With the barometer pushing 26 today, I thought it was time to launch into my spring menus and what better way to start than with a fresh, simple cucumber salad.
When I lived in the UK, I usually served cucumber either as a garnish, or a part of a mixed salad and, of course, when making Tzatsiki, but while eating lunch in the beautiful medieval city of ‘Provins’ (just over an hour’s drive from Paris – see the end of this post for more information and photos of this fascinating place) I was served a wonderful creamy salad of fresh cucumber. A little later, I was having lunch in the home of a French friend, and she served me a cucumber salad simply dressed in lemon juice and tarragon vinegar.
I have simply married these two recipes together and created what I think is the perfect way to spring/summer meal.
I usually serve this with a little warm, crusty baguette to mop up the excess crème, and this dish goes perfectly with a nice light, crisp, chilled white wine
1 large, not too ripe cucumber
A splash of light olive oil
1 dessert spoon (cuiller de soupe)of lemon juice
1 table spoon (2 cuillers de soupe) of tarragon vinegar (vinaigre d’estragon)
(if you cannot find tarragon vinegar then white wine vinegar will do nicely, – Chardonnay if possible)
2 tablespoons of crème fraiche (4 cuillers de soupe)
finely chopped fresh or dried tarragon (fresh is best)
Salt and pepper to taste
Very finely slice the cucumber with a food processor or mandolin and squeeze out the excess water
Mix together in a salad bowl the oil, lemon juice, vinegar and add the tarragon and season as required
Stir in the crème fraiche and add the cucumber making sure that it is well coated
Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for around 1 hour so that the cucumber soaks up some of the dressing
Serve as a starter or as a side dish or as a ‘palate refresher’ between courses
Provins is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the ‘Seine et Marne’ region of France, close to the Champagne, the town played host to the Champagne fairs in the 12th and 13th centuries.
It is within easy reach of Paris, both by car (around 1hour 45 drive passing through some lovely countryside) or by train (1hour 20 from Gare de Lyon) and well worth a visit if you fancy getting out of the capital and exploring a little further afield.
The upper town dates from the early 12th century and boasts magnificent ramparts which once formed part of the fortified castle. The upper town still has a distinctly ‘medieval’ feel to it (parts of the ‘modern’ lower town dates from the 16th and 17th century) and jousting and falconry displays take place throughout the summer, and a lovely traditional Christmas market takes places on the town square, which my daughter described as ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang land’ during December.
The square is ringed by numerous little restaurants, creperies and ice-cream stalls selling the town’s ‘signature’ rose ice-cream and ‘confiture de rose’ crepes, as Provins is also famous for its ‘Roseraie’ which is well signposted and not far from the river.
The rosaraie has splendid gardens where numerous otherwise obsolete ancient roses are still cultivated for their scent and untamed beauty, alongside many exquisite modern varieties and hybrids. The Rosery also has a very tempting ‘tea-garden’ and a delightful gift shop.
There is also a nice shady park and a lovely walk along the banks of the river ‘Bar sur Seine’ which is dotted with picnic tables.
The medieval streets leading from the square are bursting with artisan workshops and wonderful little boutiques selling quality gifts, products made from roses and also the locally produced honey, bottles of fortified wines made from ancient recipes, speciality teas, coffees, herbs and spices – Provins is veritable assault on the senses………
The town also has a strong connection with the knights of the Templar and there are various shops selling all manner of merchandise associated with them, and also has a small museum.
There is also an association with ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ (Joan of Arc) who took mass at the church of ‘Saint-Quiriace’ en route to Reims with Henri VII for his coronation.
The town has a lovely unrushed, sleepy feel to it and I never ever tire of visiting. In fact after writing this, I feel a trip coming on very soon………