Everything is Beautiful at the Marche
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Saturday at the marché in Arles, I was reminded once again why I had wanted to make this town our home base during our vacation in Provence. We are staying, instead, in Avignon. Avignon is beautiful and we have a chic (and affordable) apartment inside the walled city. No problem there.
But the Saturday market in Arles is my favorite, and all the fabulous food stalls beckon, making me want to go home and cook. I kept humming the song from A Chorus Line...Everything is beautiful at the (instead of ballet) marché. Because everything IS beautiful, from the most gorgeous fruits and vegetables, to the luscious cheeses, the crusty breads and flaky pastries, the meats and seafood, the herbs and spices, the honey...
And everything is artfully arranged, with Provençal flair. Vendors are welcoming, offering tastes. And I want to buy everything.
Without an apartment close by, there was no point to purchasing meats or fish, since we had a day of sightseeing planned after our 8:30 a.m. market visit. So we just bought some strawberries, sweet Cavallion melons, artichokes to steam, two cheeses, olives, radishes to eat with Normandy butter and sea salt, bread and salad fixings. It was a simple and perfect after-the-market feast after a day of sightseeing, ending with dessert from the patisserie and accompanied by a Provençal rosé to round out our meal.
Yesterday, we were up early again to visit the Sunday market at L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Along with the Paris market at the Bastille, we have been to three big food markets this trip; we time our visits to towns around market day. We love to see the foodstuffs available, sample what we can and bring what is transportable home. Some of our purchases will find their way into the Special Fork sweepstakes prize.
We take the train to Paris tomorrow and leave for San Francisco on Wednesday I hope you've entered our "Sandy in France" sweepstakes on Facebook. The winner will get a sampling of the food gifts I've been buying along the way.
Whenever I come back from France, I bring home little insights about French style to adapt to my American table. Here are some thoughts:
- A simple first course we had at a modest restaurant on our way back from Aix-en-Provence consisted of a small handful of baby greens and the sweetest cherry tomatoes dressed lightly with a vinaigrette, set in one corner of a square plate with some charcuterie (sliced cold meats) arranged in the middle. Or that place can can be filled with a few slices of cold smoked salmon.
- Olives are a nice nibble before a meal. Toss together a mixture of olives in a variety of sizes and colors with good olive oil, herbes de Provence and red pepper cut in 1/2-inch dice. Let sit overnight in the fridge to marry the flavors.
- Cook in season -- this guarantees that the produce will be of the best quality and the prices will be at their most reasonable. White asparagus was bountiful in all the food markets we visited and consequently, on restaurant tables. We cooked some white asparagus in our apartment in Paris, too. Delicious!
- This tip is more about our situation and how not to waste food. One night, before we vacated our Paris apartment for Provence, I made us a salad of the remaining greens in our fridge, with tomatoes, shredded rotisserie chicken and chunks of stale baguette for a tasty bread salad. With some cheese and strawberries for dessert, it was a satisfying meal made from leftovers.
- Make your own vinaigrette instead of buying bottled dressings. If you go to a French supermarket, you'd be hard-pressed to find the variety of bottled dressings we have in America. Why would you buy salad dressing in a bottle when It's so easy to make your own and you can vary the proportions to suit your taste? Also, homemade is fresher and doesn't have emulsifiers and stabilizers. Whisk 1 part wine vinegar with a little dab of Dijon mustard. Whisk in 3 parts of oil, dribbling in a little oil at a time, to emulsify. Oil and water don't mix, but if you whisk, you can suspend the vinegar in the oil. In our apartment here in Avignon, we had no vinegar so I squeezed a few wedges of tangerine I had gotten at the market in Arles. It made for a milder, but still yummy dressing. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Optional add-ins: finely minced garlic, finely chopped shallots, chopped fresh herbs.
- It's all about quality. If you use high-quality produce and good olive oil, vinegars and other ingredients, you don't have to do much to make food taste wonderful. Nature does all the work. Use a good-quality finishing salt to balance flavors.
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