Herbes de Provence (Recipe: marinated bocconcini)
Who was more ingenious, the Provencal cook who first tossed together a few herbs growing on a hillside and gave it a fancy-sounding name -- herbes de Provence -- or the person who thought to market those herbs in an adorable ceramic crock ?
(You have one of those iconic little crocks on your spice rack, don't you? Me, too.)
Herbes de Provence is a bit of a free-wheeling spice blend. Like garam masala, the blend will vary with each cook, and from recipe to recipe in the cook's kitchen.
Depending on who's doing the blending, herbes de Provence might contain thyme, basil, summer savory, fennel seed and lavender flowers, which is what's in the crock in my pantry. If you purchase from Penzeys, you'll get a mix of rosemary, cracked fennel, thyme, savory, basil, tarragon, dill weed, Turkish oregano, lavender, chervil and marjoram. More complex flavor, but no crock.
The common components, spices that grow wild or are cultivated in the south of France and are harvested in the heat of the summer sun, include bay leaf, thyme, fennel, rosemary, chervil, oregano, summer savory, tarragon, mint and marjoram. Orange zest and/or lavender also make an appearance in many versions of the herbes.
If you don't live in France, you've probably purchased a crock of herbes de Provence to make one or two recipes, and because the ceramic pot is so cute, it's remained on your spice rack even though you don't use the contents very often.
So, get your crock out -- here are ten things to do with herbes de Provence:
- Mix with olive oil and rub on chicken before roasting or stewing.
- Add a pinch to scrambled eggs or mushroom-filled crepes.
- Sprinkle a pinch or two on hot coals before grilling.
- Add a pinch to a vinaigrette.
- Mix with oil, salt and pepper, and drizzle on garden-fresh sliced tomatoes.
- Put two parts mayonnaise and one part Dijon mustard in a bowl with a sprinkling of herbes de Provence. Stir together, thin with a bit of champagne vinegar, and use to season potato salad.
- Make a paste with butter, and smear under and over the skin of a turkey breast before roasting in the oven.
- Marinate boneless, butterflied leg of lamb in a mix of yogurt, garlic, and herbes de Provence.
- Rub fillets of fish with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and herbes de Provence, top with a slice of lemon, and seal in a parchment paper pouch. Bake in the oven or steam over a pot of water.
- Toss with roasted vegetables.
Though my climate zone is far from Provence, many of the traditional Provencal herbs grow well in my garden. I don't have great success with dill or chervil, mostly because they insist upon going to seed before I remember to cut them back, but I get a healthy crop of most of the other herbs every season. In the Fall, when I remember to do it, I dry them on a contraption Ted made for me out of an old screen window.
Maybe I could market my own herb blend.
Herbes de Rhody.
Coming to a farmers' market near you, maybe, some day. Just as soon as I save up enough little crocks.
Marinated bocconcini (mozzarella cheese)
Inspired by a recipe in Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking, this is a wonderful recipe to make for hostess gifts or summer picnics. Find some pretty jars for packaging, and be sure to make at least one week ahead. The original recipe calls for a semisoft goat cheese, such as Montrachet, but I love to make this with the mini mozzarella balls you find at the supermarket salad bar.
12 oz bocconcini (small mozzarella balls)
1 tsp herbes de Provence
4 bay leaves
12 black peppercorns, slightly crushed (place them in a plastic bag, and hit with a frying pan)
1 to 1-1/2 cups fruity extra virgin olive oil
Place first four ingredients in a jar, and cover with oil. Close securely, and store in a cool place for at least one week and up to a month. I usually store mine in the refrigerator, and bring it up to room temperature before serving. Serve the cheese with crusty bread, and drizzle with a bit of the oil.