"Herbs from the sunny province of France can change your cooking."
So says the tag on this little pot of herbes de Provence, a classic blend of thyme, basil, savory, fennel seed and lavender flowers.
Herbes de Provence combines the vigorous, resinous herbs that grow on hillsides in the summer in the south of France. As with garam masala, there are many formulations that can include, in addition to the herbs in my pot, tarragon, dried orange zest, celery seeds, white pepper, dried mint, oregano, rosemary, chervil and bay leaf.
In The New York Times Food Encyclopedia, Craig Claiborne wrote:
[In the early 1970s] I first noticed packages of dried herbs bearing the name herbes de Provence at Fauchon's on the Place Madeleine in Paris. Within recent years, of course, numerous food specialty shopes in Manhattan and across America have been selling what is labeled "herbes de Provence," and I'm sure the packagers and purveyors have made a good deal of money by using that lure. Whether any of this has been to the greater glory of the American kitchen, I cannot say. I suspect one would do better by adding one's own "herbes de Provence" depending on the recipe.
Whether you buy it in the cute ceramic crock, or make your own, you'll want to use it in an elegant chateaubriand, delicious butternut squash soup, a sauce for pork tenderloin, an earthy pomme de terre or — surprise! — kimchi de Provence.
If you do want to mix your own, here's a traditional recipe. And once you have this justly-famous spice blend on hand, herbes de Provence surely will change your cooking, just as the tag promises.
Mediterranean red snapper
Every year, Sequim, a small town on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, hosts a lavender festival (July 20-22, 2007, if you're planning ahead). A few years ago, my friend Candy brought home from the festival a small paperback cookbook, Northwest Provence: Cooking with Lavender, by Cynthia Pinsky. The package of culinary lavender that came with the book is long gone, but herbes de Provence make a perfect substitute in many of the recipes. Serves 4-6.
1-1/2 lb red snapper filet (or other flaky white fish)
1 rib celery, sliced thin
1 medium onion, sliced into thin rings
16 oz chopped canned tomato
12 each Kalamata and green olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tsp herbes de provence
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Olive oil for drizzling
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Preheat oven to 350°F. Layer the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish with onion and celery. Top with fish filet. Pour the wine over the fish and sprinkle on the tomatoes, olives, herbes de Provence and red pepper flakes. Drizzle with olive oil, cover and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover, pour on the lemon juice, and bake, uncovered, 15 minutes more. Serve over rice.
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