This feature is part of Weekend In, a series designed to help you recreate the flavours of your favourite short haul destinations at home this summer.
When we think of the South of France, we may think of Provence with its honey-hued houses and pastel shutters, we may think of slopes of olive groves, lavender fields and cobble-stoned streets or a palm-lined Côte d'Azur with platters of fruits de mer and magnums of Provence rosé. This weekend we're turning to Rick Stein to offer up a slice of that romanticised France but with something a little different, thanks to his cookbook Rick Stein's Secret France.
"This book is an account of a trip I’ve been lucky enough to make, meandering through the back roads of France, partly for nostalgic reasons and partly to answer the question ‘Is French cuisine still alive and well?’", he asks. Travel to the south, to a France you may not have known existed as Rick Stein discovers places he's never ventured before and explores the real French cooking that he was worried was disappearing. Tuck into rich, home-cooked beef stews in remote countryside farmhouses; and enjoy beach-side Catalan octopus with piles of olive oil mash, simple Mediterranean salads and the sweetest of confit tomatoes and aubergines. Here's a three-course menu from Rick Stein’s Secret France to inspire you further.
"Confiting such vegetables as tomatoes and aubergines in the autumn in Provence is not only an obvious way of preserving them but also serves to intensify the flavour of both", says Rick who pairs them with thyme, olive oil and garlic in this veggie starter or main. Serve with green pistou – a French take on Italian pesto.
"In France, particularly in Provence, they crazily put sliced potatoes underneath a roasting chicken, which produces an unforgettable sort of pommes boulangère. Sometimes they season it just with salt and pepper, sometimes they add spices and also onions, garlic and red peppers. Whichever way, this is simply chicken, slow-roasted in the oven with the vegetables underneath". Smothered with a paprika butter, stuffed with garlic and lemon and roasted on thick slices of potatoes, this roast chicken is a southern take on a French classic.
Head inland to Périgueux market, which Rick Stein nods to in this celebration of late summer apricots. "There can’t be a better time to visit such a market. Peaches were still in abundance, as well as boxes of ripe plums, reines claudes, which we know as greengages, misshapen apples with their leaves still on the stalks, and boxes of pale golden muscat grapes, but the apricots were particularly glorious in their orange skins sometimes blushed with red". Rick Stein certainly knows how to paint a picture – think of this when you eat a slice of this golden tart finished with a glaze of warm sieved apricot jam and enjoyed with a dollop of cold crème fraiche.