When the summer sun is beaming in the south of France, the fragrant herbs that make up the spice blend herbes de Provence are thriving.
Like many spice blends, the different versions of the delicious herbes de Provence vary widely – every French grandmother had her own unique blend depending on the herbs that were available - but the blend that is now considered traditional most often contains a mix of bay leaf, fennel seeds, rosemary, thyme, chervil, oregano, tarragon, savory, mint and marjoram.
Herbes de Provence is used both fresh – when herbs are in season – and dried. Lavender flowers are often included, adding an aromatic and subtly flavorful note that complements the hint of licorice brought by the tarragon and fennel seeds.
At its core a French version of Italian seasoning, herbes de Provence is versatile and delicious, well-suited for soups and stews because it instantly adds depth of flavor.
Fish, chicken, beef and vegetables perk up when brushed with a blend of olive oil and herbes de Provence, and it is an essential ingredient in traditional ratatouille, the most famous dish from the region.
Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
One of the most traditional ways to celebrate the flavors of herbs de Provence is with a classic ratatouille – the dish that made tough food critic Anton Ego swoon when Remy the rat crafted his version, confit byaldi, in the kitchen of a fine Parisian restaurant in the Pixar movie “Ratatouille.”
In a stock pot, sauté onions, garlic and bell peppers in olive oil, stirring frequently to prevent them from browning, for 20 minutes.
Peel and seed the tomatoes (pop tomatoes in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then transfer tomatoes to an ice bath so skin loosens and will easily slip off), then chop them coarsely and add them to the pot.
Cover the pot and simmer the tomatoes for about 15 minutes, allowing the flesh to break down and flavors to meld.
Add the eggplant and zucchini, herbes de Provence and salt and pepper. Cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes.
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