Every time I go home to Melbourne my mother has an array of boxes waiting for me in some corner of the house. Shoe cartons filled with Sade and George Michael cd’s, larger boxes bearing my carefully tissue swaddled collection of Guy Boyd ramekins, folders full of paperwork, typed school projects and faded birthday cards. This january I heaved piles of invoices and receipts into the recycling bin and liberated the family home of my ceramics trove. And I finally found the elusive recipe folder, one of the only items I had genuinely searched for amongst my happily abandoned belongings. It must be at about 20 years old this little covered folder; and it is bursting with clippings, scribblings and the original faxed copies of mum’s cake recipes sent to me in France in 1994.
That six months spent eating baguettes smeared with Bonne Maman jam and hitch hiking from Saint Foy to Val d’Isere was full of culinary snapshots. Of finding true haute-savoie dishes in low beamed taverne in one church towns, of watching Raclette being scraped off huge wheels and dripping onto potatoes, of ordering the baguette du matin in my bumbling French. I remember lugging a Le Creuset fondue pot home to Australia along with a handmade terra-cotta dish ready to bake endless bubbling serves of potatoes gratin dauphinois.
Twenty years later and the first thing I looked for in the supermarché at Cagnes-Sur-Mer was a pot of Bonne Maman Framboise, scouring the aisles for the lovely shaped jar and the classic checked lid. Good for ladling more jam into, or for shaking a good salad dressing. It must have been about that ’94 ’95 period that I started making Salade Niçoise, because I definitely remember making it for a group of thirty something chalet guests of Italian descent and them scrutinizing every ingredient that went into it. The Niçoise is of mixed parentage itself; until Italian unification in 1870 Nice, or Nizza, belonged to the territories of the Savoy royal family. The recipe calls for canned tuna, but of the best quality, dolphin safe and always in olive oil. The dressing calls for a hearty shake up of extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, garlic and anchovies. The olives should be small riviera or ligurian style olives. The beans, best at this time of the year, should be fine and cooked al-dente.
ingredients – to serve four
1 cos lettuce – torn
500 g small ripe tomatoes – quartered
1 medium red onion
400 g green beans – cut into small lengths and cooked al dente
4 medium pontiac potatoes – diced and boiled till tender
1 lebanese cucumber – diced
Basil and parsley leaves – roughly chopped
4 eggs – boiled
2 cans tuna in olive oil
Handful of small olives (kalamata or ligurian)
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Whole clove of garlic
Salt and pepper
2 achovies (optional)
After all these years I think the best way to assemble a Niçoise is to mix everything (sans eggs and anchovies) in a large stainless bowl before serving, keeping some dressing for a final drizzle.
Cook the potatoes and then green beans in boiling salted water and when cooked run under cold water to help keep their colour.
Cook eggs to your liking, hard boiled, softer boiled or poached.
Make the dressing in a small jar or salad bottle using two thirds olive oil, one third red wine vinegar, a lightly squashed clove of garlic, salt and pepper and a couple of squashed anchovies if you’re a fan.
Shred lettuce and herbs, and cut tomatoes and cucumber and red onion and place in large mixing bowl. Add potatoes, beans and half the tuna. Toss everything with half of the dressing, adding some chopped parsley, sea salt and pepper.
Serve into individual bowls, divide remaining tuna amongst the bowls and garnish with extra red onion, egg and small olives. Add extra dressing to taste.
On the Cote d’Azur little stalls sell Pan Bagnat – literally wet bread – along the along the long stretches of pebbly beachfront. Crusty rolls are filled with the ingredients of the classic niçoise, generously dressed and seasoned.