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Le savoir vivre de Nice

"this sunny , spirited table in the Alpes Maritimes, where we are no longer quite in Provence and not yet in Piedmont or Lombardy, the area's neighbouring Italian regions"

Jacques Gantié - Provence the Beautiful Cookbook

I have never really been to Nice in the sense of actually staying there and exploring it on foot. On one of our trips we had a few days to ourselves before travelling into Italy - we flew into Nice, and so we drove along the Côte d'Azur, stopping at Eze for a night on the way. We were not impressed - it seemed to us to be wall to wall concrete, in spite of the mountains looming above and the sea sparkling blue in the sunlight. We drove along the Promenade des Anglais but did not stop - we were too busy trying to make sure we were on the right road - this was before GPS, so I was looking at the map and David was looking at the road, and trying to work out the hired car's automatic brake system, not to mention changing gear with the wrong hand. Below is a photo from the net of the Boulevard des Anglais which I think shows the wall to wall concrete nature of it all. It's not appealing is it?

We have now flown in and out of Nice airport a few times. It is at the far endow Nice in the photo shown here, but generally we are heading for those hills you see in the distance and doing our best to get out of Nice as quickly as possible. We did once venture into Nice itself - to the station - to pick up a friend of my niece who was joining us for our family holiday in the mountains. And a pretty traumatic experience that was, as the journey to Nice was so much longer than we had anticipated. There were traffic jams and problems of timing and finding the way. So once again Nice did not appeal. And Nice was our last view of France as we left back in 2017 - most likely the last time we shall see France.

And yet I believe the old part of Nice is indeed very attractive. The markets are famous and there are a huge variety of dishes that are now world famous that originate there. That's just three of them at the top of the page - Salade Niçoise, Pissaladière and Socca. But there are others.

Why am I writing about the food of Nice? Well it's time for Le Tour, and this year it began in Nice - I think they are cycling in and around Nice for the first couple of days. The wonderful SBS has Guillaume Brahimi this year doing the regional food thing. I haven't been able to watch it live but you can catch it on SBS On Demand. You might have to set up an account but it's free.

His first dish was ratatouille and so my first instinct was to do a post on that. But I think I have done it before and I have done a few posts of late on particular dishes and you are probably a bit bored with that. Not that this is likely to be much more exciting. I love ratatouille and I do try to cook it at least once a year. I'm not quite sure whose recipe I use - I suspect it's Elizabeth David's. But there are, of course, endless versions of it out there. Here are a few pictures which show how different it can be made to look. The first one is probably closest to the version I make. Robert Carrier's version in the centre is barely cooked and not almost a salad, Guillaume Brahimi cooks all his vegetables separately before combining them for a final shortish stew - lots of other cooks also do this, and the last one was just lifted from the net somewhere.

I first experienced ratatouille in the house of my au pair employers in Grenoble. Madame cooked it frequently and she frequently forgot the salt - well actually I don't add salt to the end now either. She also served it with rice which I don't think is traditional, but it works. It was a completely new kind of taste for me and I wasn't quite sure I liked it to begin with, but over time I grew to love it. So come summer I shall be having another go.

This dish is quintessentially Nice because it's that combination of eggplant, tomato, capsicum, zucchini, olives that is in so many dishes from Nice - well the whole Mediterranean coast I suppose. Other Niçoise dishes that use them are Salade Niçoise at the top of the page which also has tuna and hard-boiled eggs in the mix, Pan Bagna - which Robert Carrier rightly points out is really a Salade NIçoise in a sandwich and all the other things that you can do with Ratatouille - eat it as a salad, on a tart, in an omelette - there are a pretty endless number of things you can do with it.

Anchovies, olives, olive oil - with onions together make pissaladière which I think Guillaume Brahimi is doing tonight, and a there is also a chick pea kind of pancake called Socca which is absolutely a Niçoise thing. It doesn't seem to exist elsewhere. Tapénade - Brahimi's was just olives chopped with anchovies and garlic. And last but not least Tourte de Blettes (Torta de Blea) - a silverbeet pie.

These are all the kind of dishes that make me want to rush to the kitchen and cook them. Maybe I could choose one of them for a cooking lesson with the granddaughters - though I think they are rather more into sweet things. I'm not sure what the local speciality would be, indeed I'm not sure there is one. I had a quick look and couldn't see one. A fruit tart of some kind I'm guessing.

All of this is making me long for summer and the opportunity to make some of these absolutely scrumptious things. The trouble is that really you need to make them in a fairly large quantity, so you need to have a party and so it won't be happening for a while.


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