Elena Chekalova discusses how to welcome autumn with the help of a very special omelette from Provence and, of course, a bottle of Rosé.
I first came to the French Riviera, to Provence, 20 years ago. It was stunning.
I immediately fell in love with the food, the markets, the smell of local herbs and the sea – every last little thing, including the style of the typically Provencal dwelling with their rough walls, irregular and almost faded fabrics, worn, white-washed furniture and heavy, coloured ceramics – all feeding into the charming “shabby-chic” style of things that have been left out in the sun for over 100 years.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape – the sumptuous wine of the southern Rhone – reigns over this enchanting world.
It seems to me that this wine is the pope or the high priest of Provençal cuisine, insomuch as its aromatic and rich taste recalls the traditional local gastronomy.
Until very recently, the Rhone's southern neighbour, Provence, has been producing mostly red wine – full-bodied, thick, and with a high alcohol percentage.
Yet within the last decade, from soils which seem almost created by God specifically for formidable reds, rosé has prevailed.
The local cuisine is surprisingly fast-paced and ever-changing: from traditional Provencal to an elegant and worldly Côte d’Azur. Much of this change took place right before my eyes.
I have already written about the restaurant of the hotel Le Mas Candille. Let me re-cap.
Not so long ago, it featured the typically consistent, dense and recognizable Provencal gastronomy known as “cooking of the sun”.
Tartars with French fries, sole meuniere in “white oil” – a light yet caloric emulsion the colour of baked milk, enormous lobsters accompanied by a bisque sauce, boar baked in wine sauce and so on.
Four years ago the young chef David Chauvac took charge of Le Candille – he also uses fresh produce, but taking inspiration from the classical culinary heritage of the South of France, prepares lighter and more modern dishes, such as: traditional Provencal pâté and tapenade inside colourful “candies”, lobster bathed in veal jus with young chanterelle mushrooms, and delicate veal, flavoured with Provencal herbs, and supplemented only with the finest potato chips.
All of this is partnered with an excellent selection of wines.
I still remember when three-quarters of the wine menu was made up exclusively of red wines but these days many guests, considering them heavy, opt for whites and especially rosés.
“We rarely offer thin whites – sommelier Julien Leroux explains – as rosés from the French Riviera and Provence have something special about them: they are aristocratically pale, with an interesting and sometimes strong character, and some carry the scent of a red but the lightness and aftertaste of a white.”
Even in terms of the number of bottles produced in the region rosé now crowds out the rest.
Earlier, they were appreciated for the necessary lightness and freshness they brought during the hot summer months, but nowadays a new kind of rosé wine is appearing, with a complex and rich taste.
“Here, try it, - offers the sommelier, uncorking a bottle of Rock Angel by Sacha Lichine, a Frenchman with Russian roots.
I have a taste – yes, very light, but with a long mineral aftertaste.
“And, we can agree, - Julien goes on, - this wine goes well with both the aperitif and vegetables, and even with meat and cheese. It turns out that rosé can be an absolutely universal wine, which fits in nicely with traditional Provencal cuisine.”
In recent years, rosé has become the symbol of the French Riviera and is even drunk in autumn.
There are several explanations for this:
Firstly, it is very drinkable – glass after glass disappears very quickly!
Secondly, it is elegant – almost like swallowing a festive mood.
Thirdly, it really does go with everything.
Rosé has supported and partly provoked a new blend of Provencal-Riviera cooking: light and innovative.
This is how Chauvac presents his Provencal crisp – a multi-layered “pie” made of thin, colourful omelette slices – instead of a dense dish, the chef creates an almost weightless dish of egg and vegetable cubes accompanied by droplets of brightly-coloured sauce.
A highly enjoyable delicacy.
Have a go at cooking it yourself: it is one of the most elegant autumn dishes, which could brighten up even a depressing Moscow day.
Its crucial ingredients of peppers and tomatoes recall flavours of the summer months.
Here is the recipe!
Provencal omelette crisp
- 1 baked and peeled red Bulgarian pepper
- 1 baked and peeled yellow Bulgarian pepper
- 1 baked red tomato
- 70gr of milled spinach (can be freshly frozen)
- 6 eggs
- 100gr of grated cheese
- 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
- Salt, pepper and curry seasoning
- Olive oil
Bake and peel the peppers – they will become quite sweet, almost caramel-like.
Chop the red peppers and tomatoes, put them in a blender, and sprinkle them with a little bit of salt.
Separately prepare a mousse of yellow peppers, spinach and olive oil and if you would like even more flavour, add some parsley or other greens to the mixture.
Divide the purée into small portions using a tablespoon and set these aside.
In a small bowl, break two eggs, mix them slightly, then add the red pepper and tomato blend and mix.
Do the same 2-egg mixture with the spinach purée.
In a third bowl, add the last 2 eggs to the yellow pepper mousse, and mix with lemon juice and curry.
Season all three purées with salt and pepper.
Grease a 20-22 cm diameter frying pan with olive oil and preheat.
Pour in a little bit of the spinach mixture – as if it were a pancake.
Omelettes should turn out thin, so fry them only on one side.
Put the finished omelette on a flat plate, toasted side down, and sprinkle the top-facing side with grated cheese, which will begin to melt immediately.
Prepare the second “pancake” using the tomato and pepper mixture, place it on top of the first and again sprinkle with cheese.
Do the same with the third pancake, using the yellow pepper and curry mixture.
Repeat these three steps in the same order until all of the mixture is used up.
Once all of the omelettes are piled up, cover them with a baking sheet and using a small saucepan filled with water, press down on them (ideally, the pot’s diameter should be close if not identical to the omelettes’ diameter, to help maintain their form).
Keep them pressed together like this for 10-15 minutes, then cut them up into cubes or triangular shapes, decorate them with colourful drops of the remaining mousses and serve them as an aperitif with a chilled glass of rosé.
Somewhere amongst this shower of rosé, an endless summer lives on!
Le Mas Candille opened in the late 1960s, when simple and anti-bourgeois hotel-farms were in style.
It was completely renovated and expanded by its new owners in 2000 and reopened a year later.
(Its name comes from the local word for cypress trees, which resemble high candles).
The view from the modern hotel’s terrace is unmissable: the Alps and several nearby pastoral villages are in full view.
Earlier, this was the seat of chef Serge Gouloumes, “heir” to Roger Verge, the renowned chef at the origin of the region’s famed “kitchen of the sun”.
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