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Published: Tuesday, 3/15/2005

Herbes de Provence

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Last of four parts

While it is most often used to season dishes of meat, poultry, and vegetables, there are some surprising ways to use this herb collection to your advantage.

For example, I've adapted the beer-can chicken concept by using ginger ale (in place of beer) and herbes de Provence in place of a standard barbecue rub. I also use herbes de Provence in when cooking lamb shanks in my slow cooker.

The possibilities can only encourage you. Don't to let your jar of herbes de Provence stay buried in your spice rack. From a pizza-like dish to grilling (can you tell I'm thinking about spring?), herbes de Provence brings flavor to the table.

You can even make your own herbes de Provence using this recipe from Andrea Immer in Everyday Dining with Wine (Broadway, $29.95): 1 teaspoon each of dried rosemary, marjoram, oregano, thyme, and basil and 3 crushed bay leaves. For a wine-friendly rub that helps give meat or poultry a caramelized crispness, first season meat with salt and light brown sugar and then the herbes de Provence. (Purists will say that lavender needs to be in herbes de Provence.)

Back to the pizza.

Pissaladiere (pee-sah-lah-DYEHR) is a flaky pizza-like tart topped with onions, anchovies, black olives, and sometimes tomatoes. This specialty of Nice in southern France has strong flavors of anchovies and dark olives.

For a California twist and a milder flavor, replace anchovies with fresh artichokes. Artichoke Pizza made with Italian bread shell or pizza crusts (one brand is Boboli) is seasoned with herbes de Provence and then topped with sliced artichoke hearts (save the leaves for an appetizer), sauteed red onions, Asiago cheese and chopped Kalamata olives.

It has a very good flavor. Plus, leftovers hold well and are good enough to eat cold the next day.

If you are unfamiliar with cooking fresh artichokes, cook them in boiling water or microwave them (see sidebar). You can cook the artichokes in advance or in the morning before you go to work; then store them refrigerated until dinner-time to make the pizza-like tart.

Herbes de Provence not only makes a great rub for grilled poultry, use it also when roasting small turkeys and turkey breasts in your oven. Sprinkle the herbs inside the cavity and around the outside skin before baking.

It's a seasoning that lends itself to the Mediterranean Diet, which is based on the style of eating in Mediterranean countries. Many advocate the Mediterranean Diet as being healthy and a way to lose weight.

Mediterranean diets include olive oil as a primary fat source; have a high intake of fruits, vegetables, bread, potatoes, legumes, unrefrined wholegrain foods, nuts, and seeds; advoate moderate consumption of cheese and yogurt; fish at least twice a week; moderate amounts of poultry; little consumption of red meat (mostly lamb); eggs two to four times a week, and wine with meals in moderation, writes Jeannette Seaver in My New Mediterranean Cookbook (Arcade Publishing, $27).

"The Mediterranean cuisine welcomes herbes de Provence," said Ms. Seaver in a phone interview, who uses it as a seasoning with Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Fresh Figs. We adapted her recipe in the middle of winter by using available tropical fruits.

"Herbes de Provence goes with fish, vegetables, grilled foods. The fragrance enriches soup. When I make vegetable soup I add a good teaspoon to add a dimension of flavor," she says. The cookbook author has used it in marinades, stews, and sprinkles it over a leg of lamb before roasting the meat.

Lamb Chops with Herbes de Provence made with an herbes de Provence-crumb crust is easier than dredging in egg and flour. Plus the crumb crust can be used for pork chops or veal chops.

Herbes de provence can also be used with vegetables such as grilled squash, a recipe from Steve Raichlen. In Raichlen's Indoor! Grilling (Workman, $18.95), he notes that the thickness you slice squash depends on the type of grilling you are using. To cook on a contact grill, slice it thick enough - about 1/2 inch - so that both sides will come in contact with the grill; in a grill pan or on a built-in or freestanding grill, you'll get the best browning and flavor if the squash is 1/4-inch thick.

Season other veggies with herbes de Provence for grilling such as eggplant, bell peppers, portobello mushrooms, etc.

Enjoy this world of recipes built around herbs and herb combinations. With bay leaves and parsley, bouquet garni and herbes de Provence at your fingertips, spring is the time to start seasoning!

Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.

Contact her at food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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