What I am always struck with about life in France, or anywhere on the Mediterranean for that matter, is not that they have 'better' produce than us. Sure the sun is a major factor in helping to develop ripeness and sweetness (although we have had some very tasteless toms on this trip). It's just that whole mind set of how we approach buying and cooking. The French market experience is one part of this. Getting to market early, bumping into friends, chatting, sampling food, touching, smelling, haggling. Buying only seasonal and local. Cooking simply. Contrast that with our (or my!) experiences. Dashing to the supermarket twice a week. Buying produce that in most part is packaged, non-local, with no idea when it was picked or what processes it has gone through to be grown and its life to be prolonged. The same with meat, it's the hurried snatch from the meat aisle of a cut whose provenance I know nothing, the bread processed to an nth of its life, the ready meals with preservatives only a chemist can truly understand. And it's not that we don't have wonderful produce on our doorstep. We are blessed in my frighteningly middle class neighbourhood with the peerless Bosely Patch farm shop producing local seasonal and fresh produce of the highest order, and bread to boot. We have Machins the butchers who can tell the full story behind every cut of meat they sell and fish they smoke. So why can't I shop there instead of the faceless big stores? It's simple, I'm too lazy! I want the French experience and quality, I want to only eat seasonal and local, but can I get off my backside and organise myself to do so?....um....nope! But I know I need to change, and that's a start.
During our recent trip to Bandols market on the French Riviera, I chanced upon one piece of veg I've always wanted to be able to access in abundance, baby artichokes. I would just love to be able to serve these up boiled, fried or as I did here bbq'd with a paprika aioli. Like my daughter I have a weakness for them preserved in flavoured oil, imagine being able to do that yourself!
The following makes a generous serving for 2/3 people.
1 Lemon halved
6 baby artichokes (but you can have as many as you want, honest!)
Salt and pepper
Cupful (250 ml) vegetable oil
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 clove of garlic
1tbs cider vinegar