I love colourful and distinguishing bridal bouquets, especially if they have unusual flowers and intricate interwoven green leaves. There’s a bouquet that beats them all. If ever a destiny will resolve me to leave my single status to get married, my bouquet will look like a bouquet garni! How I would love my father to walk me down the aisle, me holding tight in my hands a bouquet of fresh herbs, maybe some chili and certainly a lot of mint. After the ceremony, no way I’d throw the bouquet to the bridesmaids, it would end up directly into the pot to make us a risotto or a roast meat!
Last summer I visited Provence and Camargue: the stalls along the road were selling Provençal tablecloths, pottery, wrought iron souvenirs and bunches of fragrant lavender along with these small intense bouquets garnis, made with some of the most scented herbs of Provence. Again and again I was tempted to buy a whole bag of them, even though this would have meant finishing the trip in a car overfilled with thyme and laurel smell. Then I realized that it is much easier and cheaper to make them, instead of buying a bouquet garni as a common turist.
How to make a bouquet garni. The bouquet garni is a bundle of herbs used in Provençal cooking to create gourmet recipes, enhancing the flavour and interest of traditional dishes and giving them a greater depth. Using a bouquet garni is like casting a spell and binding together with a red thread the bluish lavender fields studded with ruined castles and stone abbeys, the Louberon hills covered with vineyards, the brackish air of the salt-works that stretch as far as the eye can see in Aigues Mortes and the Camarguaise marshes with the wild white horses. And like all magic, this one has a formula:
“Cut a generous length of a natural cotton thread and tie together 3 stalks of parsley, 2 sprigs of thyme and 1 bay leaf. Secure one end of the thread to the pot handle and add your bouquet garni to any stew, sauce or casserole you’re preparing on your stove. When your dish is ready, remove the bouquet garni fishing it out from the secured thread: your magic potion is ready to conquer the favour of your guests! “
All the magic lies in these few herbs tied up with a thread of Mistral wind. To make the bouquet more aromatic, you can add also rosemary, sage, fennel, lavender, mint, basil, oregano, lemon or orange peel…
And now you’re ready to let your imagination wonder on the Mistral wings in a swirl of Provençal scents that will leave you breathless as after a run in a mint and wild fennel field. I used my bouquet garni in a Southern France recipe, made with one of the most typical products that I have bought last year, the red rice of the Camargue.
RIZ ROUGE DE CAMARGUE AU FENOUIL CONFIT – CAMARGUE RED RICE WITH FENNEL CONFIT
- 2 medium spring onions
- 50 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 100 g Camargue red rice
- 150 g fresh tomatoes, diced
- 1 bouquet garni (made with 3 stalks of parsley, 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 bay leaf, 1 sprig of wild fennel and 1 spring of fresh oregano)
- 500 ml vegetable broth
- 150 g fennel diced
- salt and pepper
- Slice thinly two spring onions and sautée them in a cast iron or thick-bottomed pot with a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil until they get soft and golden brown.
- Pour in the Camargue red rice and stir with a wooden spoon to toast it and enhance the flavour.
- Add the diced tomatoes and the bouquet garni and cover the rice with hot vegetable stock. Stir quickly and cook for about 50 minutes: the broth is supposed to be completely absorbed now so that the fragrance of the bouquet garni has given a rich depth to the taste of rice.
- While the rice is cooking, cut the fennel into small cubes and stew it in a pan over low heat with a tablespoon of olive oil for about 20 minutes: make it soft and golden.
- Add the fennel confit, and season with salt and pepper – I haven’t added salt because the rice was very tasty, having fully absorbed the broth. Cover the pot and let the rice stand 5 minutes before serving.
It is almost unbelievable: a few ingredients and a simple cooking. Yet thanks to a bunch of herbs, the rice comes to life and becomes a white canvas for Mediterranean flavours that tells a story of vine covered pergolas overlooking the sea, sunny afternoons and earthy vegetables still warm from the Provençal sunbeam. Do not give up the fennel confit, it is an essential element in the dish and gives a sweet balance to the savory and crispy rice.
I leave you with some postcard pictures from last year trip.