The Food Lovers' Cookbook Collection
La Cuisine du Comté de Nice by Jacques Médecin
Jacques Médecin was destined to become mayor of Nice. Both his father and grandfather had performed this role - in fact his father was mayor from 1928 until 1966 with only a short break towards the end of the second world war. So, when his father retired Jacques took the reins. While carrying out the duties of mayor and as a member of parliament he still managed to find the time to pen this book to make sure that the rich culinary heritage of his beloved Comté de Nice was not lost.
He continued in the position of mayor until 1990 when forced out through a range of scandals which saw him make a strategic retreat to South America. He was deported to France a few years later where he served time in prison.
The beautiful Côte d'Azur city of Nice has always had an interesting history! While it is now firmly implanted in France, it has had close ties to the neighbouring Piedmont and Genoan region of Italy, to the island of Sardinia, to the mountainous hinterland of the Savoie and even to the far distant Scandinavia with whom trade was conducted hundreds of years ago giving rise to the love of dried fish products that now provide such interest to the cuisine.
For example, in Nice you will find pistou widely used. This has clearly been derived from the pesto of Genoa. You will also find the ever-present stockfish stew that came from trading with northern Europeans.
And so, Jacques Médecin a former mayor of the city begins his tour of Niçoise cuisine. And why? In his own words:
"Because it seems to me that I belong to the last generation which has had traditional recipes handed down to it".
He then goes on to say it is also because he loves Nice, because it is difficult to locate genuine Niçoise food these days and most particularly because of the umbrage he takes when served Niçoise salad in most parts of the world.
The book is organised along the traditional 'progression of the meal' format. In the opening chapter on soups he gives a recipe for Lou Pistou (using the local dialect ou ending). He goes to great length to explain that the name of this soup is not derived from the Niçoise word for basil, rather it is derived from the local dialect for 'pounded'. He then explains how to pound the garlic in a mortar then add basil then grated Parmesan (the Italian connection again). After these ingredients are incorporated, olive oil is added to bring them together. He then adds this precious commodity to a light vegetable soup after taking it off the heat as the pistou 'must never cook'.
Soon he moves to a discussion of La Salada Nissarda (Salade Niçoise) which he calls La Vrai Salade Niçoise. He starts his discourse with the statement 'Salade Niçoise is one of those dishes that is constantly traduced". He goes on to give a high level description of this local favourite:
"At its most basic - and genuine - it is made predominantly of tomatoes, consists exclusively of raw ingredients (apart from hard-boiled eggs), and has no vinaigrette dressing: the tomatoes are salted three times and moistened with olive oil".
Before detailing the recipe he makes a plea:
"But whatever you do, if you want to be a worthy exponent of Niçoise cookery, never, never, I beg you, include boiled potato or any other boiled vegetable in your salad niçoise."
He also implores either the use of canned tuna OR anchovies, not both. He explains that in the past tuna was used on special occasions as it was expensive. In the absence of tuna, the more common anchovies were used.
He moves on to other local favourites such as Pan-Bagnat, ratatouille and stuffed sardines (a dish executed beautifully at our favourite restaurant in Nice, La Merenda).
He then describes the famous pissaladière and explains the derivation of the word from the now hard to find fish puree called pissala which is smeared on the onions just before the tart is placed in the oven. We have managed to find one example where pissaladière is still made in this way just near the ramparts of the old part of Antibes in a little bakery run by Jean-Paul Veziano in the rue de la Pompe. These days, most pissaladière you find in Nice will use anchovies instead.
And so he goes on describing dish after delightful dish - in fact, 270 of them. If you are intrigued by the wonderful cuisine of this magical part of the world then this is a must have book. Even though it was written over thirty years ago, the recipes are as relevant today as they were at the time of writing.
This book was first published in French by Juliard in 1972 as La Cuisine du Comte de Nice.