I WAS lucky enough to visit Cannes in the wonderful French Riviera recently. I was invited to cook at a special dinner hosted by Google, at the annual Lions Festival, and although I spent most of my time in the kitchen, it did take me back to the incredible memories I have from my time in the area – whether working or on holiday.
The Provençal area of France is one of my favourite places – so much so, that I’ll be sharing even more recipes from the region in my column next week. No matter how many times I return, I always find myself in awe of the quality of food. Over the years, I’ve discovered some remarkable restaurants, cafés, hotels, vineyards and food markets – and indeed inspiration for my own cooking. The ethos, ingredients, influence and distinct identity of Provençal cooking really excites me and I always return with new ideas to bring to my own dishes at the restaurant and at home.
One of my first experiences of this region, was when I arrived in Nice as a 25-year-old and set off to work with the legendary chef Alain Ducasse at Le Louis XV in Monaco. It was a big step on my journey to discovering that the true Provençal way is very much about fresh, local ingredients prepared with honesty and passion.
In Cannes, that ethos is also very much evident, as are the Provençal flavours and local ingredients. The cuisine is influenced by the warm, dry Mediterranean climate. The hilly, rugged landscape and coastline mean that you can find some of the most wonderful local, fresh ingredients in abundance. When I’m in this area of France, I like to make the most of the vegetables on offer, always of remarkable quality and flavour thanks to the glorious sunshine. I often start meals there with either a fresh salad or a crunchy crudité platter made with market greens. Another of my favourites is globe artichoke which I love to eat very simply with a splash of fresh vinaigrette. The taste takes me right back to Provence – for me, this wonderful vegetable just sings of summer. A lot of the enjoyment also comes from the way you can eat artichokes, slowly peeling them leaf by leaf and layer by layer, taking your time to enjoy the flavour.
You will sometimes find a fusion of Italian and French dishes in the area because of the two countries’ proximity. One great example is the Pissaladière which is known to hail from Provence, but is a focaccia dish originating from the Italian region of Liguria. It’s a recipe, however, that’s been long associated with the adjacent districts in France like Nice, Cannes and Marseille.
A traditional Pissaladière is made up of dough slightly thicker than a pizza, and the topping usually consists of caramelised onions, garlic and anchovies – all very common ingredients in the Provençal kitchen.
The difference with the French versions of this dish is that they don’t tend to use cheese – unlike the Italians who sometimes add mozzarella.
Pissaladière is often served as an appetiser, which was how I served it at our dinner in Cannes, but it can make a great addition to any picnic or barbecue at this time of year, or even a simple yet tasty seasonal lunch. The beauty is you can use the foundation recipe and add any of your own local, seasonal ingredients.
If you’re inspired this week, make sure you check out more of my Cannes-inspired recipes next week too.
2 tbsp lemon juice
For the vinaigrette:
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
200ml vegetable oil
salt and pepper
Preparing the artichokes:
Remove the tough outer leaves of the artichokes and snap off the stalks. Carefully trim off the top spiky leaves with a sharp knife and discard. Bring a large pan of water to the boil – do not use aluminium or iron pans as they can cause the artichokes to discolour. Add the lemon juice, then the artichokes. A useful tip is to put an old plate on top of the artichokes to keep them submerged so they cook evenly. Simmer, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, or until one of the outer leaves pulls away easily. Drain well.
Making the vinaigrette:
Mix the mustard and vinegar in a bowl using a hand whisk. Gently pour in the oil and mix with a hand blender until the vinaigrette is properly emulsified. As it thickens, add about 50ml water and season to taste.
Serve the artichokes warm with the vinaigrette dressing alongside. Gently remove the leaves one at a time and dip them in the dressing before eating.
2 white onions
2 tsp thyme leaves
1 large sheet puff pastry
50g black olives
1 tbsp oil
salt for seasoning
knob of butter
Heat a heavy-bottomed pan and add the oil. Thinly slice the onions and season with salt and the thyme leaves.
Add the butter to the onions and sweat gently for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once cooked they should have a lovely golden brown colour.
Meanwhile, pre-heat oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Roll puff pastry and fork all over before placing in between two trays to keep the pastry from rising. Bake until golden and once cooked remove and cut into slices. Cover the tart with the onion compote and place anchovies and black olives on top.