Everyone has heard of ratatouille, bouillabaisse and even aïoli - even if they can't always pronounce them. But there is much more to provençal cuisine.
It has been 60 years since Elizabeth David first published A Book of Mediterranean Food, her pioneering cookbook which introduced overseas readers to the intense sensations of this delicious, yet irreproachably healthy style of eating based substantially on fish, fresh vegetables and olive oil (rather than butter).
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Thanks to it, to mass tourism and to a certain Pixel blockbuster, dishes such as ratatouille have become a regular feature of most cooks' repertoires. But here are some dishes that you may not have encountered, with odd and evocative names and surprising flavours. Attention: not all of them slot into a healthy Mediterranean diet!
Chichi frégi is a long doughnut perfumed with orange flower water and olive oil and dusted with sugar. This delightfully named snack is a speciality of L'Estaque, just outside Marseille, where you can buy it from one of several kiosks with names such as Chez Freddy and Magali on the marketplace opposite the seafront.
Its savoury and equally calorific brother is panisse, a distant cousin of the falafal. It's a fritter made a dough mixed from chickpea flour, then fried. Variants of this can be found along the coast such as cade in the Toulon area and socca in Nice.
Brousse du Rove is a local legend. This delicately perfumed soft cheese, which can be eaten either as a sweet or a savoury, is made from the milk of goats with singular long, curled horns (pictured) tended by André Gouiran, whose family have been goatherds for 17 generations and 500 years.
Gouiran lives in the small town of Le Rove, just outside Marseille, and writes books, poems and music to promote his passion, while Michelin-starred restaurants in the area, such as Le petit Nice, feature his cheeses on their menu.
Click here to read more about André Gouiran and brousse du Rove.
Alouettes sans têtes, fortunately, do not involve the untimely death of sweet-voiced songbirds. "Headless larks" (yes, that's the literal translation) consist of thinly-sliced beef trussed up with string into neat little parcels and simmered in a rich sauce. In restaurants they're sometimes described as "alouettes provençales" to avoid upsetting squeamish foreign diners.
You can make them yourself at home by rolling up thin slices of beef with lardons (diced bacon) and herbs but, if you live in France, it's far easier to buy them from a good local butcher and simmer them gently at your leisure in your own sauce: tomatoes (fresh, sun-dried, tinned, whatever), onions, herbs, lardons, wine and, if you're feeling lavish, cognac, as well as (ad lib) peppers, celery, carrots, olives, capers, courgettes and garlic. Don't skimp on the garlic!
Poutargue, or boutargue, is the speciality of Martigues - it's also known as caviar martégal (Martigues caviar). Pictured, this is dried and salted mullet roe, which is presented in the form of a sausage coated in wax to preserve it, and can be eaten either thinly sliced or grated on pasta.
Pieds et paquets are "feet and packets" and you will see them everywhere on menus in Marseille and its hinterland. The feet in question belong to sheep - an animal not seen around too much on the coast. But the flocks come down from Sisteron, in the foothills of the Alps, for the winter according to the traditions of the transhumance.
Sadly, some sheep will never return from their winter sun break. Instead their tripe and feet will be stuffed with chopped ham, garlic and herbs, rolled into little packets and simmered in white wine and stock with bacon and tomatoes: a stock not that different, in fact, from the aforementioned alouettes.
Gras Double is tripe by another name. A dish more commonly found in the Lyonnais area, it has a provençal counterpart which comes casseroled in a tomato and herb sauce.
Encornets are squid and come farcis (stuffed, usually with minced pork, pictured) or sautéed in a spicy tomato sauce. Mediterranean fish and seafood is a vast topic in its own rightand includes palourdes (clams), tellines (wedge shells), violets de roches and supions (another type of squid).
Rule of thumb: add the suffix "ade" to many of them and you have the excuse for a slap-up public feast: thonnade, sardinade, anchoïade, oursinade...
Gardiane de taureau is a speciality from the Camargue but can be found as far east as Marseille.
Its name derives from gardian, the Camargue equivalent of a cowboy, and it is a stew made of dark, pungent bull meat slow-cooked to melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness.
Make sure you eat gardiane de taureau in a reputable restaurant, as the meat needs carefully to be detached from the very tough sinews around it and cooked long and slowly (the same applies, of course, if you're preparing it yourself).
The proper accompaniment is rice grown in the Camargue and Costières de Nîmes, the local deep, meaty, red wine, which will also impart an inky-black, satisfyingly evil colour to the stew if used as a marinade.
Click here to read more about Camargue bulls, bullfights, bull games and bull meat in cooking.
... And, for the record, bouillabaisse (pronounced boo-ee-yah-bess) is made from a variety of Mediterranean fish and herbs and comes in two courses, the first a broth with bread and rouille (roo-ee-yah: garlic and saffron mayonnaise) and the second a hearty stew, ideally with the fish deboned on a platter at the table before serving.
Ratatouille (rat-a-twee-yah -- this is the good Southern French way of saying it, with stressed final 'e') is a vegetable casserole made with aubergines (eggplant), courgettes (zucchini), tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onions.
Find further reading on Amazon:
A Book of Mediterranean Food by Elizabeth David. David introduced austerity-era post-war Britain to the glories of Mediterranean cuisine and this is one of her classic cookbooks.