Researching Recipes from the French Wine Harvest I met many wonderful women. They were usually unsung heroes - co-owners of small wine estates where they turned their hands to any job including pruning vines, organising paperwork for export orders, and cooking for the harvest workers. There were others working for bigger, grander chateaux where they welcomed visitors year-round. Unused to being interviewed, nevertheless they were happy to sit at a kitchen table at a quiet time of the year and share recipes.
Interviewing Lulu Peyraud of Domaine Tempier in Provence was another kettle of fish. Acknowledged as influencing Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in California, she had collaborated with her friend and neighbour Richard Olney in a cook book. Cookery writers regularly beat a path to her door, and she had become something of a food guru. When I met her she was already an elderly lady. Small in stature, warm and passionate - this was Provence after all - about cooking as well as the beautiful Bandol rose´ she poured for me. Her cooking reflected her big personality.
This is her version of Paella. "There is no typical version," she told me, adding " you can do anything you like in cooking!" How reassuring that felt - one of France's great cooks setting us free from rules!
I suggest using cooked prawns and langoustines because this is what is most widely available. Simple to make, this is an adaptable party dish, usually made in large quantities, so amounts are flexible.
Fish - your choice, but Mme Peyraud's version uses monkfish because it is firm-fleshed; other firm white fish would be suitable; cut into bite-sized cubes, and allow 2 to 3 per person
Sea-food - large cooked prawns and/or langoustines in their shells, one of each per person. Mussels could also be used, allowing 4 to 6 per person. (Should be alive when bought - scrub and scrape the shells to get rid of sand, grit and mud, pull off the ‘beards’. Discard any with broken or open shells.
Bring a little water to boil in a large pan, put in the mussels and with the lid on steam them until they open, about 5 to 8 minutes.)
meat - 1 chicken leg or thigh per person or 1 - 2 pieces of rabbit per person
rice - 1 rounded tablespoon per person: in Provence they use a long
grain rice grown locally in the Carmargue area onions - 1 medium per 6 people garlic - 2 to 3 cloves per 6 people tomatoes if liked (not worth including if not really ripe and full of
flavour), 250 - 500 g (1⁄2 - 1 lb) per 6 people
a good pinch of powdered saffron
a good pinch of ground aniseed salt and black pepper olive oil boiling water - about twice as much as the volume of rice
Take a large frying-pan or shallow sauté pan (unless you have a paella pan) and in it heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom lightly. Brown the pieces of fish, and put aside. Now brown the chicken or rabbit and continue cooking in the oil for about 15-20 mins. Add the peeled, chopped onion and garlic. Peel and chop the tomatoes, if using them, and sauté for a few minutes in the pan.
Cover all these ingredients with boiling water and cook gently for about 20 mins. Add the saffron, aniseed, salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of rice per person. Stir, turn down the heat and simmer gently for about 20 minutes. The rice should absorb the water in that time.
Test and if you feel the rice is still not quite cooked add a little more hot water and continue cooking for a few minutes.
Towards the end of the cooking add the fish to finish cooking for about 5 mins, and the cooked prawns, langoustines and mussels or clams in their shells, to heat through.