“A good meal will just as surely lift your mood as a bad one will ruin it. Cooking should not be a hassle, and if you follow your heart, it never is.”
Hilltop villages, pristine coves, rolling vineyards and the smell of lavender in the air, Provence provides a feast for the senses. Sharing the delights of this region, photographer, interior designer, and cook, Pauline Chardin, explores the tastes of her unique locale, in A Spoonful of Sun. Relocating from Paris to Provence, Chardin discusses how her move to the countryside has re-shaped her approach to cuisine, “I had always been passionate about food, but freed from the culinary distractions of big-city living, I felt my cooking was taking root for the first time." Centered in the med, yet flavored by her global travels, Chardin combines the two worlds by grounding her recipes with seasonally sourced fruit and veg, homegrown and handpicked from her garden, or gathered from her local market. “The land is generous but still maintains a tension between scarcity and abundance, which I came to realize makes everything all the more precious.” Focusing on simple, wholesome recipes, influenced by the varying seasons, the meals within this book delicately reflect the changes we all feel as the seasons come and go; providing us with a series of beautifully crafted dishes, whilst stirring up a sense of nostalgia and feeling with the turn of each page.
In A Spoonful of Sun, Chardin not only shares recipes from each season, but has included “half-seasons” too. Exploring why this felt like a necessary addition, the writer muses “each moment of the year has its own, sometimes very fleeting, taste. That’s why, beyond the four traditional seasons, I also wanted to include chapters dedicated to the half seasons. I find these in-betweens very inspiring - they’re much-needed transitions that help me to renounce what’s ending, while offering an enticing taste of the season approaching. They are emotional times in which melancholy and excitement co-exist, and for me all these rich feelings show in the food I cook and eat.”
Here are a few of Pauline’s favourite dishes for the spring, both early and late, and the stories which shaped them (the recipes for which can all be found in A Spoonful of Sun).
Early Spring “Watching the first days of spring unfurl is a very emotional, fragile time. As I look for every new sign in breathless anticipation, careful not to pronounce the arrival of spring too early, I start to remember the sweetness of the season to come, almost within my grasp."
Wild Garlic Pesto Pasta With Asparagus “Wild garlic grows in humid woodlands at the beginning of spring. It has a green garlic taste and plays the role of garlic in my kitchen before the new ones arrive on market stalls a few weeks later. It is one of the very welcome signs of early spring. At a time when fresh ingredients are a bit scarce, I feel grateful that nature goes to the trouble of offering a versatile leaf that manages to replace two of the ingredients of classic pesto: basil and garlic. When I’m very hungry, it seems like the only thing my mind can conjure as a solution is a plate of pasta. I need this kind of recipe that can be put together in the time it takes for pasta to cook. This is the green, springy answer to that emergency situation.”
Fondant Au Chocolat “A version of this recipe was acquired a long time ago by my mother. She had befriended the lover of a chocolatier who one day confided his secret recipe to her. I guess that’s the ultimate form of French pillow talk and in my mind this always gave a forbidden air to the recipe. Chocolate cakes were a staple of my mother’s kitchen and I can’t count the number of times I’ve licked melted chocolate off a bowl as a child. This particular fondant recipe was deemed fancier than the others and was made when we had guests. It was served with crème anglaise, in a picture-perfect rendition of a classic French dessert. These days, I’m much more content with serving it with thick Greek yoghurt and fruit to bring a welcome kick of acidity to the plate.”
Late Spring “Here, the dizzying charm of spring probably lies in the fact that it feels impossible to partake in all that it has to offer. The memory of winter is still fresh and one hasn’t settled into the abundance just yet, making that green rush absolutely mesmerizing. New wildflowers appear and disappear seemingly overnight in a tireless ballet of fresh blooms. On some days, the entire countryside fills with dandelion fluff floating in the air, glistening in the sun like in some fairy tale. All these marvels feel terribly fleeting and as the season disappears in a flash, you’re left wanting more and ever-fantasizing about the next spring.”
Black Rice With Pesto And Caramelized Zucchini “I used to take zucchini for granted. It was always a staple of my mother’s cooking, and I would buy them all year round in Paris without thinking twice. Here in the south, they’re ubiquitous for long months, but they do disappear somewhere in the fall, leaving us longing for their versatility and sweet taste. I now welcome the first zucchini of the year with a sign of relief because when they’re here, it feels like we're officially out of trouble weather-wise. This recipe gives them the decadent welcome they deserve. I find this combination to be especially delicious, with the added benefit of feeling very fancy without requiring any hard work.”
Rhubarb, Pistachio, And Semolina Cake “I’ve adored fruit ever since I was a child, but rhubarb was my nemesis. I couldn't understand why my mother kept making pies, jams, and compotes out of it when there was an infinity of other delicious fruits to pick from. My grandmother had this old rhubarb plant in her garden that kept giving and giving every year without fault. Years with cherries on the family tree were few and far between, but you could bet that old rhubarb plant would always bear fruit. It still does to this day and now I’m glad, since somewhere on the path to adulthood I began to love the taste of rhubarb. I’ve got such a soft spot for Middle Eastern pastries: the rich nutty flavors, the floral perfumes, the sophisticated textures…But they’re so sugary that I don’t eat them often. This recipe, while still being rather indulgent, feels like a good compromise. The rhubarb brings the moisture usually provided by a syrup and a slight touch of acidity to a crumbly and fondant semolina base.”
As Chardin notes “a good meal will just as surely lift (your) mood as a bad one will ruin it…Cooking should not be a hassle, and if you follow your heart, it never is.” With four new dishes to inspire your spring cooking, pick up a copy of A Spoonful of Sun today and fill your hearts (and stomachs) up with joy for many seasons to come. For more on the book, take a look at our interview with Chardin below.