Herbes de Provence Bread

Herbes de Provence bread

In my last entry on the history of garlic, I sited Provence, France as the place where America’s farm-to-table movement originated.  (Hopefully you were able to partake of my quick chicken soup.)

Here Herbes de Provence is creatively used in an easy, mess-free bread recipe, employing a food processor, which provides outstanding aroma and flavor.

This region’s commercial herb mixture-so prevalent on the market-only dates back to the 1970’s, about the time that Alice Waters started Chez Panisse.  In doing so, she initiated this American culinary (farm-to-table) trend based on fresh, simple foods combined with Provencal cooking methods (for more on this, see Quick Chicken Soup, 2018/05/11).

In their famous Mastering of the Art of French Cooking, 1961, Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck state that classical French cuisine utilizes far less herbs than most Americans would suspect; these Europeans traditionally use them as an accent and a complement, never dominating the essential flavors of the main ingredients.  Likewise, their emphasis in this bread is fine. 1

Various regions in France, as with all of southern Europe, have their own unique herbs mixes, according to available plants.  Our Herbes de Provence is considered the youngest member of this family of French mixes, usually referring to the mix of typical herbs from this southeastern Provencal region, though it is also produced in other countries presently.

Whether fresh or dried, these blends, which are not standard, often contain savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and oregano, among other herbs; mixes sold under that name outside France can also include lavender.  The generic name Herbes de Provence doesn’t have Protected Geographical Status, such as I have defined for the balsamic vinegar in my Roasted Beet and Balsamic Chicken Salad, 2017/07/03.  Therefore, there is no guarantee that the herbs which make up these Franco composites were actually grown in Provence.

Originally their varying herbs were foraged in the wild in this region, and the name was used descriptively for those unspecified combinations; now, however, their vital ingredients often come from abroad.  In the 1970’s, Herbes de Provence mixes began to be formulated by spice wholesalers, such as Ducros in France, which is now a part of McCormick and Company.  Since then, these herbs have been cultivated there by both large producers and small family farms; nevertheless, the largest quantities of these herbal elements are actually imported, e.g., rosemary from Spain, thyme from Morocco, and marjoram from Egypt.

Different producers, including those in America, provide mixtures with unique tastes, which are subtly discerned, though their overall impact is common.  This bread boasts of the outstanding flavor of that herb blend, as found at our handy Trader Joe’s (which contains lavender).  This savory loaf pleases any palate!

References:

Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 1, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971), p. 18.

https://happybellyfish.com/herbs-de-provence-recipes-history/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbes_de_Provence

grinding wheat berries

Herbes de Provence Bread  Yields: 1 loaf.  Total prep time: 3 hours/  active prep time: 30 min/  inactive prep time: 2 hr/  baking time: 30 min.

1 3/8-1 5/8 c tepid water (105-115 degrees)

1 individual package of dry yeast  (May use 2 tsp of Red Star Active Dry Yeast, which is available inexpensively in 2 lb packages at Costco; this keeps well sealed in the freezer; best if brought to room temperature.)

2 1/4 tsp sugar

3 c whole wheat flour

1 c unbleached white flour  (Optional: may grind 2 2/3 c hard red spring wheat berries to make the total 4 c flour.)

1 tbsp Herbes de Provence  (Available at a good price at Trader Joe’s.)

1 1/4 tsp salt

13-gallon plastic bag plus 3-4 tbsp oil  (Any kind of oil will do for oiling bag.)

Coconut spray oil  (Pam coconut spray oil can be found in most grocery stores; our local Winco brand, however, is much less expensive.)

  1. proofing yeast

    If grinding your own flour, begin to do so now (see photo at top of recipe).

  2. Place 1/4 c lukewarm water-110 to 115 degrees-in a small bowl; stir in yeast and 1/4 tsp sugar.  Let sit in a warm place, until creamy, foamy, and nearly double in size, about 10 minutes (see photo above).
  3. Place flour, Herbes de Provence, 2 tbsp sugar, and salt in an 11-c-or larger-food processor; blend well.
  4. When yeast is proofed, add it and 1 3/8 c tepid water to flour mixture; for ease, may measure 1 1/4 c water, then remove 2 tbsp to make a total 1 3/8 c.  (With fresh-ground flour, however, only 1 1/8 c of water is needed.)  Turn

    dough after first 35-second kneading

    machine on and knead for 35 seconds (see photo); turn off and let dough rest for 4 minutes.  (This resting period cools dough, which is essential as processing increases heat, and too much heat will kill the yeast.)

  5. After pausing for 4 minutes, turn on the processor; knead dough for 35 seconds more (see photo below).  Take out and knead by hand for 5 minutes, or until satiny smooth; see bottom photo for dough after kneading by hand.  (As wet dough readily sticks to hands, rinse them

    dough after second 35-second kneading

    as needed to facilitate easy kneading.  Many store-bought flours are a finer grind; therefore, they absorb the moisture more readily and won’t be so sticky.  Much moisture is absorbed while kneading by hand-this is especially true with fresh-ground flour.  Ideally it should be firm, but supple when finished. These instructions should be foolproof, but IF needed, do the following: if dough remains quite wet and sticky, after kneading by hand for several minutes, slowly add more flour to your board as you knead.  If, however, it is too stiff to knead by hand easily, place it

    dough after kneading by hand

    back in processor, and knead in 1 tbsp water.  If called for, repeat this step until severe stiffness is gone, it is flexible, and kneading by hand is facile; carefully rest dough, so as not to overheat.  Note: dough should be firm and not sticky after final kneading.)

  6. Place prepared dough in a well-oiled 13-gallon plastic bag; let rise in a warm place for 50-60 minutes, or until double.
  7. Form loaf and place in a bread pan sprayed with oil.  Loosely cover with a piece of plastic wrap, which has also been sprayed with oil.
  8. Let rise until doubled, for about 50-60 minutes.  Important: 30 minutes into the rising process, preheat oven to 400 degrees, to insure oven is ready when it is time to bake risen bread.
  9. When doubled, bake loaf for 27-30 minutes, or until bread sounds hollow when tapped on bottom.  Cool on rack.  Enjoy this delightful bread!

Braised Celery

braised celery

Celery, along with only a few other vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts, is a relative newcomer to the world’s diet, where most common vegetables have been eaten since before recorded history.  This Apium graveolens is the mild, enlarged version of a thin-stalked, bitter Eurasian herb called smallage.

Wild celery is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean area.  Its woven garlands have been found in Egyptian tombs.  An archeological finding in Kastanas, Greece provides evidence that Apium graveolens was present there in the 9th century before Christ.  There is also great literary evidence establishing this, for selinon, which is believed to be the same as celery, is mentioned by Homer in both the Illiad and Odyssey (circa 850 B.C.).

Moving forward five centuries after Christ, this wild edible herb appears in Chinese writings; then following this, it is cited again in a 9th century A.D. poem, from either France or Italy.

Italians first bred this small, primitive plant in their gardens apparently in the 1500’s, using it for medicinal purposes only; other northern European countries also began growing it.  By 1623, a record of celeri in France, established it as being utilized as a food.  For the next 100 years, it was generally employed only to flavor dishes, though in France and Italy, its leaves and stalks were sometimes eaten accompanied with oil dressing.  By the end of this century, this vegetable had arrived in England.

The first evidences of improvement of this wild Apium were seen in late 17th and early 18th centuries in these northern European countries, resulting in selections with solid stems; this stalk celery, as it has been known, originally had a tendency to produce hallow stalks that were bitter and strong.  Years of domestication corrected this hallow characteristic; likewise, breeding countered the disagreeable flavors.  This latter development was achieved by choosing the cooler growing periods of late summer and fall-the plants were then kept into winter-as well as by employing blanching, a practice that pushes dirt up around the stalks’ bases, keeping the sunlight from turning the celery green.

We have two types of stalk celery varieties: the green or Pascal is popular in North America, while the yellow, also known as self-blanching, is preferred in Europe and the rest of the world.  Celeriac, celery root or knob celery, is also widely used in European countries, with a growing audience for it among trendy U.S. gourmets.  Chinese or leaf celery, which is also called smallage-of all the Apiums, this is the closest in form and flavor to the original Eurasian herb-is grown in Asia and the Mediterranean regions for its leaves and seeds; these are used for cooking and sometimes medicine.

In America, the presence of this vegetable was minor during colonial days, leaving no evidence as to which European group brought it here.  Nonetheless by 1806, four cultivated varieties were growing in the U.S., as is listed in the American Gardeners’ Calendar, printed that year.  After the mid-19th century, with further domestication having refined its taste and texture, Americans were eating it raw with salt, serving it in celery vases at the dinner table.

Organic celery tends to be on sale at our local Fred Meyer-Kroger-stores during any holiday.  Thus, having it on hand from a Christmas special, I created this exceptionally easy, delightful braised celery dish, for my annual, day-after-Christmas celebration with my long-time friend Janet.  We loved it; hope you will to.

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celery

https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/publications/vegetabletravelers/celery.html

http://www.foodreference.com/html/celery-history.html

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 249, 315, 406.

finished product

Braised Celery  Yields: 4 servings.  Total prep time: 20 min/  active prep time: 10 min/  cooking time: 10 min.

1 1/4 lb celery  (Organic celery is relatively inexpensive.)

2 tbsp chilled butter, cut in small pieces

Salt and freshly ground pepper  (Himalayan or pink salt, such as Real Salt, is so important for optimum health; a Himalayan salt is available very cheaply in bulk, at our local Winco.)

1 tsp Herbes de Provence  (Trader Joe’s has a great deal on this dried herb.)

1/2 c broth  (May use chicken, vegetable, or a good beef broth.)

  1. preparation of celery

    Peel strings off celery with a potato peeler; spray with a safe, inexpensive, effective vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide); let sit 3 minutes; rinse really well.  Save leaves for garnish.

  2. Cut celery in 4-inch pieces; place in a single layer-the indented side up-in the bottom of a large sauté pan; dot with pieces of butter; salt and pepper generously; sprinkle top with Herbes de Provence.  (See photo above.)
  3. Pour broth over celery; bring to a boil over med/high heat; reduce heat to med/low; cook covered for 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile chop the leaves, to be used as an optional garnish.
  5. Remove cover, stir well, raise heat to medium, and cook for 4 minutes more (see photo below).
  6. Raise heat to med/high and cook liquids down, stirring constantly, until juices form a glaze, about 1 minute (see photo at top of recipe).
  7. celery while cooking

    Arrange in a serving dish, garnish with chopped leaves, and serve with pride!