Climb every mountain…
If one felt so inclined (or capable) the area surrounding St Remy de Provence is perfect for getting on a bike and busting up some crazily steep hills and mountains. Numerous cyclists of all ages get up early to miss the blazing sun and test their endurance to reach the tops. My week was spent in a state of perseverance, determination and effort… on the tennis court.
Though of course my main focus was the food.
Cooking here is always a pleasure and ideas come easily due to the mass of perfect produce available. There are few places I have been that can match the abundance of tasty fruits and vegetables. The peaches are always juicy and for lack of a better description ‘ peachy’, the cherries are shiny and sweet, the figs fleshy and perfect, the Provençal Rosé is famous for good reason and the olive oil is so good you sometimes need nothing else to finish a simple salad.
Having been here at various times of year I am always impressed with how seasonal the shops and markets are and noted how that one day the boxes of tumbling cherries suddenly stopped appearing. Season over. The sadness was only eased by the appearance of the next ingredient coming in – the most extraordinary green figs.
The working day started early with the bread run to the local bolangerie. It wasn’t the closest of the bakeries but my alliances had to change when we noted that the croissants at our local now lacked that flaky butteryness our morning cafes demanded. Our new bakery of choice was clearly the towns favourite as there was always an impressive queue of people by 7:30 , 95% of whom were French. There was then the food shop dash where I have started to play ‘spot the private chef’ as there seemed to be a collection of us down there (if you ever want to play look out for extensive shopping lists, speedy trolley manoeuvres, skills at catching the fishmongers eyes at 50 yards and speed packing). Lunch was long and chatty then siestas and swims were had before the evening amusements began.
With long warm evenings (I promise I’m not trying to rub it in for those of you back in Blighty where I understand you have had an abundance of wet stuff fall from the sky) dinners were served later in the evenings. This was also due to the fact that the clients and chef were battling it out on the tennis court. An improved performance was hoped by all from last year and rumour had it that one of us had taken time off work just to get in extra practice.
Culinary highlights of the week included a fig, honey and mascarpone tart and this postcard recipe of grilled aubergine and tomato salad with anchovy and lime dressing.
I’m driving: A Nissan Note – zippier than expected but easily bullied by the Mistrals.
Tennis game victories: 1
Tennis game defeats: too ashamed to say.
Every home should have: a collection French grey table linen
We are drinking: Angelina and Brads Rosé
Espressos drunk: 124 (not all be me but I had my fair share).
Skin tone: has turned from blanched almond to lightly toasted.
Mountains climbed: 0 (unless you count success in getting children to eat new vegetables).
Grilled tomato, aubergine and olive salad with anchovy and lime dressing
This has been my favourite new salad this summer, the anchovy should be very subtle and only add base notes rather than dominate the flavours. It is a perfect BBQ salad.
Serves 4 as a side
4 large tomatoes
1 salted anchovy, rinsed, deboned and finely chopped
2 tsp sherry vinegar
4 tbs pitted green olives
3 tbs olive oil
20g coriander finely chopped (stalks and leaves)
1- 3 dried chillies, crushed (depending on how hot you like it)
Light the BBQ, when the coals are grey with ash grill the whole aubergines on all sides until soft (this will take about 10 minutes and the outside will look a bit burnt and the inside will be soft). Place in a colander over a bowl to cool and drain.
Grill the whole tomatoes till just blacked all over.
In a large bowl whisk the anchovy with the zest and juice of the lime, the sherry vinegar and olive oil. Add the coriander and olives. Season with salt, pepper and the dried chilli.
Peel the skin from the aubergines and tomatoes and roughly chop (adding any tomato juice in to the dressing). Mix into the dressing and leave to mingle for at least 20 mins
Serve at room temperature as part of your BBQ spread.