Ced and Gil have just returned from a woozy month at Le Soupir. Le Soupir—a.k.a. the Sigh—is their house, not quite in the haute Var, about 5 kilometers from Callas, “a pretty unspoilt village of about 1,200 folk and a Saturday market with a fish stall which this year had stunning sole, done meuniere, and sar, which I baked stuffed with fennel and thyme from our lane.”
Are you green yet? Read on.
“The countryside is hilly and very wooded, slowly overtaking the old terracing, mainly chestnut (used to make flour and currently being revived) and oak. Roads are sinuous, but the only real danger is from putative Tour de France cyclists hurling themselves downhill.”
But back to the food. And the wine.
There were litres of rose from Jas D’Esclans: “dry, flinty, biologique.” A three-hour birthday luncheon on the beautiful terrasse at Hotel Les Gorges de Pennafort (“cold cauliflower soup/mousse with a hint of vanilla”) . And “to die for tomates poivrons,” sun-warmed and delivered weekly ‘by our neighbor Thomas.” Thomas, who also has 150 olive trees on his property and presses his own oil, must be the ideal neighbor.
Now to the un-recipe.
A silver tin of gorgeous AOC Huile d’Olive de Provence from the Moulin de Callas, only slightly dented from its trans-Atlantic crossing, arrived in our kitchen a few days ago. This is Ced and Gil’s local oil. It comes from an old mill with a working water wheel run by four generations of the Berenguier family since 1928. Four olives–Aglandau, Bouteillan, Cayon and Cayet Roux, all typically planted in the Var—make up this seductive extra-virgin blend.
Mental tasting notes: Green, light fruit, herbaceous. Marvelously fragrant. Peppery in the back of the throat, but with that lively freshness you only get when the moulin is just a few kilometers away.
I couldn’t wait to use it.
The gift of the oil coincided with the arrival of a pound or two of adorable Fairytale eggplants in our weekly box from Elysian Fields Farm. They are not much bigger than a man’s index finger, though more bulbous at one end than any finger should be. (Imagine a cartoon finger swollen by a hammer smash…) They are vibrant purple with faint brushstrokes of white, and so beautiful that for days I kept them in an old yellow glazed bowl from the Hunza Valley just so I could wallow in the colors.
But finally I had to cook them. You don’t need a recipe for this one:
Take some (at least 2 pounds) small purple eggplants, Fairytale if you can get them, but long Asian ones will do. Trim the ends, cut them in half and rub them all over with olive oil. Put them on a grill, either outside over coals after you’ve cooked something else, maybe a pork tenderloin, and the heat is low, or inside on a stove top grill. Don’t char them too fast—the idea is to let them cook slowly until the flesh is soft and creamy.
Toss the eggplant in a bowl with lemon juice and big handfuls of coarsely chopped herbs from the garden. I used the last of our black-stemmed mint and a spicy mix of gone-to-seed Thai, Genovese and cinnamon basils—you could also use cilantro, Italian parsley and lemon thyme, or almost any herbs that appeal to you. (The skins of the tiny eggplants were so tender I didn’t bother to peel them. If you’re using long oriental ones, you may want to chop them into bite size pieces.) Add a generous amount of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and a big swirl of your very best olive oil.
Let the eggplant sit for at least 20 minutes. Taste. Add more lemon juice and salt if you like. Now this is important: Serve with a little pitcher of that excellent olive oil. Be sure to dribble it over the eggplant just before you eat it. This will make the eggplant even more luscious and counteract any bitterness in the skins.
Almost as good as summer in Provence.