What's Old is New Again

by | Wednesday, July 31, 2013 | 0 comment(s)

Every business attracts certain characters.  Portland Spice had its share of odd balls--including its owners.  But, we also had kind and delightful folks too.  Like Sailor Bill who really loves boats, cooking, Fran and my Herbes de Provence; I’m pretty sure he used them (les herbes!) primarily in butter cookies --which were very delicious-- and he’d mix them into Fleur de Sel. 

I haven’t seen him recently but he shops at K. Horton’s, which stocks ReginaSpices, and he let it be known that he was expecting (maybe demanding is a better word) to see my Herbes de Provence back in production.  Don’t feel too bad for him, he has the recipe. 

I was recently looking around the World Wide Web and stumbled upon a long series of discussions about Herbes de Provence and the appropriateness of using lavender in the mix.  Many folks were quite sure that the lavender was NOT traditional and was only a product of the French tourist industry.  Lavender left others with the decided taste of soap in their mouths.  Both groups were pretty adamant and VERY enthusiastic about their opinions. 

I, however, am a fan of using lavender.  I don’t mind that it might not be authentic but then I suspect that the likelihood of the French using a blend called "Herbes de Provence" would be akin to the Italians using "Italian Seasoning" or Mexicans cooking with "Taco Seasoning."  Come to think of it I’m pretty sure that very serious chili chefs don’t use "Chili Powder" either.  So, let’s all lighten up a bit--if something tastes good let’s eat it, even if it’s not "authentic."  We should also remember that tastes and peoples interpretation of them grow and change; for instance, the tomato is not a native to Italy but a relatively new arrival that is now synonymous with Italian cooking.  Traditions are changeable, because they are as alive as the people who observe them.

I’m afraid that I have no answer for the people who think of soap when they taste lavender--my inclination is to think that the lavender was out of proportion with the rest of the herbs.  But then, my mother thinks cilantro tastes like soap.  Having never eaten soap I can’t say one way or the other.      

So Bill, it’s back--maybe you’ll share your butter cookie recipe with ReginaSpices so we can all enjoy the heart stopping goodness!  

But until then here’s what I like to with Herbes de Provence:

Ratatouille with Herbes de Provence (I’m not sure if the basic recipe comes from Julia Child or Elizabeth David--besides the addition of Herbes de Provence and capers the major difference between this and  a traditional Ratatouille is that I roast and peel the red peppers)

  • 1 Medium Eggplant 
  • 2 Zucchini 
  • 2 Red Bell Peppers
  • 2 Onions
  • 2-3 Cloves of Garlic, minced
  • 1 lb Tomato (fresh or canned) 
  • 3 Tbl Capers (optional)  
  • ¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2-3 tsp Herbes de Provence  
  • 1 tsp salt

Slice eggplant (peeled and cut into rounds and then into strips) and zucchini (cut into rounds), salt and let stand to drain (in a colander) for about 30 mins.
Roast the red bell peppers (475-500° for 30 mins or until skins are charred and wrinkled
-be sure to turn at least once). Peel and slice the peppers into thin strips about ¼" wide.
Thinly slice the onions.

Put the olive oil in a Dutch Oven, add the onions, peppers, garlic, salt and
Herbes de Provence.  Over medium-low heat, gently cook the vegetables. Once the onions are soft and nearly clear (not browned) add the eggplant and zucchini.  Stir and cook for a few minutes then add the tomatoes.Reduce heat to low and allow the mixture to cook for about 1 hour or until the eggplants are fully cooked. 
Add capers.

Serve with nice crusty bread, rice or pasta.  


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