“With every new place that I visit, I pick up something new along the way that I can apply to my cooking.” – Sean Brock, Heritage
After several long nights of research on Provençal cooking classes and finally a suggestion from my friend Michel, I enrolled our group into Cuisine de Provence taught by Barbara Schuerenberg.
Barbara teaches the course in her lovely home, Le Cypres, in the hills above Vaison-de-Romaine and only a ten-minute drive from our Sablet house. When we pulled into her gravel driveway, she was waiting outside her front door. She welcomed us and immediately began sharing her passion for all things Provençal. Knowing that great cooking begins with the selection of ingredients, she informed us that she had sourced the very best fresh, seasonal and local products and that we would be using recipes that she has perfected over her years of teaching classes. In the kitchen, she supplied us with aprons sporting her school logo and we began preparing the day’s lunch. Her method is to talk, cook, talk, eat, talk and have fun. She even provided written copies of the recipes to take home.
We began with Tapenade Noire, made with black and green olives, semi dried tomatoes, anchovies, garlic and olive oil. After Barbara demonstrated how to prepare each step, we were all assigned a job. The tapenade turned out magnificent and was set aside so that the flavors could meld.
In her beautiful back yard with its amazing views to the nearby hills and mountains, we picked fresh rosemary and wild thyme for Herbes de Provence. In Provence, no one should have to buy these ingredients since they grow wild all over. When I asked Barbara about using lavender, she answered with the question, “Why do you want your food to taste like soap?” I guess I didn’t since she put it like that. We all took turns chopping the herbs into a fine powder.
Appetizers were Tomato Puffs made with puff pastry (obviously), Tapenade Noire, cherry tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. We spread some of the tapenade on a pastry round to hold a lightly caramelized cherry tomato and then baked them. When they came out of the oven, the incredible fragrance made it very difficult to allow them to cool before popping one in my mouth. They provided snacks for the rest of the morning while we continued our jobs.
About this time, we were all getting a little parched from all of our hard work. So, the perfect hostess/teacher uncorked a nicely chilled bottle of Les Grappes d’ Antan 2014 Cotes Du Rhone. It was fruity and light and perfect for the morning. Somehow our glasses never seemed to be empty.
Next, we made Mousseline de Courgettes. A mousseline is almost a soup but not quite. It is thicker, similar to heavy cream. This one was made with zucchini, garlic, vegetable broth and a secret ingredient which I was sworn not to reveal. Come to my house sometime and I will prepare a bowl for you. It finished with a pale green hue and had a fresh flavor that somehow brought to my mind Bill Evans’ rendition of Spring is Here.
The main course was Poulet Provençal, Barbara’s version of a traditional chicken entrée in Provence. She made it with chicken thighs, butter, garlic, white vermouth, tomatoes, cream and our hand chopped Herbes de Provence. Her recipe uses skinless thighs but I have since found that it is even more flavorful (to my taste) by keeping the skin on. I brown some chicken thighs in olive oil and finish cooking to Barbara’s recipe. This dish is characterized by its delicious sauce which we mopped up with crusty baguettes.
The Poulet Provençal was accompanied by, or actually spooned over, Pâtes aux Légumes. This dish introduced a totally new concept to me – Tagliatelle that was made from zucchini shaved with a vegetable peeler. Vegetable pasta – who would have thought? The zucchini was cooked with olive oil, cherry tomatoes, garlic, tomato sauce and more Herbes de Provence. It combined with the chicken to make a hearty lunch.
Our dessert was Clafoutis Aux Framboises. I have eaten clafoutis before but had never made one. It couldn’t have been easier. The base was made with eggs, sugar, flour and cream and the fruit was fresh raspberries. Cherries or blueberries are often used as well but the fruit should not be too juicy. Excess juice from cooked fruit can spread throughout the whole dish and muddle the colors. Many French chefs recommend leaving the pits in cherries for more flavor but, unless you are a dentist, I recommend pitting them. The cooked clafoutis was sprinkled with powdered sugar and voila, the perfect light dessert for an amazing lunch.
After we had cooked side by side with Barbara we all sat on her patio to enjoy our meal with lovely wines she provided. The freshness of the season and the warmth of the sun, the scents of wild rosemary and thyme and of our cooked dishes, the easy conversations, all played their part in making this cooking class an extraordinary day in Provence.
*Asterisked image courtesy of Barbara Schuerenberg