AIX-EN-PROVENCE — this aristocratic old university town, whose surrounding hills were painted with such affection by Cézanne, boasts a topnotch hotel in the fine old tradition and with a notable cuisine. This is the Hôtel Roi-René, and exceedingly comfortable, well-run hostelry. There are Provençal specialties to be found on this menu, and delicious ones. We feel that the Roi-René can offer you as pleasant a séjour as any large hotel in Provence.
LE LUC-EN-PROVENCE—If you motor inland to the Riviera, there are a few good relais gastronomiques along the way. Two of them are in the picturesque valley town of Le Luc. The Hostellerie du Parc, surrounded by a pleasant garden, offers the classic trout, crayfish, and chicken routine to the traveler, and does it skillfully. The Hôtel de l'Etape leans more to Provençal fare. You can sample a worthy bouillabaisse here, or that subtle specialty, brandade de morue. The regional wines in both inns are very palatable.
LA CELLE—A mile or so outside of Brignoles is the restored Abbaye de la Celle, long recognized as an epicurean oasis. More regional dishes await you here, notably that delectable onion tart called pissaladière.
DIGNE—The large area covered in this article also includes the foothills of the Alps, through which many motorists drive northward to Grenoble. The hilly capital of Digne is an established stopover along this route. The Ermitage Napoléon, on the outskirts of the town, is a most comfortable small hotel with a gifted chef. His pâté en croûte still lingers in mind. The trout from nearby mountain streams is an added comfort. Good regional fare will also be found in the Hôtel Grand Paris, where you dine with a fine view of the mountains. So there is a choice in Digne, which is race.
BARCELONNETTE—This is a very remote town indeed, but if you happen to wander that far in the hills, the Touring Hôtel is there to offer you hospitality and the best food in the region FORCALQUIER—This pleasant town offers you the Hotellerie de la Louette as a fitting stopover for luncheon or dinner. There is an agreeable garden, and the food is substantial and good.
If the quality of Provençal cookery hasn't the finesse of that of Burgundy or the richness of that of Périgord, it has greater variety than either. Provence ranks fist among all the French provinces when it comes to diversity and number of regional recipes. Very few provinces can boast a good book on local cookery. You'll search in vain for a volume on the cuisine of Brittany or the Touraine or even Paris and the Ile-de-France. But Provence has three or four excellent ones, the most famous of which is La Cuisinière Provençale, by Jean-Baptiste Reboul. Printed on outrageously poor paper, with a shoddy paper cover, it is nevertheless a treasure for collectors. Another enticing volume on Provence has been written exclusively by food-conscious French doctors, traditionally astute in gastronomic matters. Provençal cooking is so many-sided that it seems almost impertinent to select a few recipes at random. But space is limited, and we hope that you try these simple Provençal dishes with the realization that they only scratch the surface of the subject.
Aubergines Farcies aux Anchois (Eggplant Stuffed with Anchovies)
Cut in half lengthwise an eggplant of the long oval shape. Do not peel it but cut the center crisscross in all directions with slits about 1/2 inch deep. Sauté the two halves on the flat side in 3 tablespoons hot olive oil for about 10 minutes. Place them in a shallow baking dish and cover with the following stuffing:
Mash together to a paste 10 flat anchovy filets and 3 cloves garlic, chopped, 4 tablespoons bread crumbs soaked in 3 tablespoons strong beef bouillon, and a little pepper. Mix well and after spreading it on the eggplant, sprinkle with finely chopped parsley, a few bread crumbs, and a little oil. Cook in a hot over (400° F.) for about 30 minutes.
Paupiettes de Veau Provençale (Veal Birds Provençal)
For 4 average-sized and thinly sliced escalopes of veal (4 by 6 inches more or less) make the following stuffing:
Chop very finely and mash together 5 tablespoons finely diced bacon (or half bacon, half salt pork), 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1/4 teaspoon each tarragon, basil, and thyme, 1/2 teaspoon rosemary, and 2 cloves garlic, chopped.
Season the veal slices with salt and pepper. Spread a good spoonful of the stuffing on each of the thin slices of veal. Roll them up and tie with kitchen string.
Cook these slowly in butter until they are brown on all sides. Add 1/2 cup veal or other stock, cover, and continue cooking until done, or for about 1/2 hour in all, depending upon the thickness of the veal. Add more stock while it is cooking if it dries out too much. When done, remove to a hot platter, and 1/4 cup Madeira to the sauce, and simmer for a minute, stirring in all the good brown stuff in the bottom of the pan. Pour this sauce through a fine strainer over the paupiettes and serve.
Petits Pâtés à la Provençale (Small Turnovers Provençal)
Pound together in a mortar until creamy: 5 anchovy filets, canned in oil, 2 medium-sized shallots, chopped, 1 clove garlic, chopped, and 4 peppercorns.
Add to this mixture 1 teaspoon oil from the anchovy tin, 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon chopped chives, and 1 tablespoon brandy.