This region is a rising star in the culinary world. The term Provencal refers to foods cooked in the style of this region. Vastly different from the northern France regions where dairy fat, animal fat, butter, cream and cheese are incorporated into most dishes. The heavier foods from the north is what most Americans equate with French dining. Lucky for us, chefs are becoming inspired by southern France. Lucky because olive oil, fresh herbs, vegetables, and seafood are mainstays in the Provencal diet. This means healthier cuisine.
Provence has a large coastline and borders Italy. The style of food and choice of fats looks like what you would find in Italy. Tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, all types of fish and seafood including sardines, anchovies, shellfish, and crustaceans are staples in the diet here. Olive trees scatter across the region. They are used to produce many types of olives for curing, canning, and oils. You also find basil, fennel, and garlic as aromatic ingredients in this cuisine.
Numerous herbs grow here and are Provence is known for large fields of lavender that grow throughout the region. Herbs de Provenceis a dried herb blend you can buy in the store that may contain as many as 10 or 15 different herbs, lavender included. This blend is used in many ways, but my favorite is for roasting chicken (delicious!).
Another signature Provencal ingredient is saffron. These deep red or orange threads are powerful and used only in small doses. Saffron adds a wonderful color and aroma to soups, rice and pasta. A bouillabaisse, a signature fish stew from the region, would not be true Provencal style without saffron.
Provence is also the origin of the mesclun mix. This blend of salad greens and herbs started by the French of Provence going into the fields and picking whatever edible greens and herbs were growing. Lucky for us, its popularity has increased the nutritional value of salads around the U.S. – goodbye iceberg!
Provence is to thank for many wonderful, delicious, and healthy foods. The next time you are shopping for a French restaurant, look for one that serves true Provencal style food. You can feel happy that you have made a more healthy choice.