First published Canberra Times 12 October 2011. If you could conjure up the classic French street market, you probably would imagine stalls overflowing with fresh olives and nuts, preserved lemons, men in striped aprons slicing chunks from giant wheels of cheese and salamis, crusty baguettes poking from large baskets and brightly coloured tablecloths spilling out of bins. This market is the L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, in France.
Often called the bric-a-brac capital of France or the Venice of France, it has the largest marchés aux puces (flea market) outside of Paris, and many stallholders and antique dealers set up shop all year round. Built on the islands of five branches of the Sorgue River, it’s meandering streets have a Venice-like feel with bridges that criss-cross canals and huge moss-covered water wheels.
It’s on a visit to the L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue street market we stumble across a stand, that, among all of this wonderfully fresh produce, sells ready-made take home meals. This is perfect, as hours of walking the cobblestones in the scorching sun has taken its toll. I choose between a tomato-based dish or a lemon-based one. There’s no question here - lemons and Provence are synonymous.
This dish retains its flavour on reheating and with a re-creation of the recipe, I’ve been able to replicate it as close as my memory allows. It is now a standard in the recipe repertoire for family gatherings, as its versatility means you can pretty much add whatever herbs you have on hand. This really is a simple, rustic meal, but it is jam-packed with flavour. Just don’t compromise on the preserved lemons, good quality olive oil and fresh fennel.
2.5kg organic chicken thighs
1 large fennel bulb, sliced or 2 baby fennel bulbs
Skin of 2 preserved lemons, sliced
1 cup of black olives
½ tbsp of fennel seeds
3/4 cup of dry white wine
Extra virgin olive oil
Bunch of thyme and a handful of tarragon
Marinate the chicken, fennel – seeds and bulbs, lemon skin, pepper, herbs and a good slug of olive oil for a couple of hours.
Preheat the oven to 200C and place the chicken thighs in a large roasting pan. Dot the olives over the thighs and add the white wine. Season with sea salt. You may need to use two roasting pans, depending on the size. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes or until the marinade is starting to turn golden-brown at the edges.
Turn the chicken thighs over and continue roasting for another 10 minutes or so, checking for burning.
When cooked, remove from the oven and add a little more olive oil to moisten before serving.
Serve with lots of Italian parsley, crusty bread and a green salad. Photos Steve Shanahan