At Essential Sailing, we love the history, culture and cuisine of the places we visit almost as much as the sailing to get there. Our Captain’s Blog brings you a taste of what to expect from our luxury crewed sailing holidays around the French and Italian Riviera. In this blog we appreciate the French Riviera cuisine Nicoise style of cooking.
Sit back and be inspired.
Cuisine Nicoise is the style of cooking found in Nice and in the countryside around it. It comes from humble origins, with most of the recipes having been inherited from grandmothers who prepared farmhouse cuisine from produce grown in their kitchen gardens using recipes that were handed down for generations – and often served to three of them sitting at the kitchen table for Sunday dinner.
Many of those grandmothers were either Italian or French influenced by Italian cuisine, because the entire area along the coast from Cannes towards Monaco had been part of Italy until 1860, when it was ceded to France. So the cuisines of those two countries are entwined and intermingled in the most ideal culinary match of Italian and French traditions. The resulting cuisine Niçoise springs from that marriage – with a strong dash of its own unique dishes not found anywhere else in France.
This area of France fits snugly close to Genoa, so subtle changes were made to typically Italian dishes on a daily basis, thereby creating the evolution of a new blend of French and Italian cooking. French Cuisine Nicoise cooks make gnocchi, but they fold in chopped Swiss chard; they make ravioli but stuff it with orange-scented beef stew or fry it. A favourite meal of pizza at a restaurant for lunch might be followed by a stew at home for dinner, made with an inexpensive cut of meat that has been marinated overnight in wine. The meat is enhanced with vegetables from the garden at the back of the house and herbs harvested wild from the side of the road during an afternoon walk. The daube, or French stew, is most likely served with homemade Italian tagliatelle.
Cuisine Nicoise cooking is vibrant and healthy, with an emphasis on vegetables and fish. It is honest, simple and frugal, based on what is available from the surrounding land and the sea. It is designed with olive oil rather than butter and cream; it is light rather than bathed in rich sauces. Because there is little room for cattle to roam in this region, there is less beef and more lamb, pork, rabbit, wild game, duck and chicken. And French Cuisine Niçoise depends on fresh, locally sourced produce, either wild or tamed by farmers. You can’t speak about it without mentioning the local farmer or fisherman.
In the open-air market in Nice and in small family shops in the area, you will find wild asparagus; wild mushrooms; mesclun; zucchini flowers; Mara des Bois – tiny strawberries; red, green, and black fresh figs; fresh green walnuts; lamb from the nearby Alpes-de-Haute Provence; and lean sheep and goat cheeses as well as a vast array of brilliantly coloured fruits and vegetables. As much as imaginable, everything at the market is local.
In the home, Cuisine Nicoise is casual, served on mismatched pottery rather than fine china. It has the cosy familiarity of a grandmother’s kitchen, where food was prepared in well-loved vintage pots and served on a long wooden table. Although its allure is a nostalgic one, it fits very much into our times and lifestyles. Simple and homey, using local ingredients or what you have on hand, cuisine Niçoise is an inexpensive and healthy way of cooking.