Wells is one of the most famous American culinary expats living in France, and she's carved out quite a niche for herself as the voice of France for American home cooks. Provence, a sunny region in the hills above the Riviera, is not a new subject for Wells; although her last book focused on Paris, she authored Patricia Wells at Home in Provence in 1996. For this lively volume, she seems to have combed the villages surrounding her and her husband's "rewarding little farmhouse" in northern Provence to come up with recipes and culinary tips from farmers, winemakers, tradesmen, shopkeepers and restaurateurs. It's a robust collection (with over 200 recipes), encompassing all manner of food, wine and preparation techniques, and a highly personal one too. For example, in the Salads section, the recipe for Mireille's Tomato, Green Pepper, Olive, and Anchovy Salad prompts Wells to expound on her favorite olive oil; while the recipe for the Maussane Potter's Spaghetti, which comes from some of the author's potter friends in the village of Maussane-les-Alpilles, leads Wells to write about her favorite pottery shops in Provence. This could be bothersome if Wells were not so instructive, but her personal digressions serve as important lessons to cooks and to those planning a trip to the area. To that end, Wells includes plenty of travel information, giving the various locations and hours of Provence's many markets and contact information for restaurants and shops. Altogether, this is a lovely cookbook, a celebration of simple, delectable cuisine.
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Francophiles will rejoice in the appearance of this cookbook. As usual Wells has assembled an enormous amount of information, as valuable for the traveler as for the cook. The list of Provencal market times and locations ensures that tourists will find whatever local culinary or artisanal specialty they seek. Wells further provides a roster of regional potteries from which one may buy the sorts of brightly colored dishes typical of Provence. The homebound can glory in Wells' recipes, which, although dependent on the finest ingredients, may still be replicated by the astute home chef determined to re-create France's mythic south. Herbs abound in these recipes, and their intense perfumes lie at the heart of Provencal cuisine. Eggs poached in red wine boiled down with rosemary and garlic give remarkable insight into local cooking, as does a technique for creating homemade cheese. A sidebar on pairing wines and cheese offers sound advice from Wells' vast experience. Mark Knoblauch
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