“When the Good Lord comes to doubt about the world, he remembers that he created Provence.”
~ Frédéric Mistral ~
Even if it is a bit haughty (though French would wholeheartedly disagree with this word), I love this quote. Between the lines it portrays just how spectacular Provence is.
Olive woods climbing up the hills, lavender fields coloring the landscape purple, rustic and picturesque villages inviting to get lost within miniature streets are the common images of Provence, but what I love most is the feeling you get stepping out of the plane in Marseille.
Life here goes just a little bit slower, lunches are longer, meals are fuller, and the visit to your butcher is not a five-minute affair.
While most locals will always find something to complain about (French after all, complaining is embedded in the dna), people here are tranquil and dare I say focused on leisure.
My parents in law live in one of those charming villages just North of Marseille. On the way there, I am always swooned by the breathtaking scenery of rocks, hills, wineries and this time, almond trees in full bloom. And the light. Between the alps and the swaying fierce mistral, the light in the area is crisp clear and illuminating, taken, the sun is shining.
I was a little less fortunate this time, as rain was upon us for almost half of the stay, but it gave the opportunity to do some culinary exploring, such as tasting bouillabaisse at Le Rhul in Marseille.
Le Rhul was one of the key restaurants in the 80’s to develop the bouillabaisse charter. This charter defines the precise ingredients a real bouillabaisse should contain, which separates it from a other types of fish stews. There are quite a few restaurants who still offer bouillabaisse even though it’s not the real thing, so if you are ever in Marseille, it is wise to check them before (and make reservations).
Le Rhul itself sits on a hill with a view on a blue Mediterranean bay. It’s a breeze of the old style French restaurants with waiters buzzing around and deboning sole meuniere in front of you. And their bouillabaisse is just excellent.
It’s starts with a bib tied around the neck, for a trip to infancy I suppose, but it’s rather practical considering the amounts of saffron bouillabaisse contains, and the types of seafood to tackle.
If you are ever in Marseille, eating a bouillabaisse is an experience you should not miss
After coming back. I had some thoughts of recreating a full bouillabaisse to share with, but considering the scale of work (and ingredients) required I’ll wait for a more momentous occasion for it.
In the meanwhile, I have an ancient recipe to share: leeks braised in almond milk with rosewater and pinch of cinnamon. The humble leek can be seen everywhere and in a case you run out of creative ideas on how to use it, here’s one from the past, all the way from middle ages. Rosewater and almonds were popular and given their wide availability there is no reason not to try.
It’s perfectly great as a stand alone snack, but pair it with saffron roasted chicken and the you’ll have something pretty sensational on your hands.
- Pinch of saffron
- Pinch of salt
- 1 ½ tablespoon butter, softened
- 2 chicken legs
- freshly ground black pepper
- 4 garlic cloves, halved
- Almonds braised in almond rose milk
- 1 ¼ almond milk
- 1-2 teaspoons rosewater
- pinch of cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- freshly ground pepper
- 4 medium leeks, white parts only
- handful sliced almonds
- Preheat the oven to 180C/375F.
- Pound saffron with salt using mortar & pestle.
- Mix with butter, black pepper and rub the chicken legs all over.
- Place in a roasting dish, scatter garlic cloves and bake for 45-55 minutes.
- Halve the leaks lengthwise and arrange in single layer in a roasting dish.
- Combine rosewater, almond milk, cinnamon sugar, salt and pepper together (taste) and bring to light simmer.
- Pour over the almonds and place them in the oven along with the chicken legs when 35 minutes of baking time remain.
- The last 15 minutes of baking, scatter the almonds on top of leeks.
- Serve saffron chicken with leeks and pasta or rice if needed.