Thursday, September 24, 2015

Le Bistrot du Paradou

Le Bistrot du Paradou is as authentic as possible when it comes to a real French bistro. Located in the small and idyllic village of Paradou, it’s about a 15 minute drive from Saint-Remy-de-Provence and well within driving distance from Arles or Avignon. Another reason to visit is it's one of cookbook author Patricia Wells’ favorite bistros. Patricia Wells is well known throughout Provence and divides her time between Paris and her lovely farmhouse and cooking school in the Var department of Provence.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This quintessential French bistro is an institution that is loved and adored not only by the locals but also the international set and tourists that are “in the know.” Even though Le Bistrot du Paradou has been discovered, it feels about as far from a tourist trap as anything could possibly be. Case in point, the two couples seated next to us were from Dubai and Scotland and were spending a long weekend in their second home in nearby Saint-Remy.

The atmosphere in the bistro oozes with character and old world charm, the generous servings of fabulous food, wine, and cheese, all served in a leisurely fashion, never disappoint. You can tell by the pictures that it is a warm and friendly bistro. Dejeuner (lunch) is 49 euros per person and includes wine, dessert, and coffee.

As you can see, each day of the week features a set menu with specialties of the area, such as aioli, lamb, lapin (rabbit) and Breese chickens. We wisely called a couple of weeks in advance for a reservation for Tuesday, the day their wonderful local lamb, Agneau de Pays, is on the menu. Local lamb is also one of the most popular dishes in Provence. We had house guests and didn’t not want them to visit Provence without having the pleasure of dining here. I can’t emphasize enough how essential it is to make advance reservations for this very popular bistro.

Here are examples of our meal.

Salade Italienne - Italian salad

Sauccisson lyonnaise aux Pistaches - Sausage with pistachios and lentil salad

Gigot d'Aneau - roasted lamb 

This is the cheese tray, which is passed from table to table after you make your selections. Can you imagine a more generous cheese course?

If you have room for dessert, they're all homemade at Le Bistrot du Paradou.

Mousse au chocolat

Creme caramel

Thanks for our friendly waiter, Meakin was able to have a peek in the kitchen. That’s the Chef in the green jacket that the waiter is kissing on the cheek.

Le Bistrot du Paradou
57 Avenue de la Vallée des Baux
13520 Paradou, France
+33 4 90 54 32 70
Reservations are essential
A "do-not-miss" experience when you're in Provence
Highly recommended - you'll thank me for this one
The bistro doesn’t have a website, but you can find them on Facebook 

Although it was very tempting to take a leisurely drive through the countryside after this splendid meal and retire to our house for a nap, we wanted to introduce our guests to the Moulin Jean Marie Cornille, an olive oil mill dating back to 1610 in the nearby tiny village of Maussane-les-Alphilles. Most olive oils are pressed from a single variety of olives, but here they are pressed from a variety of olives. Patricia Wells calls Jean Marie Cornille’s olives oils “the Chateauneuf-du-Pape of olive oils.” I don’t know how you could get a higher recommendation.

While browsing and tasting their various olive oils in Cornille boutique, we purchased two bottles of olive oil for our French kitchen to use in vinaigrettes and also for dipping pieces of crusty French bread. One was a virgin black olive oil that uses only black (ripe) olives with a fruity flavor that was reminiscent of cooked artichokes. The other bottle was a green extra virgin olive oil that was also fruity with undertones of fresh almonds, grapefruit, and fresh artichokes. Meakin had a peek inside the 17th century mill and here is a close-up photo of one of the granite stone wheels that they use to press the olives on arrival at their mill.

Olive harvest time begins at the end of October and lasts until the end of December. For more about olives and how they are grown, click here. For more about how the olives are harvested and pressed, I think you’ll enjoy this informative video, link here. You’ll see the special combs and nets that are used to harvest the olives and the plastic crates that are used for transporting the olives to the mill, along with interesting photos of how the huge granite wheels such as the above press the olives to produce the oil.  

Moulin Jean Marie Cornille
Rue Charloun Rieu
13520 Maussane les Alpilles
+33 (0)4 90 54 32 37
Highly recommended if in the area

I was anxious to try Le Bistrot du Paradou’s lentil and sausage salad that they served as an entree (appetizer) at home. It satisfied me as a light dinner or also makes a nice beginning to a French meal. They used a Lyon sausage with pistachios, which I couldn’t find, so I substituted garlic sausage that gave the look and feel of what I was after to the dish. It’s important to use French green lentils because they have a nutty flavor and don’t fall apart as ordinary supermarket lentils tend to do. Just be sure not to overcook the lentils and you’ll be fine.

French Lentil Salad with Garlic Sausage
From My Carolina Kitchen, serves 4
Printable Recipe

1 cup French green lentils
4 ½ cups cold water
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium peeled onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot (or 2 small ones), peeled & finely chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, more to taste
14 to 16 ounces fully cooked garlic sausage
4 fresh sprigs of parsley for garnish, optional

In a heavy 2 quart saucepan or stockpot, bring lentils and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender but not falling apart. This will take between 12 and 25 minutes. Taste as you go along for doneness.

While the lentils simmer, heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in a non-stick sauté pan over moderate to low heat, then cook onions, carrots and fennel seeds, covered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender but not browned, about 10 minutes, then add a bit of kosher salt to taste.

Meanwhile slice the garlic sausage into ¼” slices. Heat sausages over low heat, taking care that they do not brown. You want them just to heat through.

To serve, place a good size spoonful of lentils in the center of 4 plates and arrange 4 slices of the garlic sausages around the lentils. Drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil if you wish and serve right away, garnished with a sprig of fresh parsley if desired.

I haven’t had a chance to roast a lamb since we’ve returned, but had I, I would have definitely chosen this recipe from Patricia Well’s Bistro Cooking. We have used this recipe for lamb on numerous occasions and it has never failed us.

Roasted Leg of Lamb
Gigot roti au gratin de Monsieur Henny, serves 8 to 10
Adapted from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells
Printable Recipe

1 boneless leg of lamb, about 6 to 7 pounds
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced into very thin slivers
2 pounds of baking potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced
5 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T chopped fresh thyme
2/3 cup dry white wine
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 400F. Arrange the vegetables as follows: first a layer of the potatoes, then the onions, followed by the tomatoes. Season each layer with one third of the garlic and thyme plus some salt and pepper. Pour the wine over the vegetables, followed by the olive oil.

Trim the leg of lamb if it’s fatty. Season liberally with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the fresh chopped rosemary. Place a rack over the vegetables to hold the lamb. Roast, uncovered, for about an hour and fifteen minutes, turning the lamb every 15 minutes and basting it with some of the liquid underneath.  For rare to medium rare, remove the lamb from the oven when it reaches 125 degrees for rare and 130 for medium rare. Tent the lamb with foil and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes to rest. Slice and serve alongside the vegetables.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.
Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

La Cantina Italian Pizzeria, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

La Cantina in Saint- Rémy-de-Provence quickly became one of our favorite restaurants during our recent visit to Provence. We had gotten to know and like the  owners, Claude and Dana, on our trip several years ago when they owned Bistro Decouverte. Friends had told us that not long after we saw them then that they sold their very successful bistro and opened an Italian pizzeria across the street and finding them was one of our first priorities. We quickly became regulars at La Cantina and dined there for lunch or dinner at least once a week, often more. I loved it that they put VIP by our name on the reservations list.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that not only does La Cantina make the best pizza in all of Saint-Rémy, but we thought it was the best pizza we had ever tasted. Our favorite on the menu was the Pizza Margherita shown above and consists of tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and beautiful fresh basil leaves. La Cantina’s dough is made from Italian flour and yeast, ferments for a minimum of 48 hours, then spread by hand to bring that nice crunch everyone loves to the pizza. More about their dough here on their website. Another secret to the success of their pizza is they have two new professional pizza ovens from OEM Optymo Concepts - the very first ones to be installed in France. Read more about these ovens here on La Cantina's Facebook page.

The pizza arrives at your table with a fabulous arugula salad, also called a rocket salad in France. The salad was served in a bowl family style along with a crusty baguette.

The arugula was dressed in a simple balsamic vinaigrette and topped with a very generous serving of shaved Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

If you prefer a more substantial salad, we recommend their rocket salad accompanied by asparagus spears dressed with a creamy Parmesan cheese sauce.

La Cantina also has a nice selection of specialty salads and antipasti. We invited author and blogger Vicki Archer of French Essence to lunch at La Cantina while we were there and her favorite salad is La Cantina’s “La Grande,” shown above. It consists of rocket, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, bresole, mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. La Cantina is also one of Vicki’s favorite restaurants and she and her family dine there often and know Claude and Dana well.

La Cantina’s affogato was one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Affogato is one of my all time favorites and I order it every time I see it on a menu. It is an Italian coffee based beverage and makes a great ending to a rich meal. There are only 2 ingredients in an affogato – hot espresso and cold vanilla gelato. The combination of these two simple ingredients creates the most delicious cup of coffee you’ve ever had.

Claude has a rich history with wine and food and was named “Sommelier of the Year” in London in 1999. He has worked with other food greats such as Joel Robuchon and Marco Pierce White. We highly recommended that when dining at La Cantina you allow Claude to choose your wine. You will definitely not be disappointed with his choice.

The day of the running of the sheep, the Fête de la Transhumance, we arrived in Saint-Rémy very early and promptly went to La Cantina to reserve one of their outside tables by the street. Claude graciously arranged a reservation for us to sit as close to the street as possible and put a “reserved” card on our table. I'm the blonde at the middle table. You can see how close our table was to the street.

The Fête de la Transhumance in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is without a doubt the most famous festival in the south of France. Transhumance brings back to life the day the shepherds move their sheep to the mountains for the summer. It is a traditional and moving fête dear to the hearts of the Provençal people. Read more about it here.

The sheep are marched through the center of the village and what a thrill to see. It was so exciting to sit so close to the sheep as they ran by. We were actually able to reach out a touch a couple and were surprised their coats were not as soft as they looked. I’ll have more about this festival in another post.

While the sheep and shepherds passed by right in front of our eyes, we shared La Cantina’s delicious antipasto plate. Merci beaucoup to Claude for reserving these ring side seats for us.

Whatever you do, if you are anywhere near in Saint- Rémy-de-Provence, do not miss a chance to dine at La Cantina. I can’t recommend it highly enough and I am positive that you won’t be disappointed.

La Cantina
"The best pizzeria in Provence"
18 Boulevard Victor Hugo
13210 Saint-Rémy-de Provence, France
04 90 90 90 60 
Closed Mondays
Reservations recommended
Website & Facebook page

I know some of you are hoping for or expecting recipes. As much as I enjoy visiting with professionals about what makes their food so good, I am not comfortable asking them for their recipes. Sorry, I’m just not. But the good news is that I've tried my own versions of some of these recipes and I’ll share what I’ve found with you.

I’ve made the arugula salad frequently since we’ve returned. I take handfuls of fresh baby arugula and dress it with a vinaigrette composed of 1 part best-quality aged balsamic vinegar to 3 parts extra-virgin olive oil, add a good sprinkle of French sea salt to the vinaigrette, then top the dressed salad with lots of  freshly shaved Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, the best quality I could find. Claude didn’t skimp on the cheese and neither did I.

I did ask Claude about his sauce for the asparagus and he said it was just cream and Parmesan. I found several Parmesan cheese cream sauces on the web and the one here tastes similar to his. My recipe for preparing poached asparagus can be found here. We served the asparagus as an accompaniment to a steak the other night. Right before it was served I sprinkled a dusting of bright red Aleppo pepper flakes over the cream sauce to add a touch of color and a peppery flavor. It was delicious.

Photo from Bialetti's website

Regarding the affogato, it’s a breeze to make at home, although mine never turns out as pretty as Claude’s. I did find that the espresso they serve in France was out-of-this-world fabulous and so is French gelato. I haven’t been able to duplicate either here. To make affogoto, simply brew some espresso, and for every scoop of gelato, top it with about 1 ounce of hot espresso. I use a Bialetti Moka Express pot like the one above. They’ve been making these little pots since 1933. An Italian neighbor once shared her secret espresso many years ago.  Now, just like she did, before brewing my espresso I sprinkle the coffee with a pinch or two of sugar and anise seeds before I brew it to give the coffee a hint of anise flavor. For a perfect affogato, it’s best to brew your espresso just before serving it so everything is as fresh as possible. I’ve also read to chill your glass and make sure the gelato is very, very cold and I think that would keep the gelato from melting right away, which mine has the tendency to do. I don’t know what Claude’s secret was, but his gelato wasn’t melting when it was brought to the table.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.
Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Behind the Scenes in a French Bakery - Every Foodie's Dream

If you’re like we are, you’ve always dreamed of being able to go behind the scenes of a French bakery and patisserie to see what happens there. Well, today you are in for a real treat because that’s exactly what we are going to do. Actually it’s a double treat because this bakery is not only a boulangerie, but a patisserie as well.

This post is long, but honesty, how often do you get to go behind the scenes of a true French boulangerie & patisserie?  Don’t worry, it’s mostly pictures anyway, so grab a cup of coffee and sit back. My husband Meakin has arranged for us to experience the day-to-day activities that take place in actual French bakeries every day of the year throughout France.

So it’s all yours Meakin.

On our first morning in Maillane I set out on a mission – to find a bakery and get started on the right foot. I needed a baguette, a few croissants for breakfast, and something sweet for dessert for our first dinner in Provence. The bakery was only a four or five minute walk from our house and I was really looking forward to learning the layout of the town along the way. When I turned the first corner I saw the sign for the Fassy Bakery AND a man with a large tray of baguettes going “into” rather than “out of” the bakery. What is this all about?

I got my bread and things and then, trying not look like a CIA spy, I waited to see where this man would go when he finished his delivery. My sleuthing was rewarded after a few short minutes - the same man came out, crossed the street, and slipped into the very unassuming door in a building across the street with no sign.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

On the way home I walked quickly by the building and looked in. Here I found the baker for the bakery across the street and his support team. As it turned out, a very old bakery… 7 generations old.

Several days passed. I was on my way home from the bakery and, with a baguette tucked under my arm, I finally got around to sticking my head in the door. “Good morning, my name is Meakin. My wife Sam & I are staying here in your beautiful village for the next two months. May I come in?” (all in broken French that probably wouldn’t pass for 3rd grade, but was good enough to get things started). The owner, Jean Pascal (the man carrying the baguettes across the street on the tray and also below) looked up and said, “Oui. Bonjour Monsieur. Voulez-vous un café?” (would you like a coffee?) And that, as they say, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I spent many happy hours in the bakery, taking pictures and visiting with Jean Pascal and his wonderfully talented staff. My French got better and their English did as well. They all had taken English in school, but here in this small village there wasn’t much of a chance to practice it and they were reluctant to try. As our relationships grew, they grew more confident and tried what they called a very hard language. One of these great folks was Ralph (“Ralphie”.) He was younger and had the most beautiful English with the musical French tones. Later you will see a sequence of pictures where he walked me through all the steps involved as he turned out 200 perfect baguettes a day.

Here Jean Pascal is misting the dough. This misting process (a fine spray of water) helps promote that nice crunchy crust that we all love.

The tarts from the Fassy bakery were pieces of art both to the eyes and the taste buds. Blandina makes each one with tender love and care. While taste is the biggest test, we first start to enjoy food with our eyes and these were something to behold. As a side note, notice the flat of “Driscoll” raspberries (click photo to enlarge) on the work table. Most of Driscoll’s berries are grown in the USA, along with two farms in South America. When I commented on the beautiful berries, Jean Pascal got a box from the cooler and pointed with pride to this fruit flown all the way from the USA.

Every organization must have a “go to” employee and Anthony (Tony) above is just that. He is valuable beyond belief. Not only is he an artist with cakes and other sweet delights, he has a total knowledge of the entire business. When Jean Pascal and his beautiful family want a vacation, they can count on Tony to run the business with the same precision and care as JP. Truth be told, he is almost family.

In the next photos you can see a cake with the decorative lines on the icing for a special look. How in the world do they do that? Watching and asking questions, I found the trick. First you make a small pastry bag by rolling wax paper into a cone, cut the tip off, fill it with chocolate and you’re ready to “draw” lines on a cold plate. A cold plate is nothing more than a sheet of metal that has been in the freezer. When the chocolate lines are drawn on the plate, they harden and then you have nice lines of chocolate to decorate the cake.  This is not easy. Tony let me try…and I repeat. This is not easy.

On many occasions Tony would call me over, swipe his pastry knife through a cream or glaze, then wipe it on my finger and say “Ici essayer cette” (here try this). One of these tastings prompted the question, “What makes this so good?” Tony held up a big brown bottle and said with a huge grin, “rum.”

The birth of a baguette

Raphial (Ralphie) took me under his wing and, with beautiful English, walked me through the steps taken to make the perfect baguette.

Big powerful mixers combine full bags of flour with water and yeast. The mixing tub is so big that it has to be moved on casters to the next station.

Now it is divided for the first time and three big mounds are placed on the work bench.

The big pieces are divided by hand into smaller units and are weighed and trimmed or added to make just the right amount on the balance scale.

Finally these weighed portions are placed on a hydraulic press to be divided for the last time into individual baguette portions.

Not only does Ralphie knead two baguettes at a time, he actually carries on a conversation with me, telling me about his pastry final exam that he is going to take tomorrow… he passed with honors.

Here we see the master at the rolling machine giving each individual baguette his special touches for just the right finished look and size.

These finished baguettes were being delivered to the school for student lunches.

In this photo Jean Pascal is making a fougasse, a special type of Provencal bread. The fougasse is slashed or sculpted to resemble an ear of wheat. It is similar to an Italian focaccia. The Provence version often contains olives, cheese, and anchovies, which some say is a primitive form of pizza without the tomatoes. You’ll see photos of the finished product in cases in the boulangerie later in the post.

Here Jean Pascal is assembling a Pan Bagnat (pronounced pan banhat). It is a specialty sandwich from Nice that is very popular for lunch throughout Provence. Its name is derived from the local Provencal language and means a bathed/wet bread. The sandwich is based on the classic Salade Nicoise, a salad composed of raw vegetables, hard boiled eggs, anchovies and tuna. The bread is bathed in a French vinaigrette (never with mayonnaise). It’s normally made on a pain de campagne, a whole wheat bread formed in a circle, although I’ve seen a French baguette used. You’ll find Pan Bagnets sold in local bakeries and markets throughout Provence.

Now it’s afternoon and the end of the day. The guys are standing in the doorway, ready to go home and relax. The next day at 4 am they start all over again.

This is the Fassy store and Jean Pascal’s mom’s home is located above. They also own a newspaper and magazine shop, which is a part of their boulangerie & patisserie. Here are some photos from the inside of their store of their beautiful pastries and breads.

Sweet tarts, whole and individual servings, éclairs, French macaroons and below, small rectangular loaves of dense sweet breads in a variety of flavors – chocolate (my absolute favorite), orange, fruit confits and lemon.  Many a night we had a slice of this delicious rich chocolate bread with a couple of fresh strawberries as our dessert - what a treat.

More éclairs, Opéra gateau (layers of coffee flavored butter cream, thin slices of syrup-soaked cake & a ganache are all covered in a smooth, dark chocolate glaze – devastatingly rich – a chocolate lover’s dream),  millefeuille  (layers of flaky puff pastry are sandwiched with vanilla custard to make the rectangular millefeuille) and other tarts and sweet treats.

Tuilles, thin sweet and crispy cookies named for French tuilles (tiles) that line the rooftops of French country homes in Provence. Crispy and delicious, these are sold by the gram.

Several savory loaves of fougasse, some with goat cheese, Roquefort cheese, ham and mushrooms, chorizo, and anchovies, a pizza with mushrooms, a couple of savory Roule sandwiches, one with cheese and one with sausage, a quiche and a croquet monsieur (a French baked or fried ham and cheese sandwich topped with grated cheese).

Fougasse, this time sweet with orange and chocolate, brioche with pralines, the Pan Bagnet sandwiches that we saw Jean Pascal making above (a favorite lunch for people on-the-go in Provence). In the front row are a pissaladière (an onion and anchovy tart) and various pizzas, some with anchovies, or mozzarella, Gruyere cheese, ham or mushrooms. On mornings when we planned a road trip and would be away all day, often we brought a couple of these wonderful pizzas home with us to serve as an easy dinner  that day.

A same sweet fougasse flavored with orange flower water and dusted with confectioner’s sugar, a brioche Modane (a cousin of pannatone), croissants with almonds, a crispy palmier (often called an elephant ear due to its shape – they are wonderful for breakfast), and other sweet French treats with almonds and chocolate.

Lots of baguettes and different various French breads.

Jean Pascal Fassy with his mother in their shop.

Merci beaucoup today to Jean Pascal and his great staff for the opportunity to be a “fly on the wall.” Thank you for sharing your morning with us so we could see what actually goes on behind the scene in a real French boulangerie / patisserie.

A last thought…this experience was unusual to say the least. Out of this story came friendships that will last both of us for a very long time. We were invited to Jean Pascal’s house for aperitifs with his beautiful wife Nathalie and we had them to our home for a quiet dinner. Nathalie’s English was very limited, but because we wanted to, we found a way to “talk” with our broken French, sign language, a shrug of the shoulders, or just a nod of the head and a smile. The warmth can be demonstrated further by the sweet way Jean Pascal would say, “This is for Sam” when he handed me a small bag to take home when I stopped by for our baguette. When I peeked in the paper bag, there was something sweet he had chosen just for her. This he did several times a week.

Fassy Boulangerie / Pâtisserie / Presse
4 Cours Jeanne d’arc
13910 Maillane
+33 4 90 95 74 01

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.
Have a great weekend everyone.