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Monday, 30 January 2012

My Dream, About Provence and A Ragoût de Poullet Provençal - Chicken Stew (from the Provence region of France)

"Once you have heard the lark, known the swish of feet through hill-top grass and smelt the earth made ready for the seed, you are never again going to be fully happy about the cities and towns that man carries like a crippling weight upon his back." 
- Gwyn Thomas

I Have a dream...
One of my most favourite cuisines ever is Provençal cuisine. My fondness doesn't stop at that! I have a specific love - which I cannot explain - to that spot of earth! Very often - and recently more than ever - I find myself longing more and more for a life in a country house somewhere on Provence with a piece of garden where I get to grow my own herbs, trees and floral bushes... where I get to cook my take on that cuisine using its local produce, all in a woody and rustic country kitchen. You can say I have a dream! I would love to wake up to the herbal and floral Aromas of lavender and rosemary being brought together in holly matrimony to take part in the whole of the fragrant Provence. What can be better than sipping on fresh orange juice while looking out onto fields of colour and fresh produce? One day....

Come to think of it, growing up, I was always around flavours of Provence. Maybe because my family's business was in farming, or because back then when Jordan was more agricultural in nature, the produce was somewhat similar to that in Provence. From olive trees, to lavender, fennel, sage, rosemary to bay leaves... moving on to citrus fruits including the thick skinned citrus fruits, to grape trees, cherry trees, fig trees, plum trees, and apple trees... all were grown in Jordan and were all around us! I remember munching on their raw, natural goodness up until I moved to live abroad. Sadly, although Jordan still has a small agricultural side to it, it is nothing like it used to be! Today, it seems that - just like the trend is everywhere - trees have been replaced by buildings and touristic attractions! The simple joys have been replaced with adrenaline packed rides, water slides and urbanised landscape! For that reason, I dream up Provence, which is reminiscent of a good old time!

Until then, I can conjure up Provence in my kitchen, close my eyes and let the aromas bring about the dream. In my kitchen I am able to float away on clouds of a fragrant bouquet garni, to a much simpler life, to that of a dream. And this, you too can achieve. Be it Provence or any other dream, you can live it, even if shortly by cooking its cuisine. My recipe below 'Ragoût de Pullet Provençal' is one that always evokes provence. Ragoût is french for stew or 'slowly cooked'. The recipe is a stew of chicken and provençal vegetables and herbs. I have an adoration for the french Baguette and would always choose to serve ragoût with a baguette. However, this stew can also be served with rice, a side of pasta or over mash.

Ragoût de Poullet Provençal - 
a tomato based stew of carrots, fennel, garlic and  onion, aromatised with fresh rosemary, thyme, sage and bay leaf 

As ever, before jumping into the recipe, why not get to know
Provence is a vast region in South Eastern France, on the Mediterranean adjacent to Italy.  It is the countryside of France, very well known for its picturesque landscape with hues of pastel colours touched with the soft light of its favourable climate. Lavender purples, poppy reds, sunflower yellows and olive greens are but a handful of the array of colours naturally painting its hilly terrain. The fragrant and beautiful Provence can stimulate the imagination and creativity in ways that no other region can, so much so that it has inspired the great works of writers and artists the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald to Van Gogh and Picasso, who regularly turned to Provence for inspiration. Provence was also home for the great French artist Paul Cézanne. To him, the region is resonant with memory and emotion, his grounding and home, which lead to him concentrating much of his extraordinary pictorial talents there - creating from that landscape some of the most remarkable and original images in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century art.

Landscape Art of the Provence by Paul Cezanne 

The inspirational influence of the Provence region was not limited to arts and Literature, it has magnificently influenced French Cuisine, through its colourful gastronomy, which became known in Paris at the time of the French Revolution. Today, Provençal cooking continues to live on as an influential and undivided part of the French cuisine's heritage. It is also one of the world's most favourite cuisines. 
Painting of Provence Olive Trees and hilltop village
by French artist Jean-Marc 
Provençal cuisine is defined by the region's landscape and its generous offerings. In Provence, olive trees, fennel, sage, rosemary, thyme,  lavender, marjoram, bay laurel trees and garlic all grow naturally and are found in abundance. These races of produce are used in the region's cuisine as abundantly as they are found in its nature. Dishes a la Provençal are characterised by the presence of Tomato and lots of garlic and herbs amongst the other ingredients. The flavours of Provençal cooking are bold and robust, yet never heavy-handed. The ingredients are mixed together in a way to meld without any of them overpowering the other. Not even the use of lots and lots of garlic, which is characteristic of Provençal cooking, will make it stand out. It is truly a melting pot of flavours that are intermingled and balanced.

When it comes to the French specialty - Patisserie, then Provençal specialties include among others:
  • Biscuits, crisp cookies.
  • Calissons, a diamond-shaped sweet made with ground almond.
  • Bugnes,  sweet crispy pastry made out of dough that has been shaped into thin twisted ribbons, deep-fried and covered with icing sugar.
  • Pompe, a sweet cognate to focaccia. (part of the 13 desserts of Provençal Christmas, which are desserts made only on Christmas)
  • Souflee Cakes
  • Croissants with Pine Nuts....

More on  Provençal  Produce
Along the Mediterranean cost, anchovies are caught and usually cured with salt. this curing process not only preserves the anchovies, but also intensifies their flavour. Anchovies are strongly present in french country-side cooking. The Mediterranean cost also supplies a number of local fish and seafood. Found in the costal cuisine of Provence are trout, bleak, sea urchins, mussels, crabs, small cuttlefish, octopus, and small snails. Over there, people even have a snails festival, where the residents of a village get together on a late Sunday morning to savour snails in a variety of preparations.

When it comes to meats, the Provence is famous for its local Sisteron Lambs as well as goats for meats and from which they make a variety of local cheeses. The region is also famous for rabbit, which grows wild there. As for fruits and vegetables, the valleys of Rhone are the largest fruit and vegetable producing areas of France. There you will find abundance of apples, prunes, peaches, cherries, oranges, lemons and almonds, figs and of course grapes...etc.  One remarkable produce of this area is the truffle. Truffles are gathered in Tricastin (the main market: Carpentras). Another specialty produce is Lavender honey of vaucluse.
The Provence is also known for producing wines! Famous for Roses that pair well with the region's cuisine, while more and more Red wine varieties are being produced. Among the famous wines of the Provence are: Cotes de Provence, Coteaux d'Aix-en-provence, Cassis, Cinsaut, Grenache, Ugni Blanc, Semillon...etc.

Ragoût de Pullet Provençal
You Need
1 whole oven grilled chicken, pulled from the bone or 4 chicken breasts cooked and cut into thick chunks
1 cup reserved drippings from grilling the chicken or 1 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp Olive Oil
2 medium brown onions, finely chopped
10 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 packet new red potatoes, cut into chunks
4 large carrots, cut into chunks
2 bulbs of fennel, trimmed and sliced
500g tomatoes, peeled seeded and chopped
500g tomatoes, peeled and juiced
2 -3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp fennel seeds
3 springs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 spring fresh rosemary
1 spring fresh sage
salt & Black pepper to taste
Chives for garnish (optional)

In a large pot or casserole dish, heat the olive oil together with the finely chopped onion. Cook stirring occasionally until the onion is translucent but not browned. Add the garlic, carrots, potatoes, and fennel along with the herbs and stir to coat.

Add the chopped tomatoes and stir to mix. Let it cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a separate dish or large bowl, mix together the tomato paste and tomato juice, season and add the sugar. Add the drippings from grilling the chicken (if reserved any, if not use 1 cup chicken broth instead) stir all to mix. Pour over the stew vegetables and bring to a boil. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Once the mixture boils, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 2 hours, or until the vegetables are very tender. Before serving, add chicken pieces and let simmer in stew for 20 minutes further.

Garnish with chopped chives and serve hot. For best results, dunk a baguette into the ragoût and taste the goodness!


I find no better way to conclude this post than with these words by John Burroughs, which speak my mind:   "To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird's nest or a wildflower in spring - these are some of the rewards of the simple life."

Thank you for dropping by, hope you have enjoyed reading about my loved Provence, and learning about my dream :) Come back soon for more....