Spezialitäten meine Region...
The little bowl above contains probably one of the best known specialities from the South of France... Aïoli...! A relatively simple concoction, it's just a mayonnaise with a difference, normally pounded together with garlic.....lots and lots and lots of...Garlic.
It typifies the normal simplicity of local things - ideally using fresh local products and served with materials from the local production. In the case of aïoli, I keep a one liter bottle of good olive oil with hundreds of crushed fresh garlic cloves immersed in it. The perfume and taste of the garlic gets into the oil and makes it easier to make a smoother mayonnaise.
Of course I add more fresh garlic cloves, chopped or crushed or minced or puréed, but always raw. Some people put in Saffron, for taste and colour, but frankly the price of real Saffron makes it rather prohibitive. I do occasionally use the replacement, much cheaper rice colouring agents, which have a slight taste, but more for the colour.There are many varieties on this sauce, such as the popular "roux" served in particular with a fish soup which also contains both chunks of fish and whole fish, as in the famous Marseille "Bouillabaisse" which really only means "boiled fish soup", but it has nothing to do with British boiled fish.....I promise you!
Image via WikipediaNow this sauce can be used for a multitude of local specialities, but can also be used to accompagny simple baked or steamed potatoes, and give them a totally unique taste.
It's traditional usage is however for a dish named "Brandade" - unfortunately also now a little luxury in price. It is made from Salt cod, pounded together with yet more garlic, and served sometimes with mashed potatoes mixed in, rather like a "fisherman's pie". Served with this, the triangular croutons (fried or toasted) onto which more fresh garlic should be rubbed.....
"Brandade de Nîmes" is a well known finished product which is spread onto small biscuits or small toasted croutons and served with the Apéritif before the meal.
Of course, as you can see - it helps enormously if you like garlic....like every other dish from the Region, although - to be honest, the garlic isn't - strangely enough - over powering no matter how much one uses.
Other basic ingredients for regional dishes are of course the "Herbs de Provence", but they are not expensive, and can be used, either freshly chopped or even the dried ones ...liberally!Mustard and tomatoes, pureed or not also make up the essential ingredients, and naturally OLIVE OIL....!
All of the local vegetable go towards making a dish a local speciality, particularly aubergines, red and green peppers, pepperoni, courgettes and a multitude of other things, depending on the seasons.
A lot of these things are either not available in your Region, or are very expensive, so often you can replace them fresh by their tinned (conserved) version. The taste will not be as good, but not far off, and it will be different. A tip I would give is when using canned..tinned..conserved vegetables - always put a pinch of SUGAR into the cooking!
The sugar actually represents the sunshine, or rather the taste that vegetables develop when they're exposed to a lot of sunshine. This applies particularly to tomatoes. Try it - you'll be surprised.
Of course a touch of wine belongs to almost every regional dish, both in the cooking and in the glass...and indeed if you can access the range of "Balsamic vinegars" then you're up and running with an enormous advantage over others.
I'll keep coming back to this theme with ideas for you all, from starters to fish and meat to desserts....all from this area where the sun shines around 320 days a year....except in a leap year...!