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Easy Meals From Provence

Few countries celebrate spring's first crop of vegetables more enthusiastically than France. This reason alone is why acclaimed cooking instructor and food writer Patricia Wells finds living in Provence an enchanting experience.

In her ninth book, "The Provence Cookbook," Wells pulls together simple recipes from her Provence neighborhood and demonstrates how to prepare a few on The Early Show.

The following are her recipes:

Domaine St. Luc's Green Beans with Basil
Haricots Verts au Basilic Domaine St. Luc

Young, tender green beans and basil are a Provencal marriage made in heaven. The vibrant herb serves as a perfect foil for the herbal sweetness of fresh green beans. Serve this as a side vegetable dish or as a first course. It should be offered warm to best enhance the pungency of the herb. I have often enjoyed this energizing vegetable-herb dish at the hands of Elaine Cornillon, our winemaker's wife, in the village of La Beaume-de-Transit in the Drome Provencale.

Equipment:
A 6-quart pasta pot fitted with a colander.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup coarse sea salt
1 pound green beans, trimmed at both ends
1 cup fresh basil leaves, tightly packed, cut into a chiffonnade
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water.
  2. Fill the pasta pot with about 5 quarts of water and bring to a boil over the high heat. Add the coarse sea salt and the beans, and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. (Cooking time with vary, according to the size and tenderness of the beans.) Immediately remove the colander from the water, allow the water to drain from the beans, and plunge the colander with the beans into the ice water so they cool down as quickly as possible. (The beans will cool in 1 to 2 minutes. If you leave them longer, they will become soggy and begin to lose flavor.) Drain the beans and wrap them in a thick towel to dry. (They beans can be cooked up to 4 hours in advance. Keep them wrapped in the towel and refrigerate, if desired.)
  3. At serving time, place the beans in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the basil and the oil. Warm the mixture, tossing to coat the beans, 1 to 2 minutes. Season to taste. Serve warm.

8 Servings

Chanteduc Rainbow Olive Collection
Camaieu d' Olives de Chanteduc

The olive vendors at our outdoor markets in Provence offer an extravagant collection of olives in all colors and sizes, with an endless variety of flavorings. There are miniature black olives from Nice, our own wrinkled black Tanche olives from Nyons, the famed cracked olives from Maussane-les-Alpilles, flavored with wild fennel, and colossal green olives from Greece, as well as mixtures seasoned with hot pepper flakes, paired with plumped dried fava beans, or stirred with golden bits of preserved lemons. I make my own mixture, combining many varieties, then boosting the flavor and color even more by adding bay leaves, lemon or orange rind, hot peppers, and fennel seeds. The combinations are endless, so use this recipe as a simple jumping-off point for your own rainbow collection.

Ingredients:
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup best-quality red wine vinegar
30 fresh bay leaves
5 plump cloves garlic, peeled, green germs removed, thinly sliced
Wide strips of rind from 2 lemons or 2 oranges, preferably organic
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
4 cups olives, preferably a mix of French brine-cured black olives, green Picholines in fennel, green pimiento-stuffed olives, and tiny black Nicoise olives

  1. In a large saucepan, combine the oil, vinegar, bay leaves, and garlic. Heat over low heat just until warm. Remove from the heat and add the lemon or orange rinds and the red pepper flakes. Add the olives and toss to coat them with the liquid. Transfer to a large airtight container.
  2. Refrigerate - shaking the container regularly to redistribute the liquid - for at least 2 hours and up to 2 weeks.

4 Cups of Olives

Nicoise Figs Stuffed with Fennel Seeds and Walnuts
Figues Seches Farcies aux Noix et aux Graines de Fenouil

Years ago in a little shop in Nice I found these tasty stuffed figs. Their version consisted of delicious dried figs stuffed with fennel seeds and walnuts, then wrapped in fig leaves. My version is a bit simpler: I merely slice the figs partway open, stuff them with a freshly cracked walnut and a few fennel seeds, then press them closed. I layer them in a large canning jar with fresh bay leaves tucked between the figs. They are delicious as an instant appetizer with a glass of Beaumes-de-Venise, as a touch of fruit to serve with the cheese course, or as a quick and simple dessert.

Equipment:
A 1-quart airtight container

Ingredients:
24 dried figs
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
24 freshly cracked walnut halves
24 bay leaves, preferably fresh

  1. Halve each fig, leaving the fruit still attached at the bottom. Stuff each fig with a few fennel seeds and a walnut half. Press each fig closed. In a 1-quart container, layer the figs and the bay leaves. Cover securely and let cure for at least 1 week before serving. The figs will keep, stored in the airtight container, for several months.
  2. To serve, arrange the bay leaves on a platter and place the figs on top. The bay leaves are for decoration and should not be consumed.

24 stuffed figs

Six Minute Salmon Braised in Viognier
Saumon Braise au Viognier

One day, Elaine Berenger - who runs our village fish shop with her husband, Aymar - suggested braising salmon in a tiny bit of water. I had some opened wine on hand and decided to braise the salmon with one of my favorite whites, one from the Viognier grape. It is a bit of a luxury, I admit, but the wine does impart a touch of fruit that I love. I transplanted some wild fennel from the roadside into my vegetable garden and use it with abandon. The heady fragrance of the fennel seems right at home here with the wine and the salmon. If you don't have fennel branches, wild or domestic, substitute sprigs of fresh rosemary. I like to serve the fish with a touch of pistachio or toasted sesame oil, and olives from my home-cured collection.

Equipment:
A tweezers; a large skillet with a lid.

Ingredients:
2 pounds fresh salmon fillet, skin intact
2 cups Viognier wine or other white wine (or substitute water)
Several branches wild or domestic fennel (or substitute sprigs of fresh rosemary)
Several drops of pistachio oil or toasted sesame oil
Fleu del sel
Fennel fronds (or minced rosemary leaves), for garnish
16 olives from Chanteduc Rainbow Olives Collection (or substitute pitted green olives)** see below

  1. Run your fingers over the top of the salmon fillet to detect any tiny bones that remain. Use the tweezers to remove the bones. Cut the salmon into four even 8-ounce portions.
  2. In the skillet, bring the wine to a boil over high heat. Reduce by half. Reduce the heat to a simmer, add the fennel or rosemary branches, and place the fish on top of the herbs. Cover and simmer gently until the fish is cooked through, about 6 minutes. Carefully transfer the fish to warmed dinner plates. Drizzle with pistachio oil and fleur del sel. Garnish with fennel fronds and olives. Serve.

4 servings

Chanteduc Rainbow Olive Collection

Ingredients:
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup best quality red wine vinegar
30 fresh bay leaves
5 plump cloves garlic, peeled, green germs removed, thinly sliced
Wide strips of rind from 2 lemons or 2 oranges, preferably organic
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
4 cups olives, preferably a mix of French brine cured black olives, green Picholines in fennel, green pimiento-stuffed olives, and tiny black Nicoise olives

  1. In a large saucepan, combine the oil, vinegar, bay leaves and garlic. Heat over low heat just until warm.
  2. Remove from the head and add the lemon or orange rinds and the red pepper flakes. Add the olives and toss to coat them with the liquid. Transfer to a large airtight container. Refrigerate - shaking the container regularly to redistribute the liquid - for at least 2 hours and up to 2 weeks.

4 Cups Olives

Cold Cavaillon Melon Soup with Beaumes-de-Venise and Buttermilk Sorbet
Soupe de Melon de Cavaillon au Beaumes-de-Venise et Sorbet au Lait Fermente

From early spring through late summer, ripe and fragrant Cavaillon melons fill the markets of Provence. There is always one (or more) in my refrigerator, ready to serve as a breakfast treat, a snack, or for making this quick and satisfying dessert. I love to serve it with a scoop of Buttermilk Sorbet, for the color contrast is astonishing and the flavor contrast just stunning. We have lemon balm, or melisse, growing wild all over the farm, so this is one place to put that mint-family herb to use as a festive garnish.

Equipment:
A food processor or blender

Ingredients:
1 perfectly ripe cantaloupe (about 2 pounds)
1/4 cup Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise or other sweet white wine
Several sprigs fresh lemon balm or fresh mint
8 scoops Buttermilk Sorbet (Recipe follows)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon balm leaves or mint leaves, cut into a chiffonnade

  1. Halve and seed the melon. Cut the melon into slices, peel, and cut into cubes. Places the cubes of melon in a food processor or blender, and blend until totally smooth. Add the wine and blend again. Transfer to a bowl. Cover securely and refrigerate until serving time. (The soup can be made up to 8 hours in advance.)
  2. At serving time, stir the soup to blend again. Pour into eight chilled, shallow soup bowls. Place a small scoop of sorbet in the center of each bowl. Garnish with the chiffonnade of fresh lemon balm or mint.

Eight 1/2 cup Servings

Buttermilk Sorbet

Equipment:
An ice-cream maker

Ingredients:
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 cups buttermilk, shaken to blend

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the lemon juice, sugar, and corn syrup. Simmer over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Cool to room temperature.
  2. Combine the lemon syrup and the buttermilk, and stir to blend. Chill thoroughly. Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.

10 to 12 Servings
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