Recipe ideas from the South of France

Take inspiration from the colourful markets of Provence - and make summer last a little longer.
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Indy Lifestyle Online

A couple of weeks ago, we were just about to head off to Provence with the girls to stay at my photographer Jason Lowe's converted barn up in the hills in Entreveaux, Provence. The last time I was there was a couple of summers ago at the wedding of Jason and Loris, which was a very splendid and forgettable occasion, if you know what I mean.

But a couple of days before we were due to fly off to Nice, I had a call from Jean, my father's girlfriend, to say that he had been rushed into hospital. He sadly didn't make it through the following day, so our trip was spent on the Costa del Dorset instead.

The girls haven't been to the South of France before, so I thought that we should make some recipes that were close to the dishes we might have eaten in the South of France. I was also due to cook a dinner on a yacht in France for Anita Zabludowicz, who won a meal from Fergus Henderson and me at the Whitechapel Arts Plus Party auction - so some of these dishes could well have been served on board in St Tropez.

Globe artichokes with Massamier butter sauce

Serves 2

We are coming to the end of artichoke season, but there's still nothing more romantic than getting stuck into a big leafy globe artichoke, although my daughters Ellie and Lydia might not agree.

An artichoke needs something rich and sticky to dip the leaves into, such as vinaigrette if you're eating them cold or at room temperature. Or if you're feeling indulgent, a beurre blanc or a beurre rouge could be just the answer. Both methods for the butter sauce are the same, except that you use red wine instead of white. Don't use any dodgy old wine - do yourself a favour and go for something better.

Keeping in tune with the Provence theme, I've actually used some local Minervois Rosé from Chateau Massamier la Mignarde Massamier, which is available on home turf from Berry Brothers and Rudd (0870 900 4300). It gave the sauce a great-looking pink tinge, and we drank the leftover wine with the artichokes.

2 large globe artichokes

for the sauce:
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
Half a glass of rosé wine
2tsp good quality red wine vinegar
150g cold butter, cut into small cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove any discoloured outer leaves from the artichokes. Put the heads into a large saucepan, cover with water and a couple of level tablespoons of salt. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 35-40 minutes. It's a good idea to place a smaller saucepan lid on to the artichokes to weigh them down during cooking before you cover with the fitting lid. Drain them upside down so that all the water drains out of the leaves. You can test whether the artichokes are cooked by inserting the point of a knife into the fleshy base.

Meanwhile, put the shallots into a pan with the wine, bring to the boil and simmer until the wine has almost evaporated. Remove from the heat and whisk in the pieces of butter until they have all melted and emulsified, and then season.

To serve, you can either spread the leaves out as we did in the photograph and pour the sauce over, or you could just serve them as they are.

Roast leg of lamb Provençal

Serves 4-6

This kind of dish would make a brilliant family roast or Sunday lunch for friends. It makes good use of common Provençal ingredients and although anchovies and lamb may not seem like an obvious marriage, the saltiness of the fish makes an excellent seasoning. f

A leg or shoulder is probably the best cut to use for this dish, boned or on the bone.

1 leg or shoulder of lamb, weighing about 1 1/2-2 kg
4tbsp olive oil
6 cloves of peeled garlic, 2 sliced and 4 crushed
A few sprigs of rosemary
1 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
2tsp chopped fresh thyme or marjoram leaves
Half a glass of white wine or rosé
6 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
20 stoned black olives (preferably Niçoise)
6 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a roasting tray in the oven for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, season the leg of lamb and then make 8 or 9 incisions in the flesh with the point of a knife and push a slice of garlic and sprig of rosemary into each. Put the lamb into the roasting tray and roast for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, turning it a few times during cooking and keeping it on the pink side.

Remove the lamb from the tray and keep warm. Put the roasting tray on a low heat on the stove, add the rest of the olive oil and gently cook the onion, garlic and thyme for 3-4 minutes, stirring well. Add half a glass of white or rosé wine, the tomatoes, olives and anchovies, season and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Serve the lamb, cut into thickish slices, with the sauce. Serve with the courgettes below and potatoes if you wish.

Grilled courgettes with herbs

Serves 4-6

The markets in the south of France are heaving with all types of courgettes and summer squashes at this time of the year: round, yellow and white - and some with their flowers still attached, too. Courgettes require simple cooking with enhancing flavours such as garlic and herbs; and if you've got the barbecue out, long thick slices of courgette are the perfect accompaniment to most grilled meat and fish dishes.

6 large courgettes, of the same variety or mixed
3-4tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tbsp chopped thyme or marjoram
1tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash your courgettes, cut them in half if they're extra long and slice them into "ribbons" of about half a centimetre depth, lengthways. If you are using a selection of different coloured courgettes, you can cut them into different shapes, angled slices or even wedges.

Pre-heat a barbecue, ribbed griddle or a thick-bottomed frying pan. Season and lightly oil the courgettes and grill them for 2-3 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile heat the garlic in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with the herbs and leave to infuse for 2-3 minutes. Toss the courgettes in the garlic and herb oil, season and add a little more oil if necessary. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Lemon and lavender crème brûlée

Serves 4

I got the idea for this from those leafy lemons in the markets, as well as all the lavender in the fields of Provence. Lavender doesn't get used much in cooking, but it can have a subtle effect on both desserts and savoury dishes. Use it with care! Rather like rosemary and sage, it can completely hijack other flavours.

Finely grated zest and juice of 2 large lemons
600ml double cream
8-9 buds of fresh lavender or 4-5 dried buds
5 egg yolks
2tbsp caster sugar
3-4tbsp Demerara sugar or golden caster sugar to glaze

Bring the lemon juice and zest to the boil and simmer for a couple of minutes until it has reduced by half. Add the cream and lavender buds, bring gently to the boil and remove from the heat. Leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the egg yolks and caster sugar together then pour on the cream, removing the lavender buds (don't worry if a few flowers remain in the mixture). Return the mix to a clean heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat gently, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens - but don't let it boil.

While it cooks, give it an occasional whisk and return it to the heat. This should take about 7-8 minutes but it's important to get in round the edges of the pan and keep the custard moving. A simmer plate that fits on to the gas ring and regulates the heat would be a good idea. Remove the lavender buds with a slotted spoon.

Pour into a large round shallow dish or individual ramekins, leave to cool a little and set overnight in the fridge. Spread the Demerara sugar evenly over the surface and spray lightly with water. Light a blow torch and work the flame evenly over the sugar until it caramelises. If you don't have a blow torch, place the crème under an extremely hot grill. Return to the fridge for 30 minutes before serving.