Chef JP’s Tomato Pie

50 Comments

A while back I did a post on my favorite green beans. Yes, that’s what I called the post. It’s green beans with shallots, onions, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and toasted pine nuts, and it’s an exquisite dish.

The recipe came from cookbook Sunshine Cuisine, published in 1994, and authored by Chef Jean-Pierre Brehier, who moved from France to Florida and basically fused French and Floridian cuisine, served in his restaurant The Left Bank. I didn’t realize that Sunshine Cuisine had been a James Beard nominated book, and since then he’s written two more cookbooks.

The reason I bring all of this up, is that in my green bean post, I’d lamented the fact that the chef basically disappeared. And he had, temporarily, but thanks to a recent comment on that post, (July, 2020) I was able to find the chef on his YouTube channel, plus it appears he still has his cooking school and website! He’s pictured in the above right photo. Older, but still alive and kicking! You can read his bio on his website here.

And boy is he entertaining! Chef Jean-Pierre Brehier is definitely French, but he sounds like he’s from the Bronx, with a touch of Louisiana Patois! And he kind of yells, in a passionate way. “If you use crap ingredients, you gonna get crap food!”

The first YouTube video I watched was his most recent, making a tomato pie. The tomato slices were layered with breadcrumbs, Havarti, caramelized onions, and pie crust, cooked in a skillet, then turned upside down at the end, during which time he was making the sign of a cross multiple times. Funny guy.

These are photos from the YouTube video:

In the same video he spent about five minutes griping about how he went to 3 stores, and couldn’t find good fresh tomatoes! And his video was posted on July 16th, 2020. “New Jersey tomatoes are the best. But tomatoes in Florida? The worst.” Then he adds that New Jersey tomatoes are probably good because of all the mobsters in the ground, adding that Italian flavor to produce!!! You seriously should watch him.

Chef JP’s Tomato Pie

1 tablespoon sweet Butter
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
6 large Tomatoes cut into slice ¼ inch thick
1 ½ cup fresh Bread Crumbs, mixed with garlic, parsley and fresh thyme
8 slices Mozzarella or Havarti Cheese
1 ½ cup Caramelized Onions
1 prepared Dough
4 ounces Goat Cheese (Frozen for 2 hours)
2 tablespoons Pesto fairly liquid

Preheat Oven to 400°.

Melt butter and the oil in a 10 inch oven proof skillet; add the tomatoes slices evenly to cover the entire surface. Core the tomatoes first.


Top the tomatoes with the fresh bread crumbs.


Then cover with the sliced cheese.


Then top with the caramelized onion.


Finally cover the entire pan with the prepared dough, tucking dough edges against the side of the skillet.


Bake for 25 minutes or until the dough is golden brown.


Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Place a large plate over the pan and invert the tart onto the platter.


Grate the frozen goat cheese.

I didn’t do this part. I wanted to taste the Havarti more. He did also add finely chopped parsley to the top, and I should have done that to make it prettier.

Let the pie rest until warm and serve.


Chef JP did a drizzle of balsamic vinegar on the plate before slicing a piece of pie, and also added a drizzle of pesto mixed with olive oil.

The results were amazing. I also didn’t put a yellow tomato in the middle, I opted for red.


When you cut into the pie you can see the caramelized onions above the crust, the Havarti layer topped with the fresh breadcrumbs, and the tomatoes.


I will definitely be making this pie again next summer.

Corn-Tomato Salad with Tapenade

52 Comments

Did I need another French cookbook? A resounding NO, but when I read about this one, Dinner in French by Melissa Clark, published in 2020, I knew I would love it.

I love personal stories, so the introduction in this book was a great read. Ms. Clark tells the story about how her Great-Aunt Martha and Uncle Jack “dragged” her parents to Europe, and they fell in love with France. After she and her sister were born, the annual trips to France continued, sometimes renting houses, other times exchanging houses, which allowed them to stay put for a month AT A TIME, in various regions of France.

Ms. Clark writes about her cooking, “It’s all right there, rooted in my New York-Jewish-Francophile DNA. And my cooking ends up playfully and unmistakably French. At our house, the conversation might be in English, but dinner’s in French.”

According to Ms. Clark, “This salad is all about the contrast between the sugar-sweet corn and the salty olive tapenade. Since many commercial tapenade shamefully neglect to include anchovies along with the olives and capers, I like to make my own.” I do as well.

I did learn a trick from the author. She suggests microwaving whole corn cobs, 5 minutes for four. I simply wrapped them in a towel first. What I didn’t expect was that the husk part came off in basically one piece. No corn silk with which to deal. Fabulous trick.

Fresh Corn and Tomato Salad with Tapenade

For the tapenade dressing:
1 1/2 cups pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed
2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely grated or minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:
4 ears fresh corn, cooked, kernels sliced off and reserved
1 pint red cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
3/4 cup fresh parsley leaves

Flaky sea salt, for serving
Sliced baguette, for serving

Combine the olives, basil, parsley, capers, oil, lemon zest and juice, anchovies, garlic, and pepper in a blender. Pulse to form a coarse paste. Taste, and add more lemon juice if it tastes flat.

Toss the corn kernels, tomatoes, red onions, basil, and parsley together in a large bowl. Fold in just enough tapenade to coat the vegetables.


Sprinkle the salad lightly with flaky sea salt, and serve it with the remaining tapenade and some bread alongside.


There is actually quite of bit of tapenade “dressing” for this salad, so you can always spread it on the bread while enjoying the salad.

I also think white beans would be really good in this salad, along with the corn and tomatoes.

But as it is… fabulous. And a great idea to use tapenade as a base for a dressing. I added a bit more lemon juice.

This salad would be a perfect picnic salad, served alongside grilled chicken, ham sanwiches, or sausages.

Aligot

56 Comments

Recently I was looking something up on the internet, and came across photos of melted cheese. That is exactly the way to get my attention – melted cheese. It didn’t look quite like raclette or fondue, and I read that it was Aligot. Why have I never heard of this?

Aligot (ah-lee-go) is a specialty of the Auvergne region of central France – a potato purée beaten together with cheese to make a stretchy mixture. Stretchy indeed!

The following photo is from the French cooking blog Papilles et Pupilles.

From a New York Times article, “somewhere between buttery mashed potatoes and pure melted cheese lies aligot, the comforting, cheese-enhanced mashed-potato dish.”

The recipe I’m using is from the book, The Food of France – a journey for food lovers, published in 2001. I was gifted this book but used it mostly as a coffee table book because it’s so beautiful. This recipe and the one from Papilles et Pupilles are very similar.


Aligot
Slightly adapted
Printable recipe below

1 1/2 pounds floury potatoes, cut into even-sized pieces
4 ounces butter
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 ounces cream
10 ounces Cantal, grated

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 20-30 minutes, or until tender. I weighed both the potatoes and cheese to make sure I had the correct ratio, not knowing if it was that critical or not.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat and add the garlic.

Mash the potatoes using a ricer or food mill; don’t use a food processor or they will become fluent.

Place the riced potatoes in the saucepan over gentle heat and add the cream.

Mix together well and then add the cheese, handful by handful, beating vigorously with each addition.

Once the cheese has melted the mixture will be stretchy.

Season with salt and pepper before serving.

It starts out a little lumpy, but indeed, with serious stirring, the potato and cheese mixture becomes smooth.

This dish is meant to be a “backdrop” side dish, so yes, stronger aged cheeses like a cave-aged Gruyere can be used, but I think it’s important to stick with authenticity. By using the proper cheese, aligot is similar to a plain polenta, that lets the sausages, or daube, or coq au vin “shine”.

Serve as quickly as you can, because it does stiffen when cooling.

I served the aligot with sausage and a lightly dressed green salad.

Aligot is basically cheesy mashed potatoes on crack! Crazy good. And a fabulous cheese that I’d never tried before. So much excitement on this end!!!

And now I need to travel to the Auvergne region of France to see what else I’ve been missing.

 

 

Burnt Flour Soup

83 Comments

While growing up, my mother would occasionally make a simple soup, made by browning butter and adding flour that burned in the butter. I didn’t know this was how the soup was made as a youngster, I just knew I loved it. She’d always told me it was her mother’s recipe.

Many years ago I asked my mother for the recipe, and she wrote it down. It began like this:

My mother was born and raised in the city of Nancy, in the Provence of Lorraine in northeastern France. Unfortunately, because of the proximity to Germany, my mother experienced WWII first hand as an adolescent, even to the extreme of her family’s home overtaken by Nazi officers.

It was this reason that, after hearing my mother’s literal war stories, especially when it came to the lack of food, I always presumed that her mother’s burnt soup recipe was a classic “peasant” recipe, made with what little butter and flour could be purchased or bartered for at the black market.

Recently I was looking at cookbook called Savoie – The Land, People, and Food of the French Alps, which was published in 1989. (I bought the book after visiting the Savoie and Haute-Savoie regions of France, where I first discovered some of my favorite stinky cheeses, like Reblochon and Raclette.)

But there it was in the cookbook – Burned Flour Soup.

The author, Madeleine Kamman, wrote that the “soup is probably of Germanic origin since it is also a specialty of the southern Alsace and the area of Basel and several other cantons of Switzerland.”

Because Eastern France borders Germany, Switzerland, as well as Italy, it’s probably impossible to pinpoint the exact origin of burned flour soup. It’s a given that it was a peasant recipe, but obviously had a wider range than my mother’s home kitchen in Nancy.

The photo on the left shows the province of Lorraine, the one on the right, Savoie.

I recently asked my mother about the soup, and all that she could remember is that her mother made it.

The cookbook recipe is more involved than what my mother made when I was growing up; I don’t mind the upgrade of bacon and cheese! Here is the recipe from the cookbook.

Soupe À La Farine Brûlée
Or Burned Flour Soup

5 ounce slab bacon, cut into 1/4″ cubes
1 1/2 pounds onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 quarts hot water or broth
1 teaspoon Maggi seasoning
Salt
Pepper
1 cup light cream
1/2 pound Tomme, or Gruyère

In a large sauté pan, render the bacon cubes slowly; let them color to a nice golden without crisping. When the bacon is ready, remove it to a plate.

In the bacon fat, slowly sauté the chopped onions until mellow and brown. Mix the bacon into the onions.


In another saucepan, heat the butter well. Add the flour and cook slowly – at least 20 minutes – until nice and dark brown (two shades deeper than a hazelnut shell).


Whisk in the hot water or broth, bring to a boil, and pour over the onions and bacon.


Add Maggi seasoning, salt, and pepper. Simmer approximately 45 minutes, or until tasty and reduced to 5 cups.


Add the cream and mix well.


Serve in hot plates or bowls with a dish of cheese slices “for your guests to help themselves.”


The tomme is to be slivered into the soup.

The Tomme really adds something to the soup. I think I prefer it over Gruyere.

Sadly, though, this is not my mother’s soup. It’s quite different, even though it’s “better” with the upgrades.

The recipe could easily be made with fewer steps, but it was fun to make.

Fresh and dried mushrooms would be an incredible addition, sautéed along with the onions.

 

 

Ratatouille Méridionnale

57 Comments

Méridionnale is the southern region of France famous for its ratatouille, classic in that it contains tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, and eggplant, but unusual in that it is cooked gently in the oven, not on the stovetop. This, according to Daniel Boulud, in his cookbook, “Café Boulud Cookbook,” published in 1999.


I bought the cookbook after going to Café Boulud in New York City, not once, but twice during the same visit back in 2010. My daughter and I stayed at the Surrey Hotel, located adjacent to the restaurant. I had accompanied my daughter to New York City for a major interview, which all turned out well.

To make our first night easy I’d made a reservation at Café Boulud, and it was so perfect that went went the next day for lunch. The food, the service, the ambiance – all was truly perfection. One thing that I remember is that when you were brought the check, it came with just-out-of-the-oven Madeleines.

The cookbook is uniquely divided into four parts.
1. La Tradition – the traditional dishes of French cooking
2. La Saison – the seasonal specialties of the market
3. Le Voyage – dishes from lands far and near, and
4. Le Potager – vegetarian dishes that celebrate the bounty of the garden.

So many recipes jumped out at me when I first read the book. A roasted chicken stuffed with a Tuscan bread filling that included chicken livers and prosciutto, for example, and veal chops stuffed with fontina and porcini. But I chose this ratatouille recipe, from the “La Tradition” section.

Right now my garden is abundant with most all of the ingredients in this hearty vegetable dish, so there’s no better time than the present to make ratatouille.

Ratatouille Méridionnale

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled, split, and germ removed
1 onion, peeled, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, deveined, cut into 1” chunks
2 yellow bell peppers, as above
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 small eggplant, about 4 ounces, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
1 zucchini, scrubbed, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
1 yellow squash, scrubbed, trimmed, cut into 1” chunks
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, cut into 1” chunks
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon thinly sliced basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. In order for the vegetables to retain their distinctive flavors, you will need either to cook them in batches or to cook them in two separate sauté pans.

Warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add 1 clove of garlic, the onion, and the chunks of red and yellow pepper. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften a bit but don’t take on color, about 5 minutes.

Either remove the vegetables and wipe out the pan or, while the peppers are cooking, take another sauté pan and warm the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add the second clove of garlic, the eggplant, zucchini, and squash and cook and stir for 8 to 10 minutes, this time allowing the vegetables to color a bit.

Combine the sautéed vegetables in one large ovenproof sauté pan or baking dish and stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes, thyme, and bay leaves. Cover the pan with a circle of parchment paper, pressing the paper against the vegetables.


Put the pan in the oven and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, stirring the ratatouille every 15 minutes or so.

The ratatouille is done when the vegetables are meltingly tender but still retain their shape. Remove the bay leaves and garlic.

Serve while it’s hot, or when it reaches room temperature. Just before serving, stir in the basil leaves and the squirt of lemon juice.

The ratatouille can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator.

Before serving, bring it to room temperature or warm it gently in a slow oven.

I served the ratatouille with roasted chicken. Simple and delicious.

I was really surprised after all the cooking time as well as stirring that the pieces of vegetables remained intact. I have seen many a ratatouille look like mush.

So it’s for that reason alone that I will make this recipe for ratatouille again. It’s pretty, delicious, and perfect for a glut of ripe vegetables.

My Favorite Green Beans

72 Comments

Many years ago, I purchased a fairly obscure cookbook written by an unknown chef, at least to me. Sunshine Cuisine was published in 1994.

The book cover states that chef Jean-Pierre Brehier “combines the taste memories of his Provençal childhood (born in Aix-en-Provence) with the Florida-Caribbean influences that weave their way throughout his professional career.”

Also from the book flap, “Chef Jean-Pierre Brehier has trained in some of the best restaurants in the south of France… came to Florida in 1973 and in 1976 became chef-proprietor of the award-winning restaurant The Left Bank in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.”

I googled him and there’s not much information on the chef since 1998, but there is a website called Meet Chef Jean Pierre.

I guess he had a show on the Food Network, and also on PBS, but I’ve never come across him except for this one cookbook. Is anyone familiar with him?

I’ve made quite a few dishes from his cookbook, but one recipe originally stood out to me, and occasionally, I make it. If you know me at all, you know I rarely make the same recipe twice.

The recipe is green beans with tomatoes, Kalamata olives and pine nuts. This recipe alone is the only reason I keep this cookbook, although I have made other good recipes out of it.

Green Beans with Calamata Olives and Toasted Pine Nuts
printable recipe below

1/4 cup pine nuts
1 pound green beans
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup minced onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup Calamata olives, pitted and chopped

In a small nonstick frying pan, toast the pine nuts until golden brown.
Remove from heat and reserve.

Remove the tips and tails from the green beans and cut them into 1 1/2” lengths. Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil and poach the beans until tender but still firm, about 7 minutes. Drain into a colander.


In a sauté pan, heat the butter and oil and add the beans. Sauté 1 minute, then add the onion and cook until translucent, not brown.

Add the garlic, tomatoes, and olives. Sauté for a couple of minutes.

Add the pine nuts and serve immediately.

There’s just something about this group of ingredients that is spectacular. Of course it helps to love green beans.

The tomatoes and olives plus the crunchy pine nuts are just superb together.

And, with the addition of both onion and garlic, no seasoning is necessary. The olives supply the saltiness.

I’m not sure if it’s Kalamata or Calamata, but this chef spelled the olives with a “C.”

Other appealing recipes in this cookbook:
New Potato and Beet Salad
Risotto with Ginger and Carrot Juice
Roasted Peppers and Chili Sabayon Sauce

 

 

Mes Escargots

67 Comments

So, I love snails. Shoot me. At least I think I love them. You could probably smother bits of shoe soles in a garlicky butter and parsley sauce, bake them, and serve them with good, crusty bread, and they would be good, too.

I was raised on snails, so they never scared me. Now, honestly, I don’t want to think about them really being snails because, well, snails are icky.

Recently I realized that I’ve never prepared my own L’escargots. And, it was about time to rectify this.

Funny anecdote: Right before we got married, my fiancé and I visited my mother, a couple of weeks before our elopement would occur.

My mother, being who she is, French, wanted to make my future husband happy, so for the first celebratory meal she prepared for us, it began with snails. And, he ate them. He ate other things, too. I guess he really loved me.

Photos below show two times I had l’escargots in France, in Avignon and Tourettes.

Here is a snail dish I had in Aix en Provence – snails on a salad. I’d always enjoyed l’escargots the traditional way, but this salad was superb.

To make snails the traditional way, you need snail shells, and you need snails. Fortunately one doesn’t have to forage in garden for either.

Escargots à la Bourguignonne
based on recipe in Saveur
makes 24

16 tablespoons butter
1/4 minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon white wine
1 teaspoon cognac
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
Salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste
24 extra-large snail shells
24 canned extra-large snails
Rock salt
Country bread

In a bowl, whisk together butter, parsley, wine, cognac, garlic, and shallots with a fork. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors meld.

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of butter mixture into each snail shell.

Push a snail into each shell; fill shells with remaining butter mixture.

Cover bottom of a baking dish with a layer of rock salt to stabilize the snail shells.

Arrange snail shells, butter side up, on the salt and bake until butter sizzles, about 10-12 minutes.

Serve hot with bread.

Alternatively, to prepare l’escargots, you don’t need snail shells, just ceramic dishes with round indentations.

Put a snail and the butter in each indentation, then bake the same way in a hot oven.

You’ll still need a little fork and good bread.


Snails are a wonderful excuse to eat bread soaked in a garlic parsley butter.

 

 

Sauce Vierge

50 Comments

I’ve mentioned how I plan my personal meals around condiments, and I’m not exaggerating! In fact, a condiment will inspire a whole meal for me. I guess it’s no different than a BBQ lover who sees BBQ sauce and immediately wants brisket, beans, and cole slaw.

Basic condiments like home-made aioli, mustards and ketchups are wonderful, but so are romesco, chimichurri, charmoula, persillade, harissa, chutney, and confit. So many condiments, so little time!

Recently I came across another sauce – Sauce Vierge – that is almost like a marriage of a fresh tomato salsa and persillade, loosely speaking.

I discovered the sauce on Food 52. Sauce Vierge translates to virgin sauce, and was created in 1976 by Michel Guérard, “one of the forces behind the lighter, fresher nouvelle cuisine that sprang up in reaction to cuisine classique, dripping with all its hefty mother sauces.”

I got excited when I read about the sauce, which includes tomato, lemon juice, and fresh herbs, because it’s a perfect sauce to make in the summer. And it’s summer!

Sauce Vierge

4 ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 whole, peeled garlic cloves, lightly smashed
1 freshly squeezed lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Pinch of ground coriander
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs

Peel and seed the tomatoes, then roughly chop and place in a medium bowl.


Add the oil, garlic, lemon, salt, pepper, and coriander.

Then add the fresh herbs. I used chives, basil, tarragon, thyme, and rosemary.

Cover the bowl, and leave to sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. Taste and adjust the seasoning, remove the cloves of garlic, and serve warm or room temperature.

To use the sauce, I grilled tilapia, and served the sauce at room temperature.

I wanted the sauce ingredients to really stand out.


I served the tilapia with boiled potatoes, on which I drizzled some of the herby oil. You can tell I’m not scared of a plate of olive oil!

In reality, is Sauce Vierge a condiment or a sauce? Where does a condiment start and end, and a sauce or paste begin?

My answer is “who cares?!!”

verdict: I will continue to make this sauce/condiment during summer months when I can get my hands on ripe tomatoes. It is exquisite. Over fish it was a great pairing, but I can see this on scallops, chicken, lamb, bread…

Note: Instead of using the ingredients at room temperature, you can alternatively mix the ingredients in a saucepan, and simmer the sauce slowly over low heat for 30 minutes.

Pissaladière

49 Comments

My first experience eating pissaladière was exquisite – an experience I knew I’d always remember.

It was May of 2002. My older daughter had just graduated from high school, and we took her and her sister on a tour of eastern France, from Nice in the south, ending in Paris two weeks later.

I’d always insisted that we would take the kids to Europe – anywhere in Europe – before they left home, and this was finally that trip. My husband had suggested we start with France because I’d lived there, and spoke some French still.

We booked the tour with Rick Steves – a tour company I highly recommend for many reasons. For one thing, there are only 24 people on these trips. For another, someone else does the driving for you and, the hotel reservations have been made and confirmed. And trust me, we are not “tour” people. Plus, half of the time, you’re on your own.

The name of Rick Steves tour company is Europe Through the Back Door. It’s not a traditional tour in that you get to see Europe as the Europeans do. Unless your specific tour focuses only on cities, you’re taken on back roads into villages and areas that the larger tours don’t and can’t take you. It’s very insightful and the experiences unique.

My husband and I have driven in Europe by ourselves, without a guide, but you miss out on a lot of information. Some friends I know are really good at studying before and during their trips, but my husband and I aren’t like that.

The tour guides for Rick Steves are incredibly knowledgeable people. You don’t work for him if you’re not skilled in the language, and passionate about the arts, the politics, history, and much more. We’ve also used Rick Steves in Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, and Scotland.

So back in 2002, we began our Eastern France tour by visiting Vieux Nice. After two days, we headed out of the city to Èze and had a picnic. And that’s where our guide served us local specialties that included pissaladière, which you can see in the photo on the right.

So that was my first experience. The weather was perfect, the view just stunning, my family was there and happy, and we were finally all in France!

To recreate the pissaladière, I used the recipe in this cookbook.

I’ve seen recipes that use pizza dough and also puff pastry, but whatever kind of crust, caramelized onions, anchovies and Niçoise olives are always on top.


Pissaladière

Pastry
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter
1 large egg
About 2 tablespoons ice water

Topping
Scant 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
2 or 3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cloves
Water
20 – 25 small anchovy fillets
About 15 Niçoise or other small black olives

At least 2 hours before you wish to serve the tart, make the pastry: Place the flour and salt in a bowl. Use the coarse side of a box grater to grate the butter into the bowl, then toss with the flour.

Use a knife or pastry cutter to cut in the butter so that you have small buttery crumbs.

(Or, use a food processor!)

Break the egg into the bowl and mix in lightly with a fork. Add the ice water, starting with 2 tablespoons, tossing and mixing to moisten the flour. If necessary, add more water, just enough so that the dough comes together in a mass when you pull it together.

Transfer to a heavy plastic bag. Press from outside the bag to make a flat disk about 6 inches across. Seal well and refrigerate while you prepare the topping (the dough can be made up to 2 days ahead).

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil a shallow 13-by-9-inch baking pan.

To prepare the topping, heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Add the onions, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and cloves and cook over medium heat, turning frequently, until the onions wilt and soften.

Lower the heat slightly and continue to cook: After they release their liquid, the onions will soften further, but as the liquid evaporates, the onions may start to stick – add a little water as necessary to prevent sticking (1/4 cup, or perhaps a little more).

The whole cooking process will take about an hour.

When done, the onions will be very soft and sweet-tasting. Remove from the heat, and remove and discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

While the onions are cooking, prepare the crust: Lightly flour a work surface and turn out the dough. Flatter the dough by banging on it with a lightly floured rolling pin, then roll it out to a rectangle a little larger than the baking pan, rolling from the center outward.

Transfer the dough to the baking pan and gently ease it into the corners. Trim off extra dough with a sharp knife. If necessary, use scraps of trimmings to patch any holes, pressing down on the edges of the patch to seal well. Prick the dough all over, about ten times, with a fork to prevent puffing, then line it with foil or parchment paper. Weight the foil with dried beans or pastry weights.


Bake the crust for about 10 minutes, until the edges are firm and just touched with color. Remove from the oven and remove the foil and weights.

Spread the cooked onions all over the bottom of the crust, then arrange the anchovies and olives on top.

Place the tart back in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until the edges are touched with brown and pulling away from the sides of the pan.

Let cool for at least 10 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

I served mine with a salad, topped with a basic vinaigrette and finely grated Parmesan.

The sweetness of the onions pairs so well with the salty anchovies and olives.

It’s truly a match made in culinary heaven.


And this crust was total perfection – delicate and flavorful.
Vive la France!

Socca

43 Comments

When I travel, I like to try local specialties. It’s just part of the fun of eating and drinking in other countries. But learning about different foods and experiencing them is also a huge part of becoming a better cook.

I’ve had haggis in Scotland (a bit bland), banana beer in Rwanda (terrible), conch in the Cayman Islands (incredible.) Two foods I’ve refused to try were Casu Marzu in Corsica, a cheese covered in live maggots, and red-sauced, still-moving snails in Spain.

I’ll probably never eat fried spiders, grilled grasshoppers, and definitely not barbecued guinea pigs. So I guess I’m not the most adventurous when in comes to experiencing local food, but I do my best.

In the fall of 2015, my husband and I traveled to France, to begin a magical two-week road trip. Our guide was the incomparable Stéphane Gabart, from the blog My French Heaven. This was my third time visiting him. He knows and loves France, and he has great passion for French food and wine. He’s a professional chef, photographer, he’s really funny, and best of all, he’s my friend.

kkk

On this trip we traveled throughout Provence, stopping in quaint villages. Stéphane planned lunch in Castelnaudary, just so we could experience authentic cassoulet. And when we reached le Côte d’Azur, we enjoyed traditional bouillabaise in Cassis. In Avignon, I ordered pieds paquets, or veal toes, after treating myself to snails (the kind that are not alive).

Before leaving Nice to return home, I wanted to try a local specialty socca. I must have seen it in a cookbook, but had no idea what to expect. I expected socca to look more like cornbread, but it was more crêpe-like.

What makes socca different is that it’s made with garbanzo bean flour and not wheat flour.

The restaurant where we lunched in vieux Nice is at the left of the plaza.

img_0090

At our final lunch together, I ordered socca with a Salade Niçoise and this is what it looked like.

_mg_4405

Just for fun, I thought I should recreate socca at home. I am using a recipe from the blog Foodie Underground, written by Anna Brones.

_mg_4105

Mine don’t look quite the same as what I had in Nice, but they were good!

Here’s what I did.

Socca
Makes 8 – 6″ in diameter

1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup garbanzo bean/chick pea flour
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon salt

This is the garbanzo bean flour I used for the socca.

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk well.

_mg_4088

At this point, the batter is watery. Cover with a dish towel and put the bowl in the refrigerator for one hour minimum. The batter will thicken, but still be a “thin” batter.

_mg_4089

Lightly oil a large round flat skillet. I used my Le Creuset crêpe pan that came with a little wooden tool. I’ve never used it for crêpes, just flatbreads!

_mg_4091

Turn the heat to high. When the oil is smoking, gently pour a scant 1/3 cup of the batter onto the skillet, much as you would a crêpe.
_mg_4092

The high heat really grabs the batter. You can see little holes forming around the edges.
_mg_4093

Wait just until the middle of the socca has firmed up, then flip it over. To best assist with flipping the socca, I used a giant spatula that I usually only use for moving pastry. It’s really thin.

_mg_4096

Flip over and cook for just about 30 seconds. This one got a little too browned on the first side.

_mg_4094

While still warm, I folded the socca into quarters. My French socca were definitely more pliable than these.

_mg_4099

To serve with the socca, I put together a green salad with some fun goodies.

_mg_4117

The vinaigrette is a creamy lemon and parsley.

_mg_4119

The socca were fantastic. I really loved the flavor of the Herbes de Provence.

_mg_4124

Other recipes for socca list cumin or rosemary.

_mg_4107

I’ve also seen recipes for socca that are thicker and cooked in the oven, served in wedges. I’m definitely going to experiment more because there is obviously more than one way to make socca. Plus, there are Ligurian recipes for the Italian version, called farinata, which makes sense since Liguria is so close to Nice.

_mg_4138

Notice the lacy look of my socca.
_mg_4138

The taste is really lovely, and there was no bitterness from the garbanzo bean flour. Their look is so-so, but I’d definitely make these unique pancakes again!

If you’re interested, check out highlights of our trip here Je Ne Regrette Rien.