The Provence Cookbook Hardcover – Bargain Price, Apr 1 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
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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Top Customer Reviews
Among the best recipes included in this volume are those that Wells admits she made up on the spur of the moment using whatever fresh ingredients were available at the time. In the text accompanying the recipe for roasted cherry tomatoes she notes that she was seeking something to fill space in the oven, noticed that her cherry tomatoes were ripening wildly and created a recipe right then that has since become a favorite. There is no better lesson in the spirit of Provencal cooking than this - use what is around, treat it well and you will be well fed.
Perhaps more fun that the recipes themselves, if possible, are the profiles of Wells' favorite producers, vendors and restaurantors. These are the people who inspire Wells herself - the farmers and fisherman, the cooks and the market stal owners. Her nod to their dedication and professionalism is lovely and shows the many strands that are woven together to eat well in the classical sense.
Technically, the book is well organized and the instructions are clear. Wells also includes source and contact information for those lucky enough to visit Wells' territory in person. Definitely recommended for anyone who enjoys true, fresh flavors cooked simply in season. That Patricia Wells has managed to cover new ground is a wonder, but she has, in fact, done it again!
Madame Wells gives no clue in this book to distinguish it from the earlier title. She does indicate that it marks the occasion of her living at the farmhouse, Chanteduc, with her husband for the last twenty years. My biggest question about the current volume is, after all the books which have already been published, what new can be said about the cuisine of this singularly fecund culinary terroir? The answer in this book is 'A lot'.
Like Wells' earlier Provence book, this book does not dwell on standards such as Bouillabaisse or Salad Nicoise. It presents recipes of local restaurants and bistros and recipes invented by the author herself. There are still lots of references to friends and acquaintances such as Joel Robuchon who happens to be great French chef, but the emphasis in this book, unlike the earlier title, is much more on the restaurants and food producers and vendors of her neighborhood in Provence than it is about Madame Wells and her contacts to the greats of French cuisine. This concentration on contacts in Provence sometimes seems a bit absurd to 99% of Madame Wells' potential audience. What reader / cook in Duluth will have any interest whatsoever in the telephone and fax numbers of 'Restaurant Le Mimosa' just outside of Montpellier in Provence?Read more ›