For the past two weeks the Accidental Locavore has been hanging out in the South of France. I’ve been exploring the farmer’s markets in Nice and the surrounding areas, discovering what’s local and fresh in a new locale. Since one of my long term goals is to buy a house over there, this was a trial run to see what it would be like to be “living” there, shopping from the local markets, and cooking with the amazing seasonal produce. It being spring, there are beautiful artichokes, in sizes ranging from small to huge and purple as well as the typical green ones we see here. The first night we were there, I succumbed to a couple of huge local artichokes, steamed them with some big purple garlic, local lemons and served them with lovely French butter and a freshly roasted chicken. Delicious!
The other spring vegetable in abundance, were asparagus, both green and white and a combo of the two. I don’t know why we Americans are so fixated on skinny asparagus. Is it just that in our fast food mentality, we can’t let something grow to its peak flavor? Does it take too long to bring a thick stalk of asparagus to market, cutting profit margins? Or is it just that we don’t have the opportunity to taste big, meaty, flavorful spears? If you’ve never tried obscenely thick asparagus, you have no idea what asparagus can taste like. Now that it’s coming into season here, look for the biggest stalks you can find, and let me know what you think. I jumped at the chance to sink my teeth into thick green asparagus and were they good! We had them twice in restaurants, once with a lovely herb sauce, and the last day we were in Nice, with seared fois gras and a balsamic reduction. How can you go wrong with asparagus and fois gras?
And when was the last time you were given your choice of strawberries? Besides the fact that each and every berry looked picture perfect, they were abundant, piling on to market tables. My choice was between sweeter ones, or more flavorful, I went for the flavorful and was happily sold a box of succulent berries, each one better than the last.
Another day at the market, we were in search of great local cheese and charcuterie. In Provence, there are lots of delicious goat cheeses, some soft and runny, others aged and tasty. We got a couple of creamy ones and one rubbed in ash and aged. To go with, a fresh baguette, some incredible homemade pates, olives from a huge selection and an assortment of smoked or cured meats. Add a bottle of local wine, and you’ve got a great meal.
Friday I’ll have ideas on some of my favorite ways to cook and serve asparagus. How do you like to enjoy them?