If there is one constant here in Castellet, Provence it is the sheer beauty (and quantity) of the food we are treated to: foie gras, roast lamb, crisp green salad and peaches drenched with red wine at Marc and Marcia’s; bowls of delicately-flavoured sardine, aubergine, tuna and goat’s cheese dips with toasted baguette at Café de France in Lacoste village; and the stunning dinner dear Caro Nigella’ed up in her kitchen tonight (more on that in a moment).
It would be devastating to be gluten or dairy free in France, you’d starve. Or at least be disowned. I have adopted the French habit of ‘cheese and bread at any opportunity’: chunks of camembert wedged next to a thick slice of jambon in a baguette for lunch; parmesan ribbons laced through a courgette salad; creamy goat’s cheese dips; plates of every imaginable kind of cheese after dessert and of course hunks of bread with every meal to mop your plate with. Heaven. It is considered sacrilegious to buy bread from the supermarché, instead each day you must make a pilgrimage to the local boulangerie to select baguettes from the basket – still warm, chewy, crusty sticks of deliciousness. And who can resist the sweet, yeasty aroma of pain au chocolate or pain au raisin for a petit déjeuner treat. Definitely not I.
Tonight’s meal was sensational. Caro bustled about the kitchen of her 1740s stone home as if she were a Masterchef finalist, all the while chatting happily and not a recipe book in sight. I had responsibilities too:
“You can keep our champagne topped up,” she said.
That I could do.
We ate on the terrace as the sun sank into the lush Luberon mountains and the smell of lavender from the fields mingled with that of barbecued chicken. It was 9pm and the children were hungry but happy, their 7.30pm New Zealand bedtime a distant memory. We ate heartily, and laughed a lot – each of us singing a song over dinner – Georgia (4) sang Lorde’s ‘Royals’, Hazel (3) Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’, Maia (11) sang a very serious version of Adele’s ‘Skyfall’ from James Bond; Jez made us laugh by hamming it up ‘I…want to swing…from the chandelier-AIR!’ Caro sang ABCD because she says she can’t sing (she can), I sang Womack and Womack’s ‘Teardrops’ because I’d heard it in the car earlier and was trying to figure out what year it came out (1986) and Etienne (7) sang Bieber’s ‘Baby Baby Baby OH’ and we all threw bread at him. We feasted on courgette and parmesan salad with mint and lemon, roll-ups of aubergine stuffed with feta mint and lemon, thin slices of herbed potatoes fried in goose fat and the most delicious aubergine and artichoke salad for which Caro has kindly shared the recipe:
Slice eggplant in 1cm slices. Grill on barbecue or in oven. Place in a bowl and add:
Artichoke hearts, lightly toasted pine nuts, chopped mint, a good glug of olive oil, freshly ground pepper and juice of one lemon.
Toss and serve.
Merci Caro, and bon appétit my friends!