We’re not the only ones in the family with a thing for France. When we bought a flat in Paris, we folllowed in the footsteps of Mr A Little Piece of Paris’ parents who have owned their own little piece of the south of France for years now. For our Easter holiday, we decided to spend some time there in Sainte-Maxime, and drive into Italy for a couple of days, before taking the TGV to Paris.
When holidaying in France and Italy, it goes without saying that you’ll eat some pretty good food. We had fresh seafood in San Remo and the creamiest ice cream. We snacked on deliciously salty parmesan and parma ham while tasting juicy Barolo wines in Piedmont. When the evenings grew cold, we tucked into Provencal stables like rich, meaty daube with fresh pasta, sprinkled with parmesan. But the best meal of the holiday so far, and one so simple that it took us by surprise, was lunch made at home on the barbeque.
We stopped in Sainte-Maxime’s covered market, open every day in the off-season months from 08.30 – 13.00, to see what could tempt us for lunch. We picked up fresh baguette from the bakery (we struggled to find a decent baguette in Sainte Maxime, they don’t compare at all to the ones on offer in Paris) and a jar of tapenade to snack on as an amuse bouche. At the boulangerie, we were seduced by the tartes tropeziennes – a local specialty with an apparently secret recipe. It’s a brioche sponge cake sandwiched with an indecent amount of light buttercream filling. We bought two slices for later.
Then we headed to the butcher’s. The butcher counter in France is a sight to behold. Beautiful cuts of perfectly marbled beef are displayed alongside pigs trotters, minced lamb and everything in between. We chose the quintessential French lunch classic – lamb chops, and feeling hungry, ordered three each. I had my ten Euro note ready to pay and gulped when the butcher read out the total of 20 euros and 40 cents. I hadn’t even looked at the price. Lamb chops are sold for pennies in French markets. Well, these weren’t just any old lamb chops. These were from wild lambs that roam the Haute Var, lunching on lavender and thyme, apparently.
Back home, having politely fished out another ten and paid the whopping amount, we whisked together a quick and simple marinade of olive oil, herbes de provence, garlic, lemon, salt, pepper and a small drizzle of honey. We left the lamb to soak up the flavours for about an hour and sat outside in the sun with a glass of rose wine and nibbled on toasted baguette topped with the tasty olive tapenade.We took a couple of minutes to render the fat of the lamb on a searing hot barbeque before giving them two minutes or so on each side until they were perfectly pink on the inside, and had the charred lines of the barbeque on the outside. We did the same with the baby courguettes we picked up at the market and then tossed them lightly in oil and lemon juice. Glasses topped up, we were ready for lunch.
Now, that lamb. If I had known how melt-in-your-mouth succulent and delicious it would be I would have handed over my twenty euro note in glee. Days later, I can still taste it – sweet and juicy, with a hint of chargrill from the barbeque. Every bite was a joy. The baby courgettes were sweet and tender and brought out the sweetness in the lamb. We had thought that three each was a generous serving, I could have eaten three more. I would have happily foregone the cake for more of that juicy lamb.
The tartes tropeziennes were the perfect finish to the meal. satisfyingly sweet and light.
If you’re ever in Sainte Maxime, head straight to the market. Go to the butcher just right of the entrance. Don’t dally. Ask for his lamb chops and don’t baulk at the price. Swallow the amount and get ready to enjoy the best lamb of your life.