If there is one french habit you want to bring back from France is the aperitif...more commonly called l'apero.
The best time to have an aperitif is everyday before dinner with friends, or alone (yes, I admit doing it myself from time to time!).
What makes the aperitif special in France is not only the quality of alcool served, but also all those little nibbles that flatters your palate called "amuse-gueules".
Of course in Provence, you will get the famous Rose "Cotes de Provence", a semi-dry rose that makes you feel happy right away. So easy to drink, but hard on your head the next day if you overdose it ! I recommand Chateau Thuerry from Villecroze.
By the way, if you have any chance to go to Provence, take the hilly and turning road between Barjols and Thoronet and stop at the local wineries.
But today, I'd like to introduce you this anise-flavored liquor typical from Provence called "Pastis", yes like the restaurant in New York.
Pastis is diluted with water before drinking (generally 5 volumes of water for 1 volume of pastis). The drink is consumed cold and is considered a refreshment for hot days. Ice cubes can be added after the water. However, many pastis drinkers refuse to add ice, preferring to drink the beverage with cool, spring water.
Pastis replaced the absynthe when forbidden in France in 1915. The distillors then created a liquor from anis with no absynthe, added some licorice and more or less spices and exotiques plants sold on the port of Marseilles."Pastis" means "mixture" in provencal
Pernod-Ricard is selling the pastis in the US under the brand Ricard in any wine store. But the other day I was invited by some french friends just coming back from the South of France and they made me taste this pastis from Forcalquier that smells and tastes so good that I have to give you the reference.
It's the Grand Cru du Pastis aux plantes et epices from Henri Baudier at the Distilleries et Domaines de Provence de Forcalquier et de la Montagne de Lure.
You can also use the Pastis in your recipe. I like for example to "flambe" red mullets with pastis and serve them with roasted fennel. French chefs use Pastis in their dessert, particularly in ice-cream as well.
So now, what's about the amuse-geules to serve with the alcool ? You can always put some peanuts and olives and cheeses, but this is not that original. You need some tapenade (mixture of anchovies, capers and olives) or anchoiade (garlic, anchovies, thyme, olive oil) or caviar d'aubergine (eggplants, tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil) to spread on slices of toasted bread. You can get them at the local markets in France, as I described it in Just Back from Provence, and in the US at the shop "l'Occitane".
Just to finish, I will indicated the Fougasse also to accompany the aperitif. Fougasse is a sort of foccacia made by the bakers in Provence. You can find some plain, stuffed with tapenade, or onions or dry tomatoes.
To make it yourself, you have to mix one cup of flour with warm-water diluted yeast. Add salt, chopped thyme and rosemary. Knead it a long time, roll it and let it sit for one hour. Form an oval shape, stuff it with any of the stuffing of your choice. Let it sit again for 0,5 hour close to the oven preheating and then put it in the oven for 15 mn at 400F. Enjoy !!!!