Provence is an amazing place that enchants you with plenty of plants, even during the bleak winter months, where on some days we can be lucky enough to be sitting outside for lunch during January. Even so, when you finally feel spring setting in it is a very special moment, especially because where we live is called Provence Verte, or ‘Green Provence’ with good reason. The mix of warm sunny days and frequent rains during March and April give nature a real kick start and the place becomes green and lush with colourful, beautifully scented flowers wherever you look.
The gnarly vines lag slightly behind the bright yellow mimosas, great patches of purple irises and heavily scented orange and lemon trees. Vines were all pruned during the winter months and have been standing in the vineyards like naked scarecrows looking for their new clothes. It’s funny to think that just as the 2014 vintage is arriving in wine stores around the world, the next crop is beginning to take hold, with all the hope and expectations that we may have a decent harvest and a good year ahead.
The local food markets have been much reduced in size during winter and finally by the Easter week-end the merchants are back in force, visitors are back in town and colourful homegrown vegetables start to re-appear. Come April the first batches of asparagus appear, followed by the heavily scented small strawberries from the Carpentras region and soon melons will be piled high on market stalls. The heritage tomatoes are also beginning to come back and to taste once again like they ought to. I recently bought a big bunch of green asparagus, the local kind is really quite large and has not much to do with the skinny green ones you find in supermarkets abroad. They are big chunky stems, green at the top and white at the bottom. You do need to chop quite a bit off to get to the tender parts, but the taste makes up for the waste.
I made a simple pasta recipe, with some added sin and texture by using salted uncooked ham and pine kernels to make a creamy sauce.
To feed 4 you need:
1 Packet of uncooked dried ham
1 handful of pine kernels
1 tub of simple cream
a bunch of green asparagus
Prepare a large saucepan with plenty of salted water and set to boil.
Trim the asparagus to make sure you keep no woody bits. Chop it into pieces and blanch it for a couple of minutes in a pan with a little salted water- make sure to keep some bite. Take the asparagus out with tongs and reduce the remaining water by half. Keep this in a separate jug.
Dry off the pan and fry the bacon and pine kernels together until crispy. Add the water from the asparagus and the cream.
Cook the pasta, make sure you keep it al dente, drain it and return it to the saucepan. Add the cream, bacon and pine kernel sauce and make sure all the pasta is covered nicely. Then add the asparagus pieces and turn it all very gently, you want to preserve the stem as much as possible. Make sure it’s warmed through carefully and serve it in a nice big dish.
So when you see the asparagus appear in your local shops, grab some and cook this simple recipe and treat yourself to your first glass of Rosé of the season if you haven’t done so yet.