Provence style chicken (poulet à la provençale)

The region of Provence is a historical area of the South-east of France that extends from the city of Avignon to the Italian border. It is also where my father’s family is from. Dad was born in Salon-de-Provence from a Corsican father and a French-Italian mother and he grew up between Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. As a kid, I spent most of my summers there and will never forget the smells of Provence. The sun, the holidays, the sea, the swimming pool and the fun we had, yes, but mostly the smells.

You see, Provence has a very typical and recognisable landscape: the “garrigue” – pronounced [gah-REEG]. It is a landscape of low and rather dry bushes that grow in the limestone soils around the Mediterranean basin. In this landscape, and thanks to a moderate climate, grow the most amazing and fragrant herbs, trees and flowers: lavender, sage, rosemary, wild thyme, etc. Walking through the garrigue is literally like taking a stroll through a bouquet garni! When we were little and on holiday with our grand-mother, to wash our hands she would make us rub fresh sprigs of lavender and rosemary in our palms under a tap of running cold water. And still nowadays, when she drives around the countryside, she always has a basket and a pair of scissors in the car boot in case she spots fennel plants that will be perfect to accompany a fish dish!

Chicken “à la provençale” is a dish that brings together all that Provence has to offer: sun ripened tomatoes and peppers, fragrant rosemary, wild thyme, spicy “piment d’espelette”… Every time I cook it, I feel like I’m on a holiday in the sun. It is also incredibly quick and easy and therefore perfect for a mid-week quick fix!

Chicken provencale4

For 4 people.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 big chicken breasts
  • 3 ripe tomatoes
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 25 cl of creme fraiche
  • 1 (chicken) stock cube
  • butter
  • 2 shallots
  • fresh rosemary and whild thyme
  • 1 tsp of paprika
  • 1 pinch of espelette chili
  • salt and pepper to taste

METHOD

  • Season your chicken breasts on both sides with salt, pepper and paprika and cut into 1cm 1/2 cubes.
  • Melt butter in a heavy-bottom pan or skillet and cook your chicken until golden.
  • Then add in the tomatoes and peppers cut into big chunks, the thinly sliced shallots, the espelette and a stock cube, crumbled.
  • Cover with 1 litre of water, and drop 1 branch of rosemary and 1 branch of thyme (whole) on top of the preparation. Turn the hob to a low flame and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • After 15 minutes, take the chicken out of the sauce and keep warm.
  • Discard the rosemary and thyme branches; then add the creme fraiche to the sauce.
  • Bring to a boil until the sauce has reached a silky consistency.
  • Put the chicken back in and simmer for an extra 2-3 minutes.

Serve with white rice or – highly recommended! – fresh tagliatelles. And please no parmesan, we’re in French Provence, not in Italy 😉

Chicken provencale2

Classic lasagne

Sometimes, when it’s just the two of us, we just don’t feel like making any effort for Sunday dinner. This is when lasagne happens: easy to make, comforting, delicious… and even tastier the next day which can brighten a gloomy Monday! I know it’s oven-baked but in my books lasagne is just as good for cold winter nights as it is for summer late dinners.

I like to keep my lasagne simple and unfussy and let the white cheesy sauce speak for itself, this recipe is therefore very straight-forward. I like to think that it’s not too far from the original Italian recipe, but to be honest I have no idea: I’m just making it the way I saw my mum French-born-from-a-Spanish-mother do it… Let’s call it Mediterranean lasagne to be on the safe side and not offend any Italian friends 🙂

Oh… and I don’t make my own pasta. I never have, but it’s something I’ve had at the back of my mind for a while and will probably try some time soon.

Piping hot lasagne

For 6 servings, I use the below ingredients

  • Sheets of pre-cooked lasagne pasta (the exact number of sheets changes from a dish to another, but it’s roughly 6-8)

FOR THE LASAGNE BASE

  • 375 grams of minced beef
  • 1 big white onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp of tomato puree
  • 1 glass (30ml) of red wine
  • oregano
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

FOR THE WHITE SAUCE

  • 50 grams of flour
  • 50 grams of butter
  • 600 ml of milk
  • ground nutmeg
  • ground pepper
  • 60 grams of cheese, grated (I mix cheddar and parmesan, but I’m pretty sure my maman would have used grated gruyere and the Italians use only parmesan, so: to taste)

Golden brown lasagne

Pre-heat your oven to 200C. In the meantime, heat a little bit of olive oil in a hot and deep enough pan and cook the onion and garlic until soft and translucent. Place the mince in the pan and break it up completely. Season with a pinch of dried oregano (or/and bay leaf, rosemary, basil…) and the tomato puree. When the meat has started to brown, add the wine and tinned tomatoes and leave to simmer on a very gentle fire for 15-20 minutes.

You can then move on to making the white sauce. It is nothing more than a béchamel sauce with grated cheese (I love béchamel  if I had no shame I’d probably eat it with a spoon straight out of the pan).

Start by making a roux: melt the butter in a pan then add the flour and stir to create a paste. On gentle heat pour the milk little by little on that paste, always stirring to prevent lumps. Once the mix is smooth, you can add a little bit more milk and so on. When your sauce has reached the wanted consistency (thick, creamy, smooth), season with freshly ground nutmeg and pepper (I love looooads of pepper in my béchamel), then add the grated cheese off the heat.

Now you can mount your lasagne: spoon half of the meat mix at the bottom of a buttered oven-proof dish, then place a layer of pasta on top (careful not to overlap your sheets or you pasta will be thick and tough – break into them if needed) and pour in half of the white sauce. Start again for the 2nd layer: meat, pasta, white sauce. Grate some more parmesan on top of it all and bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

NB: sometimes, instead of grated parmesan, I like to place thin layers of mozzarella di buffala on top of the lasagne before baking. The added creaminess is to die for.

Tomato Basil Bread Pudding with Mozzarella

I recently discovered Lattes and Leggings and it has quickly become one of my favourite food blogs. Please check it out and enjoy 1) the amazingly inventive heathy recipes 2) the great photographs.

In particular, I had come across Jen’s ‘Tomato Basil Bread Pudding With Mozzarella‘ and thought it sounded like a perfect recipe for a lazy Sunday evening. This weekend’s high temperatures meant we spent most of our time sunbathing, gardening and wishing we had a swimming pool in the small garden of our Victorian conversion flat and I didn’t  feel like standing by a hot stove and oven for too long. It was therefore the perfect time for me to try it.

I am not going to re-write the recipe here, because Jen’s is just perfect. I did adapt it a little bit to our tastes and ingredients (like, I believe, you should never hesitate to do with other people’s recipes):

  • I used ‘regular’ tomatoes instead of grape tomatoes because that’s what I had in the kitchen; and since they were ripe and very tasty I don’t think it made much difference. Obviously, I cut them in 4 instead of halves.
  • I used white loaf instead of sourdough bread, because it was stale and I find there’s nothing better than stale bread to soak up yummy tomato juices and olive oil.
  • Finally, because I’m not familiar with American cups, and because I was too lazy to convert them, I did it all “au pif et a l’oeil” – which in French means “with my nose and eye”, I’m sure you know what I mean. The recipe is so simple and instinctive that with basic judgement it worked perfectly well.

Verdict: Delicious, easy, lazy, summery recipe. Highly recommended. Served with a fresh salad, it’s just the perfect combination of simple and tasty.

Tomato Basil Bread Pudding with Mozzarella

Tomato basil mozzarella bread pudding

Summer lights in London

Sit back and enjoy the summer farniente.