Ever since I read "A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle, I've been crazy about Provence in the South of France. I have yet to visit, but it's on the "wanderlust list," so close to the top that I can almost smell the lavender. I spent part of today visiting Provence through the pages of another book, "La Vie Rustic: Cooking and Living in the French Style" by James Beard Award winning author Georgeanne Brennan.
It's not the first time Brennan has transported me to Provence through her words. I enjoyed her memoir, "A Pig in Provence" and recommended it in my summer reading list for food and wine lovers. The memoir is one description after the next of Brennan and her family and friends cooking simple but good meals, often eating them outdoors, and enjoying the community that happens around a table when good food and wine is involved. It also contains a few recipes.
"La Vie Rustic" is a cookbook with recipes that are driven by the seasons, but it also contains a few stories about Brennan's personal experiences in Provence plus tips about creating a sustainable life. One tip she offers will prolong the life of your tomato plants. Just before the first frost, pull the tomato vines with all their green tomatoes and hang them in a basement, garage or closet. Eventually most of the tomatoes will ripen. They won't be as flavorful as a sun-ripened tomato, but they'll prolong the harvest and few will go to waste. There are many useful tips like this throughout the book.
The book is divided into five chapters: The Potager with garden vegetable recipes, The Orchard with fruit and nut recipes, The Barnyard with meat and poultry recipes, The Forest & Field with foraged wild ingredients, and The Water with fish and shellfish recipes. The dishes are quintessentially French, like this recipe for Caramelized Leek Flat Bread with Black Olives and Soft Cheese. Brennan says she's eaten similar flat breads many times for breakfast at a café, along with a steaming café crème.
For the dough
- 1 package (2 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water (105 degrees F)
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus flour for dusting
- 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus oil for brushing
- 1 tsp sea salt
For the leeks
- 2 large leeks
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1⁄2 tsp sea salt
- 1⁄4 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 3 oz soft goat cheese, farmer cheese,or other fresh, soft cheese
- 12–15 oil-cured black olives, pitted
- Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
To make the dough
- Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, then add the sugar and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
- In a food processor, combine the yeast mixture, 2 1/2 cups of the flour, 2 tablespoons of the oil, and the salt.
- Pulse, adding more flour 1/4 cup at a time, just enough to create a soft ball of dough — not too sticky, not too dry.
- When you touch the dough, it should not stick to your fingers.
- Knead the dough on a floured work surface with your hands until smooth and elastic, about 7 minutes.
- Form the dough into a smooth ball.
- Rub a large bowl with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Place the kneaded dough ball in the bowl and turn to coat the dough with the oil.
- Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
To prepare the leeks
- Trim the roots and the dark green upper parts and discard.
- Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and thoroughly wash before chopping.
- Finely chop the pale green and white parts.
- In a frying pan or sauté pan with a lid, heat the 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the leeks, salt, and pepper. Stir several times, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are lightly golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Set aside. (If not using right away, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.)
- Place a pizza stone or a heavy baking sheet in the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
- Punch down the dough and transfer it to a floured work surface, turning it over once. Roll it into a 15-by-12-inch oval about 1⁄2 inch thick. Lightly dust a baking sheet with a little flour. Partially drape the rolled-out dough over the rolling pin and unroll it onto the baking sheet.
- With a spatula, spread the leeks over the dough, leaving a 1⁄2-inch uncovered border around the edges. Dot the leeks with the goat cheese and the olives. Brush the edges of the crust with olive oil.
- Bake until the crust is puffed and golden along the edges and the bottom is crisp and golden, about 15 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, and while still hot, brush the edges once again with olive oil. Cut into pieces and serve at once.
"La Vie Rustic" has over 100 recipes, many of them with detailed photographs of the dishes, and is available to transport you to Provence on March 7.