Provence is the southeastern region of France from the Rhone river in the west to Monaco in the East. Its cuisine is a product of its geography and history. The people of Provence have historically been working-class poor farmers and fishermen and their food reflects in making the most out of humble ingredients like eggplants and anchovies. The hallmark flavors of the Provence region are its famous Niçoise black olives, fresh herbs, and lots and lots of onion and garlic.
Provençal cuisine is immensely popular because of its use of fresh ingredients, bold flavors, and fragrant herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and basil. The cuisine draws influences from the Mediterranean region and its proximity to the sea results in a focus on seafood dishes. The region’s warm climate allows for an abundance of local produce like tomatoes, olives, and garlic, which are widely used in its cooking. The popularity of French cuisine and tourism to the region has helped increase the visibility of the best Provençal dishes.
Enjoy this tasty compilation of the best Provençal recipes for you to try!
More than other regions of France, Provence sometimes looks to Italy for inspiration in their food. This influence likely dates all the way back to the days of the Roman empire of Europe. The French Pissaladière tart is basically a Provencal anchovy pizza. Pissaladière gets its name from the “pissala,” a puree of tiny fish preserved in brine, which is sometimes used in place of anchovies. This French pizza is a highlight reel for the stars of Provencal cuisine: herbs like rosemary, thyme, and basil, mild onions, tomatoes, and dark olives.
Viewed with suspicion until the 19th century, tomatoes did not historically play a role on the Provençal table. But, once they tried them, the people of Provence embraced the tasty vegetable-like fruit enthusiastically. You’re more likely to see this stuffed tomato dish in a Provencal home than you will in a restaurant, but around the world, some top-class chefs are featuring it. To make this you will need large, perfectly ripe beefsteak tomatoes, ground pork or beef, lots of olive oil, garlic, shallots, fresh thyme, basil, rosemary, and oregano.
Melon au Porto
Cantaloupe melon and port wine. This dish really is as simple as it sounds. Fresh fruit is so rampant in Provence that most cookbooks from the region do not even include a dessert section. With superb ingredients, you don’t have to do all that much with them. If you’re going to make a dish this simple, you must make sure that both ingredients are of the highest quality. Get creative with the presentation by either cutting the melon in half, scooping out the pulp and pouring the port in the melon bowl, or cutting creative designs in the melon.
If you have the patience of Job and the strong arm of a Provencal grandmother, this incredible sauce is for you. This garlicky mayonnaise is well worth the effort. If sauces had royalty, Grand Aioli would be the Queen Mother. Classically made with a mortar and pestle, fresh garlic is ground with egg yolks and olive oil, one drop at a time until a smooth and creamy sauce develops. Balanced with lemon juice, this is a great dipping sauce for fried Panisse and is unquestionably one of the best Provençal recipes.
Fried Panisse is the perfect chickpea French fry. Chickpea flour is cooked in liquid and oil in much the same way polenta or grits are cooked. The liquid varies from cook to cook and can be anything from water to stock or milk or even heavy cream. Once the floor is cooked to the consistency of grits, it is poured out onto a pan to cool. As it cools, the Panisse will become firm and can be cut into batons to look like regular French fries. Fry the Panisse batons in some olive oil and then sprinkle chopped parsley and serve with aioli as a dip.
Salade à la Niçoise
Provence is known for its vast fields of fresh produce and long Mediterranean coast. The salad of Nice reflects the bounty of the surrounding countryside. Named mainly for the rich, black olives of Nice, this salad classically features broad fava beans, artichokes, tomatoes, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs and either anchovies or tuna. While the French food dictionary Larouse Gastronomique loudly proclaims that potatoes or other cooked vegetables of any kind shall not be included in salade ala Niçoise, many professional chefs and home cooks alike choose to add them anyways.
Provençal Chickpea Salad
For a healthy dish, try the Provençal Chickpea Salad. This simple classic salad is usually served on Palm Sunday. Perfect as a side or a light main dish, this chickpea salad showcases the bright herbaceousness of Provencal cookery. Creamy chickpeas provide a punch of protein while raw onion gives a contrasting crunch and black Niçoise olives give a salty, brininess. Other optional ingredients include anchovies, fresh cucumbers, and tomatoes.
Tomates à la Provençale
One of the most iconic Provençale dishes, Tomates à la Provençale demands to be included in the list of best Provencal recipes. Ripe tomatoes are cut in half and topped with garlic, fresh herbs, breadcrumbs, and olive oil. Perfect for late summer candle-lit dinners with a grilled steak and chilled wine.
The socca Nicoise is a popular street food chickpea crepe in Nice where it is cooked up in large round copper pans over a wood fire. With a rich, semi-sweet and nutty flavor, the socca’s moist and slightly chewy center perfectly compliments the crunchy edges of the chickpea crepe. Socca are great as a snack on their own, or pair perfectly as a side with a fresh vegetable salad.
Bouillabaisse is the quintessential and the most widely known of the best Provencal recipes. Made famous by non-other than Provence-born Auguste Escoffier, this seafood soup became a mainstay at swanky restaurants around the world. For all its high status now, bouillabaisse had humble beginnings. Poor fishermen would gather the catch they could not sell at the market and boil them in sea water right on the beach.
The name bouillabaisse comes from bouiller (to boil) and abaisser (to reduce) meaning this dish is more about the technique than specific ingredients. Variations of the dish abound even in Provence. In Marseille, a bread called marrette is made especially for this soup, and slices are laid in the bottom of the bowls and then the soup is poured on top. In Martigues, potatoes are added. But the most commonly used ingredients are rockfish, mussels, fennel, anise liqueur, and citrus.
Bake Cod Provençal with Tomatoes
A close cousin to bouillabaisse, this hearty baked cod is a perfect wintertime meal. Cod filets are stewed in a rich base of fennel, tomatoes, black olives, capers, and the classic flavors of herbs de Provence.
Provençal Goat Cheese Tuna Melt
Admittedly this dish may be an American invention with Provencal inspiration, but that doesn’t stop it from being very tasty. Goat cheese or chevre gives this open-face concoction a unique tangy creaminess while fresh tomatoes and herbs evoke the flavors of Provence. Served on an excellent slice of toasted, crunchy bread and served with a chilled glass of white wine, this might just be the perfect summer lunch.
Black Olive Tapenade
Likely an inheritance from the Romans, Black Olive Tapenade is a thick spread of the famous olives of Nice is the perfect mix of land and sea that Provence is known for. Black olives, capers, anchovies, and fresh herbs are blended together to make a rich, salty, briny flavor that goes perfectly on crunchy toast or crackers.
Classic Vegetable Tian
A vegetable tian is an earthenware oven-proof dish from Provence. Like bouillabaisse, there are as many variations of tian as there are cooks, but classically the vegetable version has eggplant, tomato, and zucchini. And, because it is Provence, plenty of olive oil, fresh herbs, and garlic.
A very close cousin, maybe even a sibling of the vegetable tian, Ratatouille is our inheritance from the humble vegetable farmers of Provence. Tomatoes, eggplants, Bell Peppers, Onions, lots of garlic, and plenty of fresh herbs, tossed generously with plenty of olive oil and baked low and slow. Magic happens when good ingredients are cooked low and slow. Try ratatouille any time of the year, but it’s best in early fall when the vegetables are at peak freshness.
Provençal Eggplant Tomato Gratin
This eggplant tian can be an excellent vegan or vegetarian dish. For best results, slice the eggplant, salt heavily and allow to drain in a colander. Then rinse, dry, and layer in a casserole dish or tian, with crushed tomatoes, fresh parsley, thyme, oregano, and bay leaf. Mix in sliced onions and garlic. Optional topping could be breadcrumbs with olive oil, or grated cheese, then bake low and slow.
Chicken Provençal with Olives
By now, I’m sure you are catching on the main flavor theme of Provence. Those bright, beautiful herbs and the rich brininess of the black Niçoise olives. Most of the chickens in Provence are free-range and tougher than the caged birds we are used to in American grocery stores. This tough chicken will need a longer cooking time, so it is soaked in white wine and combined with tomatoes which will help soften the meat. It would not be a dish from Provence without shallots and garlic. But what makes this dish unique and one of the best Provençal recipes is that it is sweetened with dried dates.
Lavender Sablé Cookies
The lavender fields of Provence are an iconic image of the region for a reason. The herb perfumes the air and much of the food in the region. The classic Lavender Sablé Cookies are famous across France where every region has its own specialty version. These cookies are quick to make, and decadently buttery and the little flecks of purple make them beautiful to look at.
In conclusion, Provençal cuisine is a vibrant and flavorful culinary tradition that showcases the best of the Mediterranean region. From hearty stews and slow-cooked roasts to fresh seafood dishes and aromatic herb-infused recipes, there is something for everyone in this diverse cuisine. Whether you’re looking for a comforting meal for a cold day or a light and flavorful dish for a summer’s evening, Provençal cuisine has it all. So why not take a trip to the South of France with your taste buds and try some of these delicious recipes today? Bon appétit!