On to Nice
Nice is a tourist town, and when it comes to food, the opposite of Marseille where you find wonderful food wherever you happen to land. Nice, on the other hand, is a place where you need to plan carefully if you want to eat well.
So nothing could have made me happier than to begin our sojourn at Le Potager de Saquier, a remarkable biodynamic farm perched on a verdant hillside outside of town. Pierre and Anne Magnani raise a vast array of fruits, herbs and vegetables (which they sell on Saturday in the market in Nice), and offer occasional rustic meals on an extremely charming terrace to a few lucky people. You can even stay there, in one of their funky (and inexpensive) rooms.
They make their own socca, the chickpea bread that is the most famous Nicoise food
and fashion alcohol from loquats, herbs and flowers.
If you’re very lucky, the wonderful Rosa Jackson, who runs a cooking school called Les Petit Farcis, will be teaching a class at their farm. We spent a langorous afternoon making and eating lunch with Rosa. I highly recommend it.
We were making a Nicoise classic, a sweet chard pie.
Here is Rosa’s recipe:
Tourte de blettes sucrée (Sweet chard pie)
Makes a 9-inch (23 cm) pie, serving 8 people
When I first moved to Nice, I was amazed to come across this sweet pie made with Swiss chard. It dates from a time when farmers sometimes had nothing but chard to work with in winter. Apart from its many savory uses, they developed this dessert, which also calls for apples if they are available. In bakeries, it is always sprinkled with powdered sugar to show that it’s the sweet version and not the savory version, which is made with chard, rice, parmesan and bacon or ham. This recipe is adapted from one by Hélène Barale, who once ran a famous Niçois restaurant.
For the pastry:
2 cups (250 g) flour
1/2 cup (100 g) superfine granulated sugar, or regular white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
7 tbsp (100 g) butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
1 egg (plus 1 more for the egg wash, if using)
1 tbsp rum
1-2 tbsp whole milk, if needed
Zest of 1 lemon
Powdered sugar, for sprinkling
For the filling:
1 lb (450 g) chard leaves, without their stems
1/4 cup (50 g) sultana raisins
1/4 cup (50 ml) rum
1/4 cup (30 g) pine nuts
1/4 cup (100 g) apricot jam
¼ cup (50 g) cane sugar or white sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 small apples, any variety, peeled and cored, cut in half and thinly sliced
1. The night before, soak the raisins in the rum (see the filling ingredients).
2. If making the pastry in a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl and mix for a few seconds on low speed. (If using a food processor, pulse for a few seconds.) Add the butter and mix (or pulse) until fine crumbs form. Add the whole egg, rum and lemon zest and mix on low speed (or pulse) until you obtain a soft dough. If it is not coming together, add the milk a little at a time. Knead lightly by hand for about 30 seconds, then divide it into two pieces that are about 2/3 and 1/3 of the total size. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and set aside in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, preferably several hours or overnight.
3. Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C). For the filling, toast the pine nuts in a small frying pan over medium heat and set aside. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the chard leaves, bring back to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Drain and rinse well in cold water. Squeeze out the leaves with your hands, one half at a time — you should end up with two baseball-sized balls of chard.
4. Chop the chard finely. In a large bowl, combine the chopped chard, the raisins and their soaking liquid, the toasted pine nuts, and the apricot jam. Add the egg and mix well.
5. Roll out the larger ball of pastry, using as much flour as you need so that it doesn’t stick, and use it to line a 9-inch (23 cm) tart pan, with the edges hanging over. Spread the chard mixture over the pastry, then top with the apple slices, arranged in a spiral. Roll out the second piece of pastry so that it is larger than the top of the tin, and place on top of the filling. Press the edges together and trim off the excess. Make a few holes in the top crust using a fork or a small knife.
6. Brush with the egg wash, if using, and bake at 400 F (200 C) for 35 mins, until well browned.
7. Cool on a rack and sprinkle generously with powdered sugar before serving.
(Rosa’s cookbook, Nicoise: Market-Inspired Cooking from France’s Sunniest City, is available for preorder.)
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My other favorite meal in Nice? A wonderful dinner at Rouge, a tiny restaurant and winebar run by Alexandra and Gautier Creissard, who worked with Yves Cambdeborde in Paris. (Cambdeborde pretty much changed the trajectory of French restaurants when he opened La Regalade in 1992.)
Any meal that starts with a tin of Cantabrian anchovies is going to make me happy.
But then there was this great, simple plate of squid
The classic local dish, barbajuan made mostly of chard.
And a gorgeous little filet of rouget.
Terrific wine list. And the restaurant is in the antique district, just around the corner from the small but wonderful flea market, Les Puces de Nice.
Tomorrow, my meal at Mirazur. To say it made me happy would be gross understatement. And after that - well, we’ll always have Paris.