Lunch in Provence

Rachael McKenna and Jean-André Charial

(Wild Dog Press)

If you’ve savoured al fresco culinary celebrations in this southern French province, this title will invoke floods of nostalgia. If such a treat is on your bucket list, it will move it to top priority position.

Either way, this beautiful hardback, filled with pictures of landscapes and hilltop villages, markets and outdoor restaurants, dewy produce and plates of local specialities, will inspire not only Francophiles but all who relish Provençal gastronomy and style.

Rachael McKenna is a successful photographer and best-selling writer on subjects as diverse as parenting and pets. From her native New Zealand she moved to the south of France with her husband and daughter, and has trained her lens on the food and landscapes of Provence, producing a stunning mélange. The text is provided by chef Jean-André Charial, reflecting his passion for food, respect for ingredients, recognition of environment and tradition. He provides recipes from his own Michelin-starred restaurants alongside traditional Provençal classics.

Long and languid lunches are a tradition in this part of the world, often ending at 6pm. The introduction, penned by American food writer Patricia Wells, sums up these occasions perfectly. She describes them as ritual experiences that are all about friends, fresh ingredients, sun, sky and moments that build memories.

It would be difficult to think of anyone who could improve on her descriptions of visits to open-air markets to collect seasonal produce, olives and oil. The boulangerie, patisserie, fromagerie and charcuterie are next in line, and bottles of local rosé wine complete the makings of feasts that do not require more than minutes in the kitchen.

It’s even possible – although not likely – to include wildlife in the scenario: Wells describes the havoc wrought in her kitchen garden by wild boar which showed a preference for sorrel and parsley, and left giant teeth marks on pumpkins and courgettes.

The first recipe, Provençal vegetables with pesto, is one easily reproduced in Cape summers, although I wonder if we would be brave enough to include turnip with the peas and beans, onion and celery, tomato and potato. Spring veggies and pesto accompany red mullet, fried in olive oil.

Battered courgette flowers, stuffed with aubergine, pine nuts, parmesan and black olives require patience, making the equally traditional ratatouille an easier option.

More sophisticated contemporary creations from Charial’s team of chefs include a sophisticated egg dish starring artichokes, mushrooms, asparagus and truffles, while toppings of meringue and scoops of lemon sorbet add panache to Gallic lemon tartlets.

Gratinated mussels, bouillabaisse and salade niçoise are followed by French pigeon, rabbit with carrots, and lamb dishes to please local cooks. Pastries, ices and sorbets make fitting finales.

Although not crammed with recipes, there are sufficient to inspire many a long lunch. As far as visual art and a rich evocation of a timeless scene go, this is a title you will page through again and again. - Sunday Argus