In the dog days of summer (and we’re officially in the dog days, right?) all I want is to escape my stuffy apartment and picnic outside (even if sitting on the ground makes my butt hurt). I’m so happy I’ve discovered this piquant, vegetable-filled Provençal tart from Heather of the beautiful blog, Lost in Arles. It whips together in minutes, involves only a modicum of baking (which you can do in the morning, while the temps are cooler), transports easily to your picnic spot, and is shared beautifully.
Heather is an American travel writer who lives in Arles with her partner, Rémi, and two adorable Golden Retrievers, Ben and Kipling. After visiting her blog — with its gorgeous photographs of Roman ruins, bright market produce, golden French countryside, and two frolicking pups — I always feel like I’ve taken a mini vacation to Provence. And in May, I was lucky enough to actually stop in Arles, meet Heather and glimpse a bit of the beautiful town she calls home. Today, I’m thrilled to welcome her and share a few of her photos and a gorgeous summery recipe!
by Heather Robinson of Lost in Arles
“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful?” Um, nope. Don’t hate me because I have time? Ahh, maybe. It is precious goods for all of us but in Provence it is the unforgettable melody — along with light’s lyrics — that makes this region sing. We stretch it out with upturned faces towards a swash-buckle of blue above even as the winter Mistral winds roar around us, just as we clink and reclink for l’apéro that can last until the light begins to fade at summer’s ten p.m. I may be the only non-wealthy American in the region (or so I like to joke) but the bonus of these days makes me feel rich.
It can be tricky business, this Provence Time. Shops can close for four hours for lunch plus la sieste and a repairman dawdled for five weeks — five weeks! — to repair a broken spring on my dryer door. What a difference from the beat, beat, beat on the tom-tom or the passive-aggressive waltz of New York City and Paris, my former homes. But it is solidly present, right down to the two thousand year old stones of the Roman Arena. I brush the back of my hand against them as I stroll with my two Golden Retrievers each evening. Hello, friend.
As I am not working much right now, just building away at my blog Lost in Arles, time I have and it doesn’t have me. After loving meeting Ann and her friend Katia (I think that quite a few of you that also leave comments here have met Ann as well but for those of you wondering, yes, she is just as fabulous as you could hope and the type of person that leaves you immediately whining, “Why, oh why doesn’t she live closer?”), Ann did me the kindness of asking me to share a Tuesday Dinner. Les heures or lack of them is the first thing that popped into my head but truth be told, my recipe is fueled by more than a dash of laziness. Beh, oui. Perhaps living in Provence has had a greater effect on me than I know?
On a typical weeknight:
My dogs, Ben and Kipling, get me up from my computer by barking at me to feed and walk them by six at the latest. The scenery in this old town is gorgeous and I never take it for granted. When I come back, I will pour myself a glass of wine and finish up whatever writing or photo editing I have left before tackling dinner.
On her favorite kitchen staples:
I am really lucky to have two excellent markets in Arles— and as this is the Rhone Valley, there is always fresh-from-the-grower veggies on offer. With the great violet garlic, real butter and spices collected from our travels…well, you can always make something tasty out of that.
If only Arles had…
France is wonderful but oh what I wouldn’t give for Chinese or burrito delivery! Mais, hélas, no dice in this non-chic corner of Provence. And we cook both lunch and dinner, so I truly do run out of inspiration. That is when we indulge in a casse-croute, the little picnicy bits of this and that—saucisson, cornichons, baguette et fromage!
Note from Ann: Heather’s recipe is delightfully au pif (off the cuff), so I took a few liberties and used the contents of my kitchen. I added chopped mint instead of thyme, grilled the courgettes, and roasted the red pepper instead of sauteeing it. The tart came together so quickly, I made a second one, just like that, with the extra ingredients!
Savory Provençal tart
by Heather Robinson
I sliced a red pepper into strips along with a coarsely chopped onion, put it into a sauté on medium heat in olive oil…let le robot do the work on the zucchini…added that in along with copious amounts of garlic (I can eat them like bon-bons like old Sicilian men, so for me it was five cloves) plus the fresh thyme we gather regularly in the Alpilles. Meanwhile I had been pre-baking a pâte feuilletée, yep, store bought puff pastry dough at 200°C for five minutes (I butter the dish instead of using oil to get the bottom of the pastry dough nice and crunchy). Then I spread a generous amount of caviar des tomates or sun-dried tomato spread (this is the kicker) plus a jar of my favorite spicy Arrabiata tomato sauce on top…added the lightly sautéed veggies plus a few fresh tomatoes for bite, more thyme…all was generously covered with a mixture of shredded emmenthal and parmesan, baked until melted et voila!
Even the foodies at the luncheon were happy. I was too. This tart is fast, crazy easy, very inexpensive to make and authentic enough to please even the Provençaux in Provence. You can easily adapt this for the seasons too. This cheesy version was baked for a chilly rainy day, but for these warmer climes, I also leave out the cheese entirely, replacing it with strips of anchovies and dots of black olives. As you wish, either way, tasty. Plus, as an added bonus, nearly all of the steps can be done with a glass of wine in hand. That plus if you put on a little old-timey jazz in the background, well, it is practically a mini-vacay to the South of France. Promise.
(All non-tart photos courtesy of Heather Robinson.)