More than once, the deep, rich colors of the local pottery suckered me into a purchase. The reds displayed here glinted in the sunlight; the deep greens of mugs nearby were reminiscent of the pale grasses of the local landscape. The thick, strong shapes seem as if they might survive anything—years in a French farmhouse, or even the rough and tumble world of my kitchen.
The late Mike Voisin, a seventh-generation oysterman, once told me that everybody’s favorite oysters are the ones from the region in which they grew up. I bought that, right up until I tasted these. The briny oysters slipped into my mouth like a clean ocean wave, forcing me to admit that maybe, just maybe, France wins the oyster competition.
For whatever reason, we associate sea urchin with Japanese and Italian food, so I was somewhat surprised to spot these spiky specimens in Southern France. April is the tail end of the season, so we were lucky to catch a glimpse of them before they disappear for the summer.
St. Rémy is over three hours from Spain, but the language of rice, saffron, and seafood is not contained by borders. Each pan, spilling over with shrimp, squid, and mussels, was about three feet across, and each time one was emptied, a new one would rise to take its place.
Add olives, peppers, and spices to just about anything, and you can call it Provençal, but rarely does it work better than with potatoes. A batch for breakfast is about as local as it gets, served warm from a bag that says it all: “Bon appétit.”
Garlic and Salt Cod
A pair of more typically Mediterranean foods might be hard to come by. Dried salt cod is a staple pantry ingredient that can end up as a dip with potatoes (brandade), a tart with tomatoes, or matched with olives and peppers. Regardless of preparation, chances are you'll find it paired with its partner in crime—a flavorful dose of sweet, pungent garlic.
There must be something special in the Provençal air, because it's some sort of magic that grows vegetables this big. Each pepper was the length of my forearm, each cabbage the size of a basketball.
Are the radishes simply pinker in Provence? Or is it that the leaves are greener?
Morel season was just getting started, so the pickings were slim: just a handful of light, early season mushrooms.
Asparagus season, on the other hand, is well underway. The tender vegetables were in full bloom, overflowing at every stand, in every color. Green, purple, and the much celebrated white, kept underground so that every ounce of their nutrients goes to flavor, not color.
A good rule of thumb at French markets: if there’s a line, you want to be in it. For the most part, the crowds weren’t too bad, but there wasn’t a second this olive stand wasn’t mobbed. Samples were passed down the line, and sure enough, the bright cured lemons, the bold, salty olives, and the sweet, oil-soaked dried tomatoes had the tasters swooning.
The cheese selection drew from regions outside the surrounding area, but that didn’t stop the vendors from setting up beautiful displays and tempting visitors with the unmistakable, tantalizing aroma of aged cheeses.
Less stinky but no less enticing was the giant wheel of Comte. The vendor sliced off tiny slivers with his giant knife, doling out samples to passersby.
The sheer variety of dried sausages alone was enough to convince me that it was time to find a way to make this my weekly market. Traditional charcuterie flavors were tucked alongside specialty mixtures: duck, chantrelle mushroom, hazelnut, and so many more.
Also, in a variety of shapes and sizes. Clearly this pig-tail corkscrew was my favorite.
And then there was a tiny goat, just hanging out. He was on a leash, about the size of a large housecat.