Here are some of my favorite recipes for an Apero - which in France is something more than just a drink before dinner. It’s a special event! Or rather an occasion to come together and relax, converse and enjoy tte company of friends. Often in France you’ll be invited to someone’s home just for the ‘Apero’ which is short for aperitif. This generally starts around 7 pm, with champagne, wine or beer, and is always accompanied by some food, light snacks or more copious savory small bites. I like to call my way of doing apéro an apéro gourmand - serving hearty savory goodies.
Here are some of my favorite traditional Provençale Apéro recipes:
The most important thing about this dish is the quality of the aubergines (eggplants)
They should be firm and shiny. If they are soft and dull they’re past their due date and become bitter.
2 very fresh aubergines
4 whole cloves of garlic
2 Tbs good quality olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Put the oven on 375 degrees Fahrenheit
Or (190 C)
Rinse the aubergines and spike them with a knife - just a few times so they do not explode in the oven.
Cut the garlic cloves tops off or in half if quite large, leaving the skins on, and drizzle a bit of olive oil on them. Place the garlic cloves in a small oven proof ramekin to bake.
Place the pierced whole aubergines without any oil just on the oven rack.
Bake until the aubergines are soft and the garlic light brown - about 40 minutes.
Transfer the aubergines to a cutting board and slice them down the middle. This can be done after it’s cooled down or right away - using a towel to protect yourself from the hot aubergines, scoop out the inside meat out leaving the skin.
Place the meaty inside and the roasted garlic ( without skinks) along with the olive oil in a container to purée together smooth using a hand held emulsion mixer or a blender.
Add salt, pepper and fresh chiffonnade of Basil to taste. Can only be improved by a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Serve this with baguette or toast points in a small decorative bowl with the Basil on top as garnish.
Brandade de Morue
This gorgeous savory salted cod dish originated from Nimes in the 18th century; where fishermen from the north exchanged cod fish (Moreau) for salt in the south.
Salted cod was and still is made by preserving the fresh fish in a thick coating of kosher salt.
The fish requires destination - soaking the fish in water for a few hours - rinsing and changing tte water 2 - 3 times. This is how you remove the salt from the cod fish.
This can be served as a dip, pipping hot out of the oven, room temperature or cold, on toast or even as a main dish with a green salad.
500 gr. (half pound)of salted cod ( found in most supermarkets at the fish counter) desalinated and patted dry.
500 gr. (half pound) of firm thin skinned yellow potatoes like Amandine or Yukon gold - for mashing.
2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup whole fresh milk
1 Tbs butter
4 large cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Parsley to garnish ( optional)
Desalinate the salted cod 4 to 6 hours in advance by rinsing and then soaking in a cold water bath in the fridge - change the water 2-3 times over the course of 4-6 hours. It can be left overnight or for up to 12 hours in the water. This all depends on how salty your like your cod to be in this dish. The longer it soaks in the water the less salty it will become.
Boil the potatoes whole with skins on starting in cold water with enough water to cover them times 3, as otherwise cooking potatoes in too little water will result in overly starchy purée. Remove the skins whilst the potatoes are still hot - you can quickly rinse them under cold water before removing the skins to cool them down. It’s important to mash the potatoes when they are still hot! If they are left to mash when cold they will be like glue. Boiling them with skins creates a lighter less watery consistency but isn’t entirely necessary and saves some time as you can just mash them directly without having to remove the skins first.
Mash the potatoes with 1/2 cup good quality olive oil mixing well - this can be a smooth purée or more rustic with small whole pieces of potatoes left in, up to you!
Put the oven upper broiler on high.
Place the desalted fish in a baking dish with the milk and a sprinkle of olive oil and all of the chopped garlic. Broil this to cook the fish for 6 minutes.
Once you’ve got your fish mixture out of the oven mix it together well with the purée of potatoes and add pepper. Fill in a baking dish, terrine or small individual ramekins with the mashed mix and add the butter on top.
Pop this back under the broiler for 5 minutes or you can save it to bake in a hot oven at a later time. Best to bake it at 375 F or 190 C not broil if at a later time as it will cook more evenly.
I like to serve this dish hot out of the oven on toast but you may also serve it room temperature or cold. It’s soo good either way!
Grilled Sardine Bruschetta
In one of Alain Ducasses recipe books on Provençale food he has about a half a dozen dishes using sardines. Not surprising as Sardines are so good for you, tasty and easy to prepare. They are very inexpensive as well.
Count 1 -2 sardines per person
Fresh Sardines - cleaned and with bones removed.
Hearty whole wheat bread or baguette
1/2 cup good quality olive oil
1/2 bunch of Fresh parsley
1 fresh lemon
Cream fraîche or homemade mayonnaise fir garnish ( see recipe below)
Par dry thé cleaned sardines
Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a heavy bottomed skillet or sautée pan. They are also even more tasty when grilled on a bbq.
Sear the sardines on high heat flesh side down for 3-4 minutes, until cooked.
Make a sauce from the chopped garlic, parsley and olive oil.
Slice the bread thinly on a diagonal so that you have pieces which will hold the entire whole sardine on top. This is enough for 2 bites. A note on this - at a standing cocktail party finger food should be bite sized - one bite or 2.
Toast the bread slices with a bit of olive oil in the oven for 5 minutes on 375 F (190 C) or until slightly browned.
Assemble first lather the toast with the garlic sauce, then add a grilled sardine, garnish with a squeeze of lemon, a small dollop of cream fraîche or mayonnaise and finely sliced half lemon wedges.
These can be prepared an hour or so earlier and set aside in room temperature to serve later.
Aioli - homemade garlic mayonnaise
This is such a classic sauce from Provence, and can be served with so many things. It’s so easy to make and requires just 1 egg yolk, a garlic clove and 2 cups of olive oil.
Some traditionalists say that you need to start mashing the garlic first in the bottom of the bowl in order to activate the egg yolk so test it becomes mayonnaise - for me it’s more about getting your arm into whisking the egg yolk and not stopping and being patient when adding tte olive oil. Aïoli is best made with 2 people if your doing it by hand as you need someone to drizzle the oil into the egg yolk mix as you continue to kneed or whisk it.
You can use aïoli as you would any store bought mayonnaise - in deviled eggs it is truly amazing! As a dipping sauce for boiled shrimp (cocktail style), with fresh vegetables or as a garnish as in the proceeding récipé.
One of the most famous dishes in the South of France is called Aïoli - it’s a plate of steamed vegetables and white fish served with the homemade garlic mayonnaise. So simple and fresh. You almost don’t feel guilty lapping down the delicious mayonnaise as it’s served with such healthy accompaniments.
Makes 2 cups mayonnaise
Chop and smash the whole garlic clove to almost a paste. Put this into your mixing bowl. Add 1 large egg yolk - at room temperature.
Start whisking or smashing in a circular movement if using a porter and pestal.
Wait until the egg yolk starts to thicken 30 seconds before drizzling 2 or 3 drops of olive oil at a time - keep going making sure to continue to vigorously whisk and add the oil very slowly - drops at a time until it really starts to thicken - then you can add all of the oil in a very fine steam. This takes around 3-5 minutes so as you can imagine also requires a strong arm and patience! I recommend doing this by hand as it’s a good work out and really allows you a feel for and appreciation of making this beautiful sauce. You can add a teaspoon of mustard, more mashed garlic or saffron - which is done for the toast points in the ´Rouille ´ for Bouillabaisse.