Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Provençal Evening

A couple of years ago a friend asked me to become part of a newly formed book group for foodies. I readily agreed, knowing I'd not only be reading books on a topic I'm passionate about, but enjoying a thematic meal tied in with the book's subject and prepared by members of the group.

A recent choice was "Provence 1970," a book written by Luke Barr, the grandnephew of legendary food writer MFK Fisher. The book is a delight to read, recounting the year when Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard and other food luminaries were together in the South of France.

The meal prepared by members my book club was a wonderful way to capture the flavors of that beautiful region of France and pique my enthusiasm for my upcoming trip there. 

Our group is women only, but for this event, we decided to invite the men in our lives, even though the discussion of the book was given short shrift since not all the men had read it.

No one seemed to mind the abbreviated book discussion though, once all the food was presented.

We started with two appetizers: 

Emilia's pissaladière, similar to pizza, but with the traditional topping of caramelized onions, anchovies and olives.

      And it wouldn't be Provence without socca, a typical snack made of chickpea flour. 

Kay provided that, along with a delicious ratatouille that I forgot to snap, except in the last photo of this post.

Polly brought along a wonderfully refreshing salad with butter lettuce, goat cheese, wineberries and borage flowers picked from her yard:

Rosalie made a luscious plum tart for dessert.

 And her husband Evan even made some madeleines to share:

I took charge of the main course - pork chops with sage - a recipe I found in the cookbook, "Cooking School Provence" by Guy Gedda and Marie Pierre Moine.

Pork chops are easy to overcook, and once that happens, they're tough and dry. Marinating or brining helps, but knowing when to pull them off the grill or from the oven is crucial.

I don't use a meat thermometer for pork chops or steaks, but instead have learned to test meat with the finger test. It's got to have a little softness in it when you touch it, like the fleshy part of your hand. If you let it cook until it feels hard, then it's overcooked. It takes getting used to, but once you've mastered it, you'll never overcook meat again. Click here to get a more detailed guide on using the finger test for doneness of meats. 

These pork chops were smeared with Dijon mustard, sage and black pepper and left to sit overnight in the refrigerator. If you don't have all night, at least give it six hours to marinate. They were delicious the first time I made them, but when I repeated the recipe, I slathered on even more mustard and sage and the flavor was greatly improved.

Lolly brought along some fresh green peas, adding even more color and flavor to our plates.

If you're interested in starting a foodie book club, email me separately and I can give you plenty of book suggestions. Click here for a post I wrote years ago on books for foodies. Since then, I've got lots more titles to recommend.

Côtes de porc grillées à la sauge 

(Grilled pork chops with sage)

 From "The Provence Cookbook" 

By Guy Gedda and Marie Pierre Moine

 4 large, thick pork chops

Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 1/2 T. grainy Dijon mustard

1/4 cup olive oil

10 fresh sage leaves

Cut slits in the fat at regular intervals around the pork chops, and season lightly all over with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, mix together the mustard (I used more) and oil. Coarsely chop and stir in 6 of the sage leaves (I used more). Arrange the chops in a shallow dish and brush both sides with the mustard mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Before cooking, return the chops to room temperature.

In Provence, the chops would be cooked in the hearth over pine cones for about 20 minutes, turned over regularly, and kept about 4 inches from the fire. Alternatively, grill over indirect heat or broil 6 inches from the flame, turning once, until cooked through but still juicy inside, about 15 minutes total, depending on the thickness.

Season with a little extra pepper and garnish each chop with a fresh sage leaf.

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