Many years ago I lived in the south of France. After a long day in the kitchen I would literally have to survive on Gauloises, café noir and Pastis, but on the occasions the sulky, sullen French Chef would let me escape the hot, steamy kitchen for an hour or so in the afternoons, I’d head straight to a tiny, little food stand down the road that served the most amazing sandwiches I’d ever tasted…the “Pan bagnat”.
Literally meaning wet bread, all you have to do is cut a small, round loaf or a ciabatta in half and scrape out most of the inside. Fill this with chopped tomatoes, spring onions, peppers, olives, capers and anchovies and drizzle with a little olive oil and red wine vinegar. Replace the top and serve. It’s basically a Nicoise salad in a roll and it was utterly delicious. A simple salad Nicoise is still one of my favourite summer recipes.
Unfortunately there seems to be so much debate about what actually constitutes a true Nicoise salad it seems to be as contentious as to the exact rules of pétanque…and nobody understands that! According to Niçoise lore, the true Niçoise Salad should not have any cooked vegetables or lettuce in it, no potatoes and no beans; just tomatoes, green peppers, shallots and artichokes (the small purple ones that you can eat raw), or broad beans, (raw, shelled if they are too big), anchovies and Niçoise olives (the little black ones) and some torn basil leaves. But order a salade niçoise anywhere along the Riviera and you will probably get a different lunch every time.
Whatever the ingredients, for me a Salade niçoise should have the salty robustness of the French coast. It should shout the loud flavours of the area, the sort of thing you tuck into on a beach with the sun in your eyes and salt on your lips. I’m sure that many French Chefs would argue that my recipe is something close to sacrilege but I personally adore a nicoise with crisp lettuce leaves, tender new potatoes and slightly crunchy green beans. Once you add baby plum tomatoes, soft-boiled quails eggs, capers, salted anchovies, black olives, sliced red onion and the best, tinned tuna you can afford, I honestly believe it’s one of the best combinations of salad ingredients ever invented. Here’s my recipe plus a couple of other French classics.
My salad niçoise
- 2 baby lettuce hearts, sliced
- 150g good quality tinned tuna
- 30g black olives, stoned
- 150g fresh French beans, trimmed and blanched
- 8 Salted anchovy fillets
- 20 Ripe baby plum tomatoes
- 8 Quail eggs, boiled for 2 minutes and peeled
- 2 tsp capers
- 12 new potatoes, boiled and cut in half
- ½ small red onion, finely sliced
- 50ml olive oil
1 Cut the tomatoes in half and place them in a large bowl.
2 Add the French beans, new potatoes, black olives, lettuce hearts, capers, tuna, red onion and anchovies.
3 Drizzle with the olive oil and gently mix all the ingredients together.
4 Season with freshly ground black pepper and add the quail’s eggs. Serve immediately.
Fillets of Dover Sole “Veronique”
This really is a very sexy dish and it has long been a favourite of mine as it was one of the first things I was taught to cook at cookery school. Unfortunately, it has been neglected in restaurants for a long time now so I think it’s about time it had a revival.
Ask your fishmonger to fillet and skin the Dover soles for you. Peel the grapes well in advance by placing them in a bowl of boiling water, leave them for 30 seconds, then drain off the water and you will find the skins will slip off easily. Cut the grapes in half, remove the seeds and you’re ready to go.
- 8 x 75g Dover sole fillets, skinned
- 600ml fish or chicken stock
- 85ml dry vermouth
- 300ml double cream
- A squeeze of lemon juice
- 25-30 seedless green grapes,
- preferably Muscat, halved
- 1tbsp chopped tarragon
- 1tbsp finely chopped chives
1 Season the Dover sole fillets lightly on both sides then fold them in half, skin side inwards.
2 Place side by side in a buttered frying pan.
3 Pour over the stock, vermouth and poach over a gentle heat for 8-10 minutes until the fish fillets are just cooked.
4 Remove the fish from the dish, and then bring to the boil vigorously until reduced to about six tablespoons.
5 Add the cream and a squeeze of lemon juice and simmer until it has thickened to a coating consistency.
6 Add the grapes and fish fillets to the sauce and warm through gently.
7 Add the chopped tarragon and chives then season to taste. Serve immediately.
Tourte au Chocolat
For a delicious, sumptuous dessert, it really doesn’t get much better than this!
Rich, dark chocolate with fresh raspberries is always a wonderful combo and this classic French Tourte is pure heaven on a plate.
- 500g dark chocolate (chopped)
- 650ml cream
- 5 egg yolks
- 75g sugar
- 150ml framboise (raspberry liquor)
- 600g raspberries
- Chocolate topping
- 100g dark chocolate
- 50g butter
- 75ml cream
- 50g dark bitter cocoa powder
Put 300ml of the cream in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate and framboise liquor, stirring gently to make a smooth cream.
Place the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk until light and fluffy, then gently stir in the chocolate mixture.
Whisk the remaining cream until soft peaks form and fold in to the chocolate mixture.
Line a deep-sided cake tin or flan ring with sponge and half-fill it with the chocolate mixture, add the cleaned red fruit and almost fill with the remaining chocolate mixture.
Place in the refrigerator to set for 1-2 hours.
For the topping
Heat the cream, butter and chocolate gently over a low heat, stirring all the time until all the butter and Chocolate has melted. Pour gently over the set chocolate cake and place once more in the refrigerator to set. Dust the surface with the cocoa powder.
Slide a knife blade dipped in hot water between the edge of the cake and the flan ring and carefully remove the ring. Slice the truffle cake into equal portions and serve.