When We Went to France: Aix-en-Provence
When we went to France, we ate.
I don't really know what else you would expect a food obsessed couple to do. Fresh baguettes and eclairs at every corner, pain au chocolat lurking in the vitrines everywhere I laid eyes, and €8 carafes of fabulous wines. Would you really want me to say no? I didn't think so. So I never did. I just said oui! to every tempting treat that presented itself to me.
By far our favorite part of our trip through France, was our pit stop in Aix. After spending a few days in Paris (I'll get to that later), we took a beautiful train ride through the countryside to Aix. Upon our arrival, we dropped by the rental car station and picked up the only automatic transmission car in their lot. Turns out, they only make giant automatic cars (regular sized in America), and giant cars in France don't fit through the narrow crevices they call streets very well. Let's just say there was some minor tension trying to park and maneuver the car through Aix. When we finally figured out how to get our tanker to the studio apartment we had rented, from a lovely French couple, we were in love.
We spent our few days in Aix roaming to outdoor markets, driving through the countryside, sipping sweet rosé and feasting on some of the best food we've ever tasted. We even snuck in a trip to a Michelin rated restaurant, Les 2 Frères. The real reason we loved Aix so much? We had a kitchen. The rest of our trip was spent in plush, fancy hotels (for free thanks to Brian sticking it out as a consultant), but this little place we stayed in was far from a fancy resort. It was a cozy little apartment nested in the winding cobblestone streets. This made going to the markets that much sweeter. We could actually buy things, bring them home, and cook them!! Yesss, a dream come true. You better believe I smuggled some giant purple garlic heads home with me, too. Working with our limited kitchen utensils (steak knife and no cutting board) I came up with this fabulous meal one night. Brian and I still say it was our best meal in France...
2-3 lbs mussels (rinsed and cleaned)
1 lb whole yellow cherry tomatoes
2 large heirloom tomatoes (rough chop)
10 cloves garlic (minced)
2 shallots (diced)
1 small onion (diced)
1 cup dry white wine
1 lemon (halved)
salt and pepper
1-2 loaves crusty bread
In a large pot, heat lots of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and onion to the oil and cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Add salt and pepper.
Add the tomatoes (both heirloom and cherry) to the pot and cover. Cook for about 7 minutes, until the cherry tomatoes start to pop and release their juices.
Once the juices are oozing in the pan, add the white wine and half the lemon juice, and bring to a slow simmer. Add more salt and pepper to taste and cook for 10 minutes.
Prep your mussels while your sauce is preparing. Rinse the mussels several times to remove any sand and grit. Discard any broken mussels and mussels that aren't tightly shut.
Toss the mussels straight into the pot of delicious tomatoes and give it a stir. Cover tightly with a lid and let steam just until the mussels have opened. This will take somewhere between 5-10 minutes, depending on your mussels. Discard any that do not open. Make sure all the mussels are coated in the sauce. Pour the mussels into a large serving bowl, or eat straight out of the pot. Squeeze the other half of the lemon over the mussels and serve with LOTS of crusty bread.
Radish White Beans Provençale
1 large can white beans
1 bunch radishes (halved)
2 peppers (your favorite variety, diced)
4 cloves garlic (minced)
1 medium onion (diced)
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper
Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add onion and let cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the peppers, salt and pepper and cook down until peppers are soft, about 7 minutes. Add the white wine to the pan and toss in the radishes. Cook for only 3 minutes, to take the sharp bite away.
In a bowl, add the lemon juice, salt and pepper to the white beans. When the pepper and radish combination is done, add to the beans. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve either warm or cold. But please, serve with a bottle or two of your favorite French wine.