foraging in the Luberon

Got an email in May from Giuseppina, a Venetian cook whom I met last winter, as rain was pelting Parisian cobblestones, at Antoinette's, a friend and exuberant tour guide of myriad historical, cultural, and gourmet itineraries in Paris.

Now it was May, the skies having shed not a drop of water in months. Down south in the Luberon (where Giuseppina, the nimble-spirited Venetian resides and cooks up seasonal sensations for her clientele) warmth was rustling through golden leaf and branch.

She was inviting me down for a visit, and I said yes!!

Under a careening blue sky and robust sun, we took off from Goult, where Giuseppina lives, to visit Gordes et Joucas, two splendidly ancient and lovingly restored villages just up the road. And thus began hours of foraging...

Walking up the windy hilltop-town paths, we came across — I should say, Giuseppina pointed out — WILD savory : dill : rosemary : thyme : lavender (a scent so much lighter in camphor than that cultivated) : poppies : arugula : blette (a leafy green similar to Swiss chard) : young dandelion leaves and, of course, fennel (without the bulb, as grows all wild fennel). We came home with armfuls of it all -  a treasure trove of flavors, textures, scents.

But back to the fennel... Giuseppina was in search of a good amount for a fennel liquor she makes — that's pretty heavenly! So we took off for another spot she'd "smelled out" last spring... or the spring before. I must say she knows her foraging! Guess we found more than enough healthy fronds... or so her smile would imply.

 As we picked the bushy leaves, she explained that the supple thin upper stems can be candied (a bit of a patience required, peeling off the exterior of each and every thin stem) and served creatively with any number of savory or sweet dishes. (Unfortunately we had no time to candy the stems and so I have no recipe to share... yet.)

When we got back to her home, she filled a large canning jar with the fennel (unwashed) then covered it generously with pure alcohol. A couple of hours later the liquid was an intense emerald green.

Now we had all these vibrant herbs and green leaves, and the first thing Giuseppina did was wash them all; she told me she'd discovered that leaving the field-road dust on the leaves causes them to wilt in the refrigerator. (Funny, I myself had noticed back in Paris, when putting my Swiss chard and kale and arugula, freshly picked from the neighborhood garden where I grow it, into the refrigerator (thinking it best not to wash ahead of using), the next day all the leaves were wilted... She's right.) Washed clean, they offered themselves up as crisp as can be when pulled out the next morning to make quique. And so began (or continued) our cooking spree...

Quique... a Niçois specialty.  A simple, rustic pasta made with freshly chopped bette kneaded right into the dough. And for this I do have the recipe... from Cuisine traditionelle en pays niçois by Bernard Duplessy. It was Giusepinna who had spied it out and was curious to make it. So she/we did. Nothing much to it...

 QUIQUE - serves 6 - 8

quique :
600 gr / 21 oz unbleached flour
1 egg, slightly beaten
400 gr / 14 oz Swiss chard  (or arugula, or any other green leaf = or mixture thereof - that inspires you)
1 tBsp olive oil
Unrefined sea sat, COARSE and fine

tomato sauce :
500 gr / 16 oz cherry tomatoes. washed, dried, and halved
Generous handful fresh basil leaves (or 1 - 2 sprigs fresh marjoram)
1 - 2 large garlic cloves, peeled, cut in half, the sprouts removed, then quartered
Extra virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea sat and freshly ground pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano (freshly grated or as shavings) for garnish

for the quique :
— Wash and spin dry the Swiss chard. Remove any ribs. Pile the leaves on top of each other and finely chop crosswise then lengthwise. Place in  a kitchen towel and vigorously twist to squeeze dry. Transfer to a large bowl.
— Mix in the beaten egg, olive oil, and a generous pinch of sea salt. Add the flour bit by git, combining well. Add enough water ( approx 200 ml) to form a supple dough, just short of sticky. Start with 50 ml of water then another until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Pour out onto a well-floured surface and knead for 3 - 4 minutes. Form into a ball (the dough should spring back when you poke your finger into it.) Turn the bowl upside down over the dough and let sit for 3 hours.

— Knead the dough once or twice on a freshly floured surface. Roll out in the form of a rectangle 3 ml (1/8-in) thick. (You can do this in two batches, keeping the remaining dough covered.) Dust generously with flour. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into  5 x 2-cm (2 x 3/4-in) pieces.

— Bring a large covered pot of water to a boil. Salt the water: use 10 - 15 gr (1 small tBsp) of COARSE sea salt per liter of water and approx. 1 liter of water for 100 gr (3.5 oz) of pasta. Add the quique and stir to assure that none are sticking together. Cook at a rolling boil for 10 minutes.

for the tomato sauce :
While the water is coming to a boil and the pasta cooking. heat a generous drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the tomatoes, arranging them side by side, cut side down. Add the garlic. Cook without stirring over medium-low heat until the tomatoes have melted (pressing down in the center of one, it will fall...), approx. 7 - 10 minutes. Add the basil leaves and cook for another minute or two until wilted. Season with sea salt and gently stir to combine.

— Drain the quique, reserving a ladle of the cooking water.

to serve :
Divide the quique between 6 - 8 plates. Top with a couple generous spoonfuls of the tomatoes. Add the cooking water to the skillet and reduce until thickened over medium-high heat. Drizzle a bit on top of each plate. Give  a couple grinds of pepper and garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano.


  1. AnonymousJuly 06, 2011

    Gorgeous photos, Theresa! (The recipe looks yummy too.)

  2. AnonymousJuly 06, 2011

    What a wonderful experience to share. Will definitely try the recipe. Unfortunately, I do not like fennel, so will not be making the liquor.

  3. AnonymousJuly 06, 2011

    Very touching, poetic and authentic travel you made in my area !!! mediteranean and traditional food...thanks for sharing this with me and the next time you come around so near...please tell me...and also do not hesitate to invite me if you have souch shared-cooking experiences with marvellous people such as Guiseppina, I will come and meet you with a great pleasure, it's been so long...Celine cabrol.

  4. AnonymousJuly 07, 2011

    your cuisine is the best vegeterian food that one could taste a Paris.I love your newsletter,the stories,photos and recipes.I can't wait for your book of recipes....
    Merci beaucoup
    Betty une admiratrice

  5. AnonymousJuly 07, 2011

    Delicious, the taste is jumping off the page from your lovely description. Lisa B.