Hautes-Alpes: Mountain Cuisine
Gastronomy in Haute-Provence is traditional mountain cuisine based on natural product. The culinary specialties from the city of Gap include potato or spinach fritters with herbs or meat, and sweet fritters with prunes, for example. Other specialties include tomme, pâtés, oreilles d’âne (spinach dish), ravioli, fresh pasta and spinach gratin, and local cheeses. The cheese production is very diverse with offerings such as bleu from high in the mountains and fromage du Queyras. As far as fruits go, be sure to try pears such as Passe Crassane or apples such as Golden Delicious, as well as the apricots that are famous well beyond the orchards of Hautes-Alpes. Further south, savor the much-celebrated honey, which owes its taste to the traditional Provençal flowers. Hautes-Alpes produces quite a few well-known spirits, Génépi being the most famous, as well as liqueur de myrtille (blueberry) and poire (pear). Finally, for a little pick-me-up, try Alphand, a light, refreshing beer that is brewed in the region.
Niçoise Cuisine, Southern Cuisine: The Wonderful Orchard
Bread is the base of Niçoise cuisine. Over the years, the locals found a very inventive way of preparing bread and today it is found in almost all the local specialties. The number-one specialty is pissaladière, a pizza-style dish made with fermented anchovy sauce. And what about stale bread, moistened and topped with onion, a clove of garlic, and a slice of tomato? Pan bagnat, of course! Bakeries in the old town sell all sorts of bread made with anchovies, olives, and tapenade, as well as thyme, rosemary, walnut and rose-flavored fougasses.
One of the most popular dishes from the city is the famous salade niçoise, made of fresh crudités. And of course we cannot leave out ratatouille, which combines many local vegetables, such as zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, and onions. A special place is also reserved for onions and chickpeas, which are melded to form socca (a hot and spicy chickpea pancake). After tasting all these delights, one starts to understand that niçoise cuisine comes right from the kitchen garden. Local orchards bear wonderful oranges, mandarins, clementines, and lemons that can be enjoyed in the off-season as candied fruits. This is also the country of basil (which is used to prepare soupe au pistou), fennel, a type of garlic with small pink cloves, rosemary, wild thyme or farigoulette, thyme, and marjoram. All these herbs add a special taste to local specialties.
In addition to pastis, make sure to taste the wines of Châteauneuf du Pape and the famous Provençal rosés that are served with the local fare lovingly prepared with the fines herbes found mostly in the areas near Avignon and Marseille. This healthy cuisine, which includes items such as anchoïade (anchovy paste) and aioli, vegetables à la barigoule, codfish brandade, and tapenade, is almost always prepared with the region’s most famous ingredient: olive oil.
Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA)
Marseille and Bouillabaisse: Known the World Over
Bouillabaisse is inseparable from the image of Marseille or even from that of Provence, and the pleasure it brings to those who taste it reinforces one’s desire to live in this wonderful region.
Originally this stew was prepared as a simple dish by fishermen on shore after a long day at sea. Seawater was heated in a large pot on the beach. Once the nets were untangled, all the fishermen had to do was throw cleaned fish that were unsuitable for sale into the boiling water. After 20 minutes of cooking, the resulting stock was poured piping hot over croutons of stale bread rubbed with garlic. This tradition is called "turning over the croutons." Then, the fish were shared and eaten with rouille or aioli. This was the fishermen’s bouillabaisse. Later on, this simple dish was adapted by the cooks of the establishment who wanted to improve this dish that they considered too rustic for their tastes. They decided to replace the seawater with fish stock. They easily found small rock fish that were already being used to make "soupe de roches." And after boiling this rock fish stock, they added the normal bouillabaisse fish, just as the fishermen did. And voilà, the "bouillabaisse riche" or "bouillabaisse marseillaise" that we enjoy to this day was born.
In order to prevent the creation of bouillabaisse imitations, a charter was introduced in 1980. It determines the exact recipe, the fish to be used, and the special way in which it is to be served. Rule number 1: the fish must be presented whole on the dish and must be boned and cut in front of the customer.
In Avignon, chef Christian Etienne recommends tasting "Daube Avignonnaise" (lamb stew). He even gives you his recipe at www.christian-etienne.fr.
The most famous specialties are aïoli garni, bouillabaisse, codfish brandade, daube à la provençale, pumpkin gratin, panisse (fried chickpea cakes), pissaladière, ratatouille niçoise, rouille, salade niçoise, soupe au pistou (soup with basil and garlic), tapenade, sauté of veal aux olives, tians de légumes (vegetable gratin), and calissons d'Aix en Provence (almond candies).
Cheeses to enjoy here include Banon, faisselle, and Poivre d'Âne.
Wines and Spirits:
The AOCs from this region are Bandol, Baux-de-Provence, Bellet, Cassis, Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence, Coteaux de Pierrevert, Coteaux Varois, Côtes de Provence (80% of the production), and Palette.
Marsanne, Clairette, Ugni Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Bourboulenc Blanc
Bouillabaisse (serves 4)
Preparation Time: 1 ½ hours
Cooking Time: 1 ½ hours
- 4 scorpion fish, scaled and cleaned
- 4 weever fish, scaled and cleaned
- 4 slices of conger eel
- 1 2-pound (1 kg) St. Pierre (John Dory) fish
- 6 potatoes
- 20 slices baguette
- 1 garlic clove
- salt, pepper
For the fish base:
- 2 pounds (1 kg) rock fish
- 2 leeks
- 2 onions
- 1 head of garlic
- 6 sprigs of parsley
- 6 sprigs of fennel
- 4 tomatoes
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 piece orange peel
- 1 Cayenne pepper
- 2 dashes of saffron powder
- Do not scale the rock fish. Rinse them and clean the largest ones. Wash the leeks and cut them coarsely. Peel, wash, and chop the onions. Peel and crush the garlic cloves. Wash and dry the parsley and fennel. Crush the tomatoes.
- In a cooking pot over low heat, brown the vegetables with the olive oil, bay leaves, orange peel and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes. Add the rock fish and season to taste. Allow everything to brown for 15 minutes and then add 3 quarts (3 liters) of boiling water. Simmer for another 10 minutes.
- Once removed from the heat, remove the sprigs of fennel and the orange peel. Put what remains through a food mill equipped with a coarse-texture grinding dish and then through a strainer. Add the saffron. Season to taste and set aside.
- Peel, wash, and cut the potatoes into large cubes. Cook them in a stewpot for 30 minutes in equal parts of fish base and water. Salt. Set aside.
- Make the aioli.
- Toast the baguette slices and rub them with a clove of garlic. Place them in a soup tureen.
- Bring the rest of the fish base to a boil. Poach the fish in the base, starting with the firm fish, and let them cook over low heat for 6 to 10 minutes. Arrange the potatoes on a large dish and place the fish on top.
- Pour the bouillabaisse in the tureen over the croutons. Accompany with aioli served in the mortar in which it was prepared.