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!

Pasta and Spinach, with Lemon Sauce

pasta and spinach, with lemon sauce

Sauces have been used to modify and accentuate food throughout history, transcending all cultures.  Here we will examine ancient Rome, for it offers, in the strictest sense of recipes, the earliest cook book De Re Coquinaria, which is perhaps erroneously believed to have been written by the gourmet Apicius, in the first century A.D.  This discrepancy is evident in that Athenaeus, who compiled the anthology The Deipnosophists (circa 230 A.D.), which is regarded as one of the leading sources of information about ancient times, knew all about Apicius as a gourmet, but didn’t attribute a cook book to him.  Regardless of the exact authorship of this work, it supplies the rich basis of a worthy record of early cooking techniques.

With it, glimpses come into the eating habits of the well-to-do, including sumptuous recipes, such as those for feasts.  Note that contrary to established beliefs, the everyday Roman dining was simple: breakfast (jentaculum) was bread with a few olives or raisins; lunch (prandium) mostly consisted of leftovers, cold meat, or eggs; the daily main meal (cena) also reflected less extravagance-this latter was more elaborate only in households with an excess of slaves.

Even more than the fussy dishes concocted for guests, plain foods, like grain-pastes, beans, and bread, required spices and strong sauces to transform them, with their disproportionate quantities of starch.  This same rule is illustrated by the most intense of the world’s repertoire of sauces, such as the soy mixtures of China, the chili pastes of Mexico, and the curries-derived from the South Indian name kari meaning sauce-of India.  Here the common man basically developed sauces as seasonings for bulky carbohydrates, which both absorb and dilute them; on the other hand, the solid masses of fish and meat scarcely incorporate liquid at all.  In Food in History, Reay Tannahill states that all the qualities that give a cuisine its identity change in a society that can afford to eat meat and fish daily, with their staying sauces.  (Such peoples utilize extensive creativity in sauce-making, the primary element of good cooking.)  Thus, Tannahill suggests that the whole essence of cuisine may have thus changed in this rural society that was transfigured into Imperial Rome.

Showy receipts were prepared for company by that ancient culture. The full dinner party in Roman times was considered to be nine people, reclining on three couches, around a U shape table.  These guests leaned on their left elbow, while eating with the fingers of their right hand.  This was a messy activity; they washed themselves from top to toe before a meal, probably needing to do so after as well.  By necessity the dipping sauces for their flesh foods required a sturdy substance for easy eating; such thickening was achieved by adding wheat starch or crumbled pastry.

The use of liquamen (or garum) was predominant in Roman cookery.  This clear, golden, fermented fish sauce was made commercially, by leaving out a mixture of fish and salt in the sun for two to three months (eighteen months for larger fish).  Its presence in most recipes not only added strong flavor, which the Romans loved, but in turn, masked milder rancidity, so prevalent in their foodstuffs.  Imperial Rome grew to be a quarter of the size of modern Paris, unlike the other great, small urban centers of Sumer, Egypt, and Greece, which were small by comparison; this made transport of perishable foods, which were stockpiled in warehouses, very slow.  With no refrigeration, food spoilage presented a large problem; thus, the powerful, fishy/salty flavored liquamen found its way into almost everything.

The recipes of antiquity were sketchy, with little more than a list of ingredients.  Their sauces, as mentioned above, often called for wheat starch and crumbled pastry as thickeners, for there was no roux.  Interestingly enough, roux was NOT the invention of 17th-century classical French cuisine, as is generally accepted; indeed, two printed German recipes remain employing this, which date back to late medieval times, 150 years before roux began revolutionizing cooking.

This paste-a combination of flour and butter cooked to varying degrees for different recipes-is the binder in four out of five of the leading mother sauces: brown sauce (espagnole), white sauce (veloute), milk-based béchamel, and traditional sauce tomat (the fifth is hollandaise).  These five mother sauces were formalized in a code by Auguste Escoffier in Le Guide Culinaire (1903); they act as the basis of most sauce creations, chocolate being an exception.

Our lemon recipe, a béchamel, is time-efficient-I feel a need to respect the modern sense of rush, which makes many afraid of a brown sauce that in a careful kitchen can simmer for up to ten hours.  Enjoy this delightful dish prepared in less than 30 minutes!

References:

Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1964) pp. 14, 15, 18, 20.

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 82, 83, 89, 90.

Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork (New York: Basic Books, 2012), p. 202.

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 616-618.

https://www.thekitchn.com/do-you-know-your-french-mother-sauces-211794

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Auguste-Escoffier

weighing pasta

Swift Pasta and Spinach, with Lemon Sauce  Yields: 2 servings (as a main course),  or 4 (as a side dish).  Total prep time: 25 minutes.

2/3 cup  shallots, chopped small

1/3 cup or 1/3 medium onion, chopped small  (If desired, may use more onions and less shallots; a total of 1 cup, of both together, is needed.)

2 medium garlic cloves  (For easy prep, substitute 1 cube frozen garlic from Trader Joe’s.)

3 tbsp fresh lemon juice-2 small lemons  (May add optional zest of half a lemon.)

5-6 oz of pasta  (Gluten-free pasta may be used.)

5 tsp butter

2 tsp flour  (May substitute potato or rice flour for gluten-free version.)

2 tsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is important for health, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream  (Must be heavy cream, or it will curdle.)

Salt and white pepper, to taste  (Real Salt, Himalayan, or pink salt, is essential for optimum health; a Himalayan salt is available very cheaply in bulk at our local Winco.)

Fresh spinach

  1. hand-held wooden lemon squeezer

    Boil 2 1/2 quarts of water over medium/high heat, in a covered saucepan-add about a teaspoon each of salt and any kind of oil.

  2. Chop small the shallots and onions; measure and set aside (refrigerating any extra for future use).  Mince garlic, if using fresh.
  3. Roll lemons on counter, pressing down hard with hand to loosen juices in meat; squeeze and measure lemon juice; set aside.  (See above photo of hand-held juicer, ideal for easy juicing.)
  4. When water is boiling, turn heat down to medium, add pasta and cook for 7 minutes, or until al dente.  Drain in a colander when done.
  5. In a small saucepan, melt 2 tsp of butter over medium heat; stir in flour with a wire whisk; cook briefly for about 1 minute-traditionally, roux for a béchamel shouldn’t change in color at all.
  6. finished lemon sauce

    Heat 1 tbsp butter and oil, in a medium-size sauté pan, over medium heat.  Add shallots and onion; cook until translucent, stirring frequently.  Mix in garlic; if garlic is fresh, cook for about 30 seconds more-just until aroma arises-or saute until cube is dissolved, if using frozen.

  7. Add heavy cream, lemon juice, and roux to onions/shallots/garlic; stir constantly until sauce is thickened; see photo.
  8. Toss with prepared pasta, serve on a bed of spinach, enjoy!