Welcome to The Aix-Files

Thanks for checking out The Aix-Files, my

blog postings inspired by my time in and around

Aix-en-Provence and the Vaucluse. The spot includes travel tips,

discoveries of local food and wine, recipes,

cultural events, interviews and historical

tidbits about Southern France. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

French Freebies

Cloisters of Cathedrale Saint-Sauveur

Door of Saint Sauveur

Capturing Montagne Sainte-Victoire

Learning about Cézanne at Les Lauves


Inside Le Grillon
Aix-en-Provence is one of the most desirable places in France, for its location near mountains and sea, its medium size, its food, its culture and its sunshine.  For that reason, it is also one of the most expensive cities in the country.  Real estate prices come very close to those of Paris and some of my friends have been looking in vain for a house or apartment for a very long time.  Prices in the shops and in the market are generally higher than elsewhere, too.  So in this month of January, the month of austerity, of cutting back, I thought I would reflect on all of the things (or extras) that are free in Aix.  Here goes:

-A decent café will serve a little chocolate or biscuit with your coffee.
-A decent bar will serve some olives or nuts with your aperitif.
-In fact, Le Grillon and Café du Verdun (maybe others!) bring out gorgeous platters of nibbles to go with your drinks around 6 pm, gratuit.
-The chicken man at the rotisserie in the market will fill your bag with delicious potatoes that have been roasting in the chicken fat – how good is that?
-The vegetable vendors in the market will throw in a handful of parsley, if they feel it would go with the other veggies you’ve purchased.  And they always know better than you.
-If you only need a branch or 2 of celery (who ever needs more?) they will just give it to you.
-The poissonier will throw in a lemon if requested.
-The attendants at the pharmacy will often give you a sample product of something similar to what you’ve just purchased.
-Likewise at the cosmetics shop.
-At little stores where you are a regular, they will often round down the price.
-Playing pétanque, provided you can borrow some balls.
-Some rehearsals of the Ballet Preljocaj at the Pavillon Noir
-Evening vespers at the Église Saint-Jean-de-Malte
-Visiting the Oppidum, the original Celto-Ligurian settlement just north of town.
-Visiting the Lauves district nearby where Cézanne did so much of his painting.
-Visiting the cathedral, with a guided tour of the cloisters.
-Visiting the interesting Musée du Vieil Aix.
-Wild thyme, fennel and rosemary, by the armload, in the countryside just out of town.
It’s good to know I can find wild rosemary in the nearby countryside, because it spares me the need of sneaking downtown under the cover of darkness to steal it from the well-trimmed hedges in front of the bank. 
-The views of Montagne Sainte-Victoire.

Egg dishes are very much appreciated in France.  And not just for breakfast.  A simple omelette makes an elegant first course, simple supper or a fine lunch dish.  If you fill your omelette with something like wild mushrooms, you’re guests will be swooning, and if you scramble your eggs gently over a double boiler with truffles - a brouillard, in other words - as Jim has been doing lately, you’ll have people pounding down your door.  However, as pricey truffles do not fit in with today’s theme, we’ll get back to basics.

We often serve a variation of this flat omelette for Sunday brunch, using leftover vegetables from the night before, such as spinach or potatoes, thus making it a very economical meal.  You can be creative with ingredients, but do keep it simple.  You don’t want to use everything-but-the-kitchen sink.  It can be thicker or thinner, depending on the size of pan and the number of eggs you use.  I like it both ways.  So think of this as a variation on an Italian frittata or a Spanish tortilla.

I’m using rosemary here, but other herbs may be substituted, such as thyme or dill.  These milder herbs do not need to be pre-cooked with the onion and can go directly into the egg mixture.

Start with a small handful of spinach per person.  Wash it well in a basin of water, lift it out carefully and drain it in a salad spinner.  Put the spinach in a hot, dry pan to wilt, tossing with tongs.  Transfer it to a sieve and, when it is cool enough to handle, squeeze out any extra moisture. Chop.

Dry the pan, heat a bit of olive oil, and sweat some sliced onion, sprinkled with salt, covered. Strip the leaves from a healthy branch of rosemary, chop them, then add them to the pan.  When the onion is softened, add a clove of garlic, minced.  If you think of it, sprinkle on a pinch of nutmeg and a pinch of hot pepper or pepper flakes.  Add the spinach back to the pan and stir to blend the flavours. 

Meanwhile, break the eggs into a large bowl, two per person, and beat them gently with a fork.  Scrape the spinach mixture into the eggs, stirring with a fork to blend, season with salt and pepper.

Add enough olive oil to just coat the pan and heat to medium.  Pour in the egg mixture, turn it down to medium-low, then cover.  After about a minute or so, lift the sides of the omelette to let the uncooked egg flow under the edges.  Cover and continue to cook until it is firm on the bottom, but moist and still a bit creamy on top (or to your taste).  Personally, I prefer to cook it over low to medium-low heat to avoid too much browning.  If the omelette is on the thick side, run it under the broiler, watching carefully, until it is done to your liking.

The omelette can sit for a few minutes, or longer, to serve at room temperature.  Carefully loosen the bottom with a spatula, shaking it, and slide it onto a pretty platter.  Serve it in wedges, with a tangle of lightly-dressed baby greens on the side, mixed with halved cherry tomatoes and toasted pine nuts.  Enjoy your meal while feeling virtuous about the savings to your pocketbook!

A la prochaine,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Andrea!
My mother would be proud of you.
She always cooked scrambled eggs (same for omelettes) slowly, WITHOUT continuously mucking about with them! They were light and fluffy, and the BEST.
Loved the freebies in Aix! Typical Winnipegger! We do love a bargoon! Aix will be my next stop in France when I go. You make it all sound divine! Better than Nice by far. Sandra