“The real Provençal cuisine was essentially lived and spoken, but not written down. It remains in the memories and long established habits of grandmothers, and in the country’s more remote towns, where tourists with a dislike of garlic seldom stray”

A Taste of Provence (1991) Leslie Forbes

We live a few miles from Cromer, a North Sea coastal port made famous – amongst its other nautical charms – for  sweet, modestly sized crabs (they’re practically required eating along the Norfolk coastline) and although our inland cottage is surrounded by farmland, and some 10 miles from the coast, the saline bouquet of the local sea frets occasionally wafts across our garden reminding gardeners of the sea’s maritime effect upon certain home grown crops.

Growing salad vegetables for the table in Norfolk is to challenge a local micro-climate for much of the year. In rural Provence, a few miles from the Mediterranean, vegetables grow effortlessly by way of celebration.

Some years ago we spent a sybaritic week or so near Draguignan, the former olive capital of the départment of Var in Provence. Apart from some impromptu Rosé tastings – we were, after all, not far from Bandol which offers the benchmark for Rosé wine making – our self-catering break involved daily market shopping. And seasonal Provençal markets are some of the best places to indulge in culinary retail therapy.

Simple ‘market cooking’ has a name in Southeastern France – cuisine du marché. It’s loosely translated as – ‘I visit the market, see what looks both fresh and delicious, and as a result, decide what to serve at home later that day’.

And you cannot love market shopping in Provence if you don’t love salad. And you can’t love salad unless you love tomatoes.

Of course, creating a simple salade composé is child’s play in the unerring heat of southern France. In the sea-driven climate of East Anglia it takes a little more ingenuity, be it a visit to the farmer’s market or growing the components at home. Either way, we’re not talking supermarket salad bags (pumped full of the alluringly entitled; Modified Atmosphere Packaging) –  contents often rinsed with  volumes of chlorinated water unheard of down at your local swimming pool.

Or our own, in Draguignan.

My solution has been the purchase of a small, some would say tight fitting, greenhouse. A modest space to start main-crop plants, create an extended season of fresh herbs, an assortment of fiery capsicums, a few determined cucumbers and my annual delight – sweet, ripe tomatoes.

Of all the salad vegetables I grow, freshly picked summer tomatoes rock my seasonal boat – they just epitomise summer dining. And there’s little point in trying to force flavour out of imported tomatoes during cooler months, so please, best not to spend your money on aviation fuel.

A freshly harvested, carefully assembled tomato salad is one of the few great dishes that require no cooked ingredients, so apart from selecting the finest component parts, this low-tech salad can be mustered in no time at all.

Perish the thought that you need a written recipe for this, but I thought it may spur you to assemble.

Tomato Salad from Chez Panisse Café Cookbook (2004) Alice Waters

Serves 4

1 medium shallot, finely diced

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 garlic clove


Freshly ground black pepper

125 ml extra-virgin olive oil

Basil leaves, torn into pieces

600 g (approx.) mixed tomatoes


Make the vinaigrette.

In a medium bowl add the shallot, vinegar and garlic

Season lightly with salt, then toss to coat

Slowly whisk in the oil to combine, then taste and adjust the seasoning

Arrange the tomatoes in a shallow bowl

Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with the basil, drizzle with vinaigrette, and serve immediately

Wine thoughts

Rosé wine is made from red grape varieties, and as all crushed grape juice tends to be clear, the ruby colour leaches from from the skin whilst the grapes are fermenting. The earlier the wine is separated from the skins the paler the wine will be. In theory then, Rosé could be made from any red grape variety, but that does not guarantee an exciting wine. This technique must have rich fruit to start with, so varietal selection is critical. Provence’s most important wine appellation is Bandol and it is here that Mourvèdre is supported by Cinsault and Grenache, a blend often found in robust Rhône reds, but in sunny Provence, these dry, glistening pink wines, provide restraint and delicacy that amply suit our fresh summertime lunch. Preferably served on a warm south-facing balcony – if you can conjoureone up – as my daughter Charlotte and I managed to arrange..