provence

The girls were fascinated at the next stand by these vibrant Crête de Coq flowers, as they resemble a rooster’s head. Watching the 6 Nations’ rugby yesterday reminded me of some news heard on French radio end January about a particular kind of serial killer roaming around Toulouse. Prized roosters that represent France just before rugby matches were mysteriously disappearing.  Apparently French police believed the culprit was a mink. As my friend, Mel Fenson says, “Better that it’s not human!”

Tete de Coq French Flowers at the market Provence

Back to vanilla and Monsieur Setti, and back home, I found a few long jars that used to hold shop-bought fruit coulis, poured in a measure of rum and squeezed in the vanilla that had dried very slightly from our return drive.  A week later, I’d developed a new daily ritual of opening the jar to sniff the aroma jumping out of it. Better to sniff vanilla, right?

I took a look at Mr Setti’s recipe flyer that he’d thrown in with our goodies.  One of the recipes was for confiture de lait (literally, “milk jam” – or more widely known as dulce de leche). Like salted caramel, it’s more of a perfect winter treat.

Confiture de lait recipe with vanilla bean

There are many express recipe versions on the internet using a can of sweetened condensed milk and cooking it with some water in a pressure cooker.  Call me old-fashioned but I loved popping back over to the stove now and again to stir it, having the house smell sweet on a dull and nippy Sunday afternoon.  It’s a simple, soothing way to cheer up the senses!

Confiture de lait with vanilla French Milk Jam

Confiture de Lait Recipe (Milk Jam) with Vanilla

Recipe from Monsieur Jean-Pierre Setti, although I’ve lowered the sugar quantity slightly.

Fills 2 jam jars

Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 2 1/2 hours – 3 hours

1 litre whole milk (full-fat)
450g sugar
1 vanilla pod/bean

 

1. Put the milk and the sugar in a thick-based large pan.  Cut the vanilla pod or bean right down the middle from top to bottom and add it to the milk.

2. Heat until boiling then reduce the heat to low and leave to simmer away for 2h30 to 3 hours.  Every so often, stir well with a long wooden spoon.  It’s normal that nothing much happens in the first couple of hours, then you’ll see that it does thicken quite quickly towards the end.

3. Take out the vanilla pod and as soon as the jam becomes caramel-like and coats the back of a spoon nicely, take off the heat and pour into a couple of clean jam jars.

It will harden as it cools. Store in the fridge.

confiture de lait or French milk jam with vanilla. Take a spoon!

Confiture de Lait (Milk Jam) with Vanilla
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
3 hrs
Total Time
3 hrs 5 mins
 

Deliciously easy recipe from Monsieur Jean-Pierre Setti from the market in Apt, although I’ve lowered the sugar quantity slightly.

Course: Condiments, Side Dish, teatime
Cuisine: French
Servings: 2 jam jars
Calories: 446 kcal
Author: Jill Colonna
Ingredients
  • 1 litre whole milk full-fat
  • 450 g sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod/bean
Instructions
  1. Put the milk and the sugar in a thick-based large pan. Cut the vanilla pod or bean right down the middle from top to bottom and add it to the milk.
  2. Heat until boiling then reduce the heat to low and leave to simmer away for 2h30 to 3 hours. Every so often, stir well with a long wooden spoon. It’s normal that nothing much happens in the first couple of hours, then you’ll see that it does thicken quite quickly towards the end.
  3. Take out the vanilla pod and as soon as the jam becomes caramel-like and coats the back of a spoon nicely, take off the heat and pour into a couple of clean jam jars.
Recipe Notes

The confiture de lait will harden as it cools. Store in the fridge.

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION: 446 Calories per half a jar

Jill Colonna

MadAboutMacarons.com

 

 

 

How long can you keep confiture de lait? As it’s a caramel, it will last a couple of months kept in the fridge, although I found it best kept within a month.  Reheat it for a few seconds in the microwave and dribble it on crêpes, waffles and about anything that you fancy.

I made just a few macarons with Confiture de lait.  I personally find them far too sweet in a macaron, and much prefer “plain” vanilla macarons (recipe in Mad About Macarons) but I’ll leave that for you to try.  In any case, the girls spread so much of this on crêpes recently that the stock didn’t last long!

P.S. The good news is that vanilla is one of the heroes in my new easy pâtisserie recipe book, “Teatime in Paris!”