In a sauce or salad, red is the colour!
Not having qualifications doesn't mean your life is ruined. And the same goes for the humble tomato, which got off to a bad start in the Western world, but went on to become the star of Provence's menus. Imported into Europe by the Conquistadors in 1517, this enfant terrible trailed a bad reputation behind it for centuries. Its resemblance to the mandrake, with its devastating psychotropic effects, probably had something to do with it…
Despite the claims of Catherine de Medici, who introduced it to the court, the French gave tomatoes the cold shoulder until the French Revolution. It was the people of Marseille who, besides tirelessly chanting the revolutionary hymn of Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, imposed it on the quaysides of the Seine for the greatest pleasure of Robespierre, who took to devouring it at Paris's restaurants.
But all that was yesterday. Today, the tomato no longer needs to go red in the face about its past. And the plumper and juicier its face is, the better. "I grow the Morane here, a round tomato; over there is a beef tomato and a Marmande", explains Johan Cupif. "The first tomatoes ripen in late May when they're grown in greenhouses. We harvest our field tomatoes in early July." Johan studied to be an engineer, but rather than an office and computer, he opted for life outdoors with a pickaxe and a wheelbarrow. "This farm was founded by my great-grandparents and I am the fourth generation to work this soil", he smiles proudly. Johan doesn't have the organic label but assures that his "drastic" growing rules make his produce "more organic than organic". "I only treat my plants in case of an absolute emergency, if an insect is threatening the entire harvest."
The Cupifs work as a family. In the fields you'll find Johan with his father Albert, while his mother and partner look after the farm shop. "It's a family venture", resumes the 28 year-old farmer. "Customers who come here to buy their vegetables love our produce and we've now launched an online delivery service to satisfy the demand for fresh, healthy and seasonal produce. People are fed up with eating rubbish."
Not just a salad, a delicious salad
To savour tomatoes at their best, they have to be ripe. "A tomato that has spent 20 hours in a truck and 5 days in a fridge has suffered and will never be any good", warns Johan Cupif. If you like tomato salads, use different varieties to play with the flavours: a mixture of beef tomatoes, Black Russian, Green Zebra and Crimean Black is ideal. Drizzle them with balsamic vinegar cream and olive oil, add a pinch of fleur de sel and a dash of fresh pepper and you're made. "I add a little bit of olive oil, but my parents use tons", adds Johan, pointing at his ancient olive trees: "They're over a hundred years old – they escaped the big freeze in 1956 thanks to the sea, which is less than 50 metres away… And thanks to the sea too, we also grow a few lemons".
"The tragedy of the tomato that goes from the stake to the executioner"
Back in the kitchen, Johan grabs a basket of dazzling red tomatoes. "If you want to make the best sauce, use the Roma". As to whether or not you should remove the pips before cooking, Johan chuckles: "Just use a variety with hardly any pips!"
And what about the year's top pick? "I have a soft spot for the Cornu des Andes. When we first offered it, customers were a bit reticent, but as weeks went by they got used to it and it's now a favourite – we'll be eating it a lot this summer". A garden plant belonging to the solanaceous family, tomatoes are widely considered a vegetable, but botanists place them in the fruit category. But who to believe when their taste goes against the definition? In fact, botanists and the general public have now met on middle ground by referring to them as a fruit vegetable. At the end of the day, there's always a way to get along!
Le Grand Pastis offers a picture-postcard portrait of gourmet Provence. Pierre Psaltis shares his conception of gastronomy, from the simplest to the most sophisticated, presents his tasted-and-approved recipes, uncorks the finest vintages and invites you out to dinner... A concentrate of news, spiked with the inimitable local accent.
Whether it's served hot with a salad, used to crown a cheese platter, or savoured fresh with honey or olive oil, goat's cheese is an absolute culinary must. Provence's dry, sunny climate is perfect for goat breeding -and that's lucky for us!
A gourmet treat…
Provence has been famed for its candied fruit from time immemorial. In the early 16th century, the region was fairly impoverished. Fruit grew here in abundance, but much of it was lost every year.
Can anyone resist an almond? Everyone raves about these little nuggets of happiness you can savour every which way – fresh, dried, whole, grilled, sliced, ground or made into a cream or milk!
The Gourmet's New Eldorado
It had all but disappeared from the markets, but then – perhaps as a result of Halloween arriving in France – squash made a big comeback on our stalls just over a decade ago
It all starts with a crushed clove...
Provencal cuisine simply wouldn't exist without garlic
Francis lived happily close beside his tree...
Picked ripe from the tree, figs are simply to die for. They can also be scattered on trays and left to dry in the sun for 3 days: "That's the best way to keep your figs all winter – we serve figs at Christmas as one of Provence's famous 13 Desserts," smiles Jacqueline Honoré.
A story that will make you turn to jelly...
As yellow as sunshine and as warm as a winter fireplace... The quince isn't very pretty, but the people of Provence love it. You could even say that a passion has been born between this irregular-shaped fruit, somewhat resembling a dented, rustic pear and our lovers of jams, jellies and pastes.
When we talk about the South of France, what's the first thing we think of? The MEDITERRANEAN SEA! (and the sun of course – it's all part of the package).