The Foundations of Provençal Cuisine

A lesson in cannelloni rolling sheds some light on the basics of Provençal cuisine

Fresh herbs, olive oil, and seafood make this a classic Provençal dish — with just a touch of dairy.

While working with chef Didier Montarou at the InterContinental Hotel Boston, I learned more than just how to perfectly cook a scallop. Because his flagship restaurant at the hotel, Miel, serves Provençal brasserie-inspired cuisine, he had a lot to say about that particular style of French cooking, some of which came as a surprise to me.

It may seem obvious to many who have tried Provençal cuisine or are familiar with it, but there are essentially three foundations to this type of food: garlic, aromatic herbs, and oil. While particular dishes range from region to region — bouillabaisses along the coast, vegetables in the middle region, and pastas closer to the Italian border — each of these three culinary elements reign throughout. Provençal cuisine is much different than its mother country’s cooking; unlike most French food that is drenched in butter and salt, the food from Provence is clean, fresh, and usually quite healthy.    

Located in the southeast of France, Provence attains many of its culinary characteristics from its Mediterranean location. Dishes are seafood-focused and there is little to no dairy used in the cooking, because the region’s mountainous terrain does not support cattle farming.

All of this was explained to me as we stood over the ingredients for our lobster-filled cannelloni recipe. The recipe, which chef Montarou explained was prepared outside of the Miel kitchen because of the cheeses used for the filling (they do not use any dairy products at Miel), had fresh herbs in it such as tarragon, thyme, and rosemary, with freshly cooked lobster and a light lobster jus. As chef Montarou explained Provençal cuisine to me, it came to life as we worked in the kitchen, combining the fresh herbs with creamy, Italian cheeses, stuffing lightly oiled cannelloni sheets, and then rolling them together like sushi and plating them with a light lobster jus. The dish exemplified Provençal cooking because it was minimal, unbaked, and filled with fresh ingredients — much different from cannelloni that we see on most menus today. The only un-Provençal ingredient that made its way into the dish was butter, which was blended into the lobster jus at the end, which chef Montarou explained would be our little secret (and now yours, too!). 

Click here to see the Lobster Cannelloni with Grilled Eggplant Carpaccio and Hazlenut Lobster Jus Recipe


Anne Dolce is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce