I Spice: Herbes de Provence
I don’t think I have ever actually used a specific recipe that called for herbes de Provence. I remember buying this superbly aromatic spice mix years ago when I visited the south of France. I have used it and refilled my stash many times over, but never really followed a recipe for it. I sprinkle it on breads before baking, on vegetables before roasting and even on meats. It never disappoints.
But I wondered if those were indeed the best ways to use it, so I decided to speak with a superstar chef who spent part of his childhood in Provence: Eric Ripert of the New York Times four-star Le Bernardin. “When I was a kid, I have a memory of walking the hills in Provence and harvesting the herbs with my family to make our own blend," he said. "It would usually be at the end of the summer when the herbs were already dried on the hills. The smell when you walk in the hills was really strong. I remember it to this day.”
Ripert, whose "Avec Eric" television series just debuted on PBS, loves herbes de Provence because he finds it lends a very original flavor to meat, fish and vegetables. So I asked him the million-dollar question: What’s in it? Don’t get me wrong. I know it has lavender and rosemary and many other spices, but seems like each time I ordered a dish with this ingredient in the different parts of France, the dishes tasted different to me.
Turns out, I am right. “Herbes de Provence is mixture of dried herbs from Provence," the chef says. "It typically contains savory, fennel, basil, thyme and lavender flowers. But the mixture has so many variations since people blended it at home. I believe it was only in recent years [the 1970s] that it actually began being blended and marketed as a mixture."
One of the cardinal rules I have about using this spice mix is to buy a little, use it up fast and then replenish the supply. It is such an aromatic mix -- and that is part of the charm -- but it does lose its aroma fairly quickly.
“I love to rub herbes de Provence on a T-bone steak. I use a very generous amount and cook the steak on the grill," he says. "The herbes de Provence do not burn and in fact become like a crust, adding flavor and texture."
He makes his own spice blend, or buys it from Agata & Valentina, close to where he lives in NYC. I have purchased mine online and never been disappointed. It’s available from Penzeys Spices and The Spice House, among other sites.
Other suggested uses of herbes de Provence come from cookbook author Pat Sinclair, who uses it to create Herbed Dinner Rolls. Writer Debbie Abrams Kaplan sprinkles it over tomatoes before slow-baking them to create her own version of sun-dried tomatoes. With so many wonderful flavors in it, it’s great -- and healthful! -- on Oven-Roasted Frites and in a Chickpea Sandwich. Of course, any food that works well with one or more of the herbs in it will work with herbes de Provence too, such as lamb and chicken.
-- Monica Bhide
Herbes de Provence Roasted Tomatoes
Makes 6 tomato halves
Adapted from a recipe provided by Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernadin in New York.
3 large beefsteak tomatoes, peeled, if desired, then cut in half (see NOTE)
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium clove garlic, cut into very thin slices
Season the tomato halves with salt, pepper and the herbes de Provence; place in a bowl and toss with the oil and garlic. Marinate at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Arrange the tomato halves cut-sides up on the lined baking sheet. Drizzle with any remaining marinade. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tomatoes have softened but still hold their shape.
Serve warm or at room temperature; if the tomatoes are to be cooled and refrigerated, drain any excess juices before reheating.
NOTE: To peel the tomatoes, bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Have ready a bowl of ice water. Cut an "X" in the bottom of each tomato and remove the stem. Place in the boiling water for 10 or 15 seconds, then use a slotted spoon to quickly transfer to the ice water. The skin should slip off.
Per tomato half: 125 calories, 1 g protein, 4 g carbohydrates, 13 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 47 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar
The Food Section
September 18, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: I Spice , Recipes | Tags: I Spice, Monica Bhide, recipes
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