France is home to the concept of terroir – the taste of a specific place – the combination of geography and season, history and culture, tradition and food that give each region it’s unique specialities. Chef Chantal Véchambre combines her study of the history of French cuisine with decades of experience in the kitchen to offer this third installment in a series exploring regional French cuisine.
Tonight’s dinner is based in Provençe, a region in the South of France along the Mediterranean. Regional specialties include many seafood dishes from the bounteous sea, olive oil, summer vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, and the famous Herbes de Provençe (savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme & oregano, with regional variations) that thrive in the sunny, dry climate. The special Fleur du Sel of the Camargue salt marshes are the classic finishing touch.
A galette (flat, open-face tart not unlike a pizza) garnished generously with onions caramelized in olive oil, topped with anchovies and black olives. This dish is popular in Nice and Eastwards along the Cote d’Azure, showing the influence of nearby Italy.
Soupe au Pistou
This iconic soup recalls the old Pagnol movies depicting life in rural Provençe. The recipe has evolved with time and each family has its own version. The typical ingredients would include green beans, white beans, small pastas, tomatoes and garlic, finished with basil and garlic crushed with a pestle (pistou means “pounded” in the Provençal dialect) — clearly the French cousin of the Genoese pesto. Colorful and robust, you can find all the flavours of Provence in this classic dish.
Brandade de Morue
Fresh cod fish is gently cooked with bay leaf, then blended with fruity olive oil, garlic and herbs, combined with puréed potatoes and cream, and baked to golden crust. Rustic French country cooking at it finest.
Probably Provençe’s most well-known dish, ratatouille is a classic stew of summer vegetables: onions, eggplants, zucchini, pepper bell, with plenty of garlic and herbes of course.
Nougat is a traditional Provençal dessert made with honey, candied and dried fruit and roasted nuts, often eaten at the end of Chrismas supper. In hot days of summer, the fresh meringue can be frozen, similar to the Italiian semi-freddo, scented with gorgeous aroma of the region’s famous lavender.
Chantal Véchambre, originally from Paris, is a chef certified in both French cuisine and pastry-chocolate. In 2005 she moved to New Brunswick where she began her own business as caterer. Her independent research in culinary history led her to the Fortress of Louisbourg (Nova Scotia), a National Historic Site of Canada, where she developed new recipes for the site’s restaurant, and culinary workshops to the public, inspired by the 18th century recipes. She wrote the award-winning book French Taste in Atlantic Canada, 1604-1758, A gastronomic history (CBU Press), featuring ingredients and recipes of the colonial period. Now established in Toronto, she pursues food writing and cooking ventures about French cuisine: supper clubs, events, private and corporate catering, as well as ongoing research into Canadian and French culinary history.
Every weekend The Depanneur invites an amateur or professional guest chef to host a fun, informal dinner party.