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Ooh-la-la! The elegantly simple food of Provence

Since buying a farmhouse in the Provence region of southern France, food writer and restaurant critic Patricia Wells (The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune) has become fascinated with the simple, elegant and healthy cuisine of the area. Her interest has resulted in “The Provence Cookbook," which she discussed on “Today.” Here are some recipes, including the tuna dish she prepa
/ Source: TODAY

Since buying a farmhouse in the Provence region of southern France, food writer and restaurant critic Patricia Wells (The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune) has become fascinated with the simple, elegant and healthy cuisine of the area. Her interest has resulted in “The Provence Cookbook," which she discussed on “Today.” Here are some recipes, including the tuna dish she prepared on the show.

Tuna Fillet With Meyer Lemons and Summer Savory (Filet de Thon au Citron a Meyer et a la Sarriette)Patricia Wells

My potted Meyer lemon trees are some of the dearest plants in the garden. (Meyer lemons are thought to have originated in China and tend to be rounder, larger and sweeter than regular lemons.) I still can't believe that I can grow lemons and have to stop myself from always trying to keep the fruit "for good." If I don’t watch myself they'll just hang there until they are overripe and past their prime. I could eat fresh red Mediterranean tuna — thon rouge — every few days if given the chance, and so I look forward to creating new ways to prepare it. This thoroughly Provençal creation was inspired by the Meyer lemon trees and the huge patch of summer savory — sarriette — that thrives at the edge of my vegetable garden. When lemons are sliced paper-thin on a mandoline they become almost sweet, offering a brilliant, delicious contrast to the rich, densely flavored tuna.

Equipment: A mandoline or very sharp knife; a large nonstick skillet.

With a mandoline or a very sharp knife, slice the lemons into paper thin slices, shaving the slices directly into a large, shallow bowl to catch all the juices. Add the strips of tuna, olive oil, and herbs. Toss to blend and marinate for 10 minutes.

9122945604813254836132398046049227771lemons 22 lemons (Meyer lemons if available)tuna fillet12ounceAbout 12 ounces ultra fresh tuna fillet, cut into even strips about ¼ inch thick and about 4 inches longextra-virgin olive oil6tablespoon6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oilsummer savory leaves 2tablespoon2 tablespoons fresh summer savory leaves (or substitute thyme leaves or rosemary leaves)summer savory4sprig4 sprigs fresh summer savory, thyme, or rosemary, for garnish
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SPECIAL COVERAGE

Three-Pear Cake (Gâteau aux Trois Poires)Patricia Wells

One of the very first things I did once we acquired our farmhouse in the early 1980s was to plant a trio of espaliered pear trees. I had always admired the perfectly trained and tended trees in the Loire Valley, at Versailles, and in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, and I carried around a naively romantic view of my very own verger, or orchard. The trees were planted and staked, but somehow neither I nor (my husband,) Walter, nor any of the succession of gardeners we have hired over the years, seems to have the proper espalier pruning knack The three different varieties of pears — Poire William, Passe Crassagne, and Bon Chrétien — have grown and grown and produce volumes of fruit, but in honesty, most people would not recognize them as espaliered trees. Also, never having grown pears, I had no idea how difficult it was to gauge their ripeness. Unripe, they totally lack flavor. But once they are ripe and fall from the trees, all manner of insects and critters come to devour their share. What I have finally learned to do is to pick them just before they begin to fall from the trees, store them in a dark, cool place to ripen, then begin cooking as many pears as I can in the shortest amount of time! This is a variation on my popular Apple Lady's Apple Cake (see “The Paris Cookbook”). I have fiddled with it quite a bit, substituting yogurt for milk (which gives a more moist texture), highlighting the pear flavor with a touch of pear eau-de-vie, and boosting the acidity with a touch of lemon. I serve this with a Buttermilk Sorbet.

Equipment: A 9-inch spring-form pan.

1: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Butter the pan and set aside.

2: In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, and stir to blend. Add the vanilla, eggs, oil, eau-de-vie, yogurt, and lemon zest, and stir until well blended. Add the pears and stir to thoroughly coat the fruit with the batter.

3: Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake pan. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake until fairly firm and golden, about 40 minutes.

4: Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the sugar, egg, eau-de-vie, and lemon zest and stir to blend. Set aside.

5: Once the cake is firm and golden, remove it from the oven and pour the sugar mixture on top of the cake, evening it out with a spatula. Return the cake to the oven and bake until the top is a deep golden brown and the cake feels quite firm when pressed with a fingertip, about 10 minutes more, for a total baking time of 50 minutes.

6: Remove to a rack to cool. After 10 minutes, run a knife along the side of the pan. Release and remove the side of the spring form pan, leaving the cake on the pan base. Serve at room temperature, cut into thin wedges.

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Butter and flourButter and flour for preparing the panall-purpose flour0.5cup1/2 cup all-purpose floursugar0.3333333333333333cup1/3 cup sugarbaking powder1tablespoon1 tablespoon baking powdersea salt0.125teaspoon1/8 teaspoon fine sea saltvanilla extract0.5teaspoon1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extracteggs22 large eggs, lightly beatenvegetable oil1tablespoon1 tablespoon vegetable oilpear eau-de-vie1tablespoon1 tablespoon pear eau-de-vieplain yogurt0.3333333333333333cup1/3 cup nonfat plain yogurtlemon1Grated zest of 1 lemonpear2pound4 large pears (about 2 pounds), peeled, cored, and cut lengthwise into 16thssugar0.3333333333333333cup1/3 cup sugaregg11 large egg, lightly beatenpear eau-de-vie (a liqueur)1tablespoon1 tablespoon pear eau-de-vie (a liqueur)lemonGrated zest of 1 lemon

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From “The Provence Cookbook,” by Patricia Wells. Copyright ©2004 by Patricia Wells. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.