Today, the Tour de France is still in Nice for a stage in the beautiful Nice hinterland mountains. Yes, mountains with altitudes reaching 5,000 feet. As the peloton starts from the Promenade des Anglais, i.e. by the sea, it really means 5,000 feet above main sea level. This is why Nice offered a rare specificity: it is located by a (warm) sea and is only 60-mile distant from a real ski resort (Isola 2000). Personally, I prefer by far this hinterland, the famous villages of Èze or Saint-Paul-de-Vence, but also La-Tour-sur-Tinée, Saint-Martin-Vésubie, Lucéram... on the TdF route today, than the densely built Riviera itself.
"True" salade niçoise
Le cuisine niçoise, i.e. the cuisine from the city and area of Nice in the Southeast of France, squeezed between the French Alps and the Mediterranean sea and close to the Italian border, is very rich and colorful. It benefits from its specific climate and its abundant local productions: vegetables, with some endemic varieties, fruit, fish, shellfish... Ratatouille, pissaladière, pan bagnat, tourte aux blettes, petits farcis... and of course salade niçoise, all those few names bring nice images and flavors. But surprisingly enough, whereas you would expect a cuisine rather improvised and disordered, if not indolent (the sun effect!), it is on the contrary very rigorous and codified, in particular by the former Mayor of Nice Jacques Médecin and by the iconic chef Jacques Maximin (I had the chance to eat in his restaurant before he retired). Most of the Nice dishes, and the salade niçoise in particular, obey to certain rules, in terms of ingredients, preparation, season...
The first rule concerns the product that are deemed compulsory: tomatoes, artichokes called poivrade (the small purple ones), févettes (a kind of small fava beans), cucumber, green bell pepper, cébettes (a kind of green onion), small non-pitted black olives (the pitchounettes). Plus: (medium boiled) eggs, tuna fish à l'huile (cooked/preserved in oil), the anchovies, the herbs, and last but not least, (a lot of) an excellent olive oil. It is also possible to add celery stems, radishes, and a few other vegetables... But in any case and once for all, NO haricots verts, NO rice, NO potatoes, NO carrots, NO corn...
The second rule is that it is made of seasonal products. This is what made this salad difficult to make as you need to have all the compulsory ingredients available at the same moment. When the season is over, the real Nissarts, i.e. the Nice inhabitants, don't make the salade niçoise. I should say that I have been dreaming for years to make a salade niçoise here in Cleveland, of course not with the same ingredients as those found in Nice, but with some substitutes as close as possible from the "originals". The difficulty has always been to find the févettes and the artichokes poivrade, and to find them at the same moment. But alleluia! I found recently at a farmers' market some Lima beans that could substitute for the févettes and Heinen's has been carrying for a couple of weeks some Californian artichokes similar to the poivrade.
The third rule is that there is no vinegar although it is admitted that you can squeeze a lemon (the one you used to prevent the artichoke oxidation) for instance at the last moment when you serve the salad. In the same respect, there is no garlic... except for the crushed clove rubbed on the bottom of the dish.
The fourth rule, which somehow results from the first rule is that there is NO cooked vegetable in the salade niçoise. No cooked vegetables... except for 1 minute (I will explain). All the vegetables are raw, the tomatoes, the artichokes (they are so young and tender as this is not needed), the bell peppers, the cucumber... Only the févettes could be blanched for 1 minute to enhance their green color and to remove their little skin. So, could you imagine potatoes there!!!
I spare you the other rules, for instance regarding how to cut each ingredient...
* During the Tour de France, combining two of my passions, biking and cooking, I will try to present (almost) every day a recipe from the route followed by the peloton.
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