I have already participated many times in German, Belgian and Swiss carnivals so that I decided this year I should go and celebrate it in Nice, on the French Riviera. Not only because it is the world’s major carnival events (after the Rio’s and the Venetian’s) and I’ve heard a lot of about it, but also because the city is not far from München where I live now.
In present time during the two weeks preceding Lent, it attracts over a million visitors annually (the Carnival spans a two-week period in February this year it will be held from 13th of February to 28th). Every year, a special theme is chosen, and traditional artists create 18 floats and other figurines in traditional “paper mache” for colorful parade. The parades take place day and night, while on the Promenade des Anglais, “flower battles”. So I’m really looking forward to going there and not only because of the flower parade but also because of the gastronomy of Nice!
The cuisine of Nice
I have already visited Nice twice and each time I really enjoyed its cuisine which is typical of Cote d’Azur (and Provence, for that matter) features its regional inflections, at least as compared to other French regional cuisines, with Mediterranean influences materialized in the use and consumption of seafood, fish, vegetables and fruit. However, the concessions made to such influences do not alter the finesse for which all dainty feeders appreciate the French cuisine. Another notable feature of the regional cuisine observed in Nice refers to the extensive use of a wide range of herbs, such as bay leaves, basil, thyme, oregano and, in moderation but constantly, garlic. Not to mention that the olive oil is an ever present ingredient, and this is precisely what distinguishes the cuisine on Cote d’Azur from all the other French gastronomical traditions. I have already eaten in Nice: the Salade Nicoise (insalata nizzarda) which is the very gastronomic ambassador, so to say, of Nice to the world (next to the famed ratatouille). The origins of this salad are not well defined, and the wide range of versions of the Nicoise salad is also pretty confusing with respect to the way it should be cooked and to its ingredients. However, the bottom line is in Nice the likelihood of managing to stumble on the original recipe and product is considerably higher. Thus, the salad is a mix of slices of tomatoes, slices of hard boiled eggs, boiled potatoes (disputably) and steamed green peas, all laid on a layer of lettuce (optional). The entire “edifice” is topped with tuna (either canned or seared) and canned anchovies. I liked very much the
Pan bagnat which is a sandwich (looks like hamburger) a favorite lunch time food in Nice. It is composed from the whole wheat bread, formed in a circle, around the classic Salade Nicoise, a salad composed mainly of raw veggies, hard boiled eggs, anchovies and/or tuna and olive oils and never ever mayonnaise. Sometimes balsamic vinegar, pepper and salt, mustard will be also added. I also tasted the Socca:
It is far from being labeled as a refined specialty, but, on the other hand, its popularity might be attributed precisely to its elementariness. Thus, this type of flat unleavened pancake (crepe) is made of chickpea flour and olive oil, and it is served hot and heavily seasoned with pepper. It stands as an excellent quick snack and, in fact, it is the French version of what the Italians refer to as farinata or cecina, and the Argentineans know as faina. The streets of Nice are replete with food stalls selling socca, so the opportunity to sample it is quite at hand.
I liked very much the Soupe au pistou which is a dish popular throughout Provence, and it refers to a bean soup enriched with pistou-pesto. Pistou is a garlic-based sauce, heavily flavored with basil, all mixed with olive oil. The addition of sundry types of hard cheese (parmesan or pecorino, for instance) to the sauce is optional. Gere is the very best recipe:
Soupe of pistou
The origins of this dish allegedly go back to Antiquity.
Ingredients: 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 medium onion, thickly sliced, 1 celery stalk, chopped, 1 head fennel, chopped, 1 carrot, chopped, 2 plum tomatoes, quartered, 4 cloves garlic, crushed, 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf
Soup: 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 cup diced onion, 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced, 1/2 cup diced carrot, 1 cup diced celery, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1 tbsp minced fresh thyme, 1 1/2cups drained and chopped canned plum tomatoes, 2 cans (15 ounces each) white kidney beans, rinsed and drained, 6 tsp prepared pesto or extra-virgin olive oil
For the stock:
In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat oil over medium heat; stir in ingredients. Cover. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 30minutes. Add 8 cups water. Bring to a boil. Lower heat; simmer for 45 minutes. Strain, reserving broth and half the vegetables. Skim fat. Discard thyme and bay leaf. Puree reserved vegetables in a blender. Stir into stock.
For the soup:
Heat oil in the same pot. Sauté onion, garlic, carrot, celery and herbs. Add reserved broth, tomatoes and beans. Bring to a boil. Lower heat; simmer 30 to 45 minutes. Ladle into bowls; drizzle with pesto or oil.
For the pistou: fresh basil, garlic cloves, parmesan
Squeeze garlic cloves then place into a mortar. Add fresh basil to it, chopped and rub them together. Scoop one potato from the soup and in a bowl smash it then add the pistou. Finally grate some parmesan cheese and mix in the potato-basil-garlic mixture. Add to soup this garlicy smashed and flavored potato and mixed in.