Provence food - Cuisine in France

Look at any market in Provence and the predominance of olives, garlic, onions and tomatoes will alert you to the main ingredients in a lot of Provence food. Provençal cuisine is heavily based on olive oil and there are literally hundreds of varieties ranging in colour from green to gold.

Olives were introduced to Provence 2,500 years ago by the ancient Greeks, and now they are used in all aspects of cookery from the aperitif - usually a pastis - to salads, sauces, pizzas, tarts and with capers in tapenade paste, which is spread on bread. The hearty daube Provençal stew also contains olives. Olive oil is mixed with garlic and basil to form pistou and in a garlic mayonnaise called aïoli that is served with hot and cold dishes, including morues pochée (poached salt cod and vegetables).

The local vegetables are tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, courgettes and onions, all of which go to make ratatouille. Anything termed à la Provençale is likely to include tomatoes and garlic. The courgette flowers do not go to waste, they are stuffed with either pistou or tomato sauce and served as fleurs de courgettes farcies.

Meat in Provence mainly comes from sheep, the best sort being agneau de Sisteron which is roasted with herbs and listed on menus as gigot d'agneau aux herbes.

Fish, however, is the most common flesh in Provence and anchovies, sea bream, sea bass, whiting, salt cod, freshwater trout and monkfish feature on all menus in various guises. Seafood is popular, and a large assiette de fruits de mer will consist of a mixture of langoustines, clams, sea urchins, oysters and spider crabs. Bouillabaisse is the region's fish soup and it involves cooking three kinds of fish or shellfish with onions, tomatoes, herbs such as bay leaves, saffron and thyme, then serving the rust-coloured liquid with toast and a spicy sauce known as rouille, which is either spread on the toast or mixed straight into the soup.

Cheese is mainly goat's or ewe's milk cheese in Provence, two examples of which are Picadon from the Alpine foothills, and Banon which is wrapped in chestnut leaves and marinated in brandy.

Provençal honey is often scented with lavender, which grows on the central plateaux of Provence along with almonds. All kinds of fruit are served for dessert, from melons to figs, and chocolate, candied fruit or Montélimar nougat are notable regional sweets.

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