Put Provence on your plate

Taking inspiration from the cuisine of France’s south, Alex Jackson has received critical acclaim for his London restaurant Sardine. The chef reveals his Provençal inspirations and provides insight into what constitutes authenticity in cuisine... plus three great recipes

For many, this author included, Provence will always be associated with summer, when the sunlight shimmers on the Mediterranean, the lavender flowers open themselves up to the bees, and the weekly markets burst with life: taut aubergines (eggplants) of a dark, rich purple; bright courgettes (zucchini) that break with a snap and a teardrop of sweet juice; a knee-high pile of the finest green and yellow beans; the perfume of a melon heavy with nectar.

The tomatoes, as big as your hand, smell not just of the green of their vines but of a real terra cotta.

‘There’s some excellent cooking to be found at the high end of the spectrum and romance abounds for those who can afford it’ says Chef Alex Jackson

On the plate, it’s time for salade Niçoise, for soupe au pistou, for ratatouille, those most quintessential of Provençal dishes.

These are all simple things, but when done well and when there’s a scrap of sunlight to enjoy them in, they sing loudly of summers and suppers beyond the sea.

British summer, as short as it usually is, is a lot of fun. Barbecues are dusted off, picnic blankets shaken out and the country’s mood is lifted. Tally ho! Cucumber sandwiches on the lawn. But, looking overseas, I sometimes feel a twang of envy.

‘Over there’, opportunities to enjoy the weather come easily, and a summer day’s cooking does not necessarily involve a link of sausages grilled in the garden, but rather a carefully curated basket of vegetables in fine health and full season.

It seems somehow much easier to cook simply when the produce is so good: lunch can be some goats’ cheeses, a tomato salad and grilled peppers with basil, then ripe peaches for pudding.

So where do these two summers meet? As much as I would ...

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