A friend of mine in France makes what I think is the best Niçoise salad.
She attended my cookery lessons in the 1980’s and was trained in my Cape Town catering business. Years later we worked together in France developing food and wine tours for The Provençal Kitchen. She continues to cook generously and with great passion using only the best fresh ingredients which is, after all, the only way.
Fresh is best!
Along the Cote d’Azur there are as many arguments about what constitutes a salad Niçoise as there are about bouillabaisse. Having lived on this coastline for some years, I have experienced many variations of this scrumptious salad. Some are amazingly delicious, not only in presentation but also in taste, with freshly seared tuna, sun ripened tomatoes, lightly boiled quail eggs and small Niçoise olives.
Others sadly are disappointing with the use of tinned and bottled ingredients that have been piled onto
S E R V E S 4
Top and tail 100g fine green beans.
■ Cook in salted boiling water for about 5 minutes until just tender.
■ Put the beans in cold water to refresh, drain and cool.
■ Cook 200g baby potatoes, drain and cool.
■ Mix together 100ml olive oil, one clove crushed garlic, 6 shredded basil leaves, salt and pepper in a bowl to make a dressing.
■ Wash and dry one butter lettuce.
■ Toss leaves in a little of the dressing to coat.
■ Line a salad bowl.
■ Sear a 500g fresh tuna steak, cut into thin slices OR use 400g tinned tuna, drained and flaked.
■ Place the tuna in the centre of the bowl and surround with 100g beans, 4 ripe firm red tomatoes cut into quarters or 200g Rosa cherry tomatoes cut in half, 4 hardboiled eggs, quartered OR 12 hard boiled quail eggs cut in half, 200g cooked baby potatoes cut in half and one red or green pepper cut into 4cm strips.
Top with 100g black olives and 12 anchovy fillets.
■ Pour over the rest of the dressing.
■ Sprinkle with snipped chives.
■ Do not toss. Serve immediately.
Port Berry Jelly with Creme Anglaise
Life presents unexpected challenges, as it did one warm February evening when one of my staff had just handed me a nice, chilled flute of bubbles to enjoy after an extraordinarily successful beach party that we had catered for, the third function of that day. Guests had arrived by boat and walked up the beach guided by braziers with fires ablaze. Little did I know at the time how the rest of the night would unfold.
My phone rang just before midnight. One of my twin boys was calling. I answered thinking he was checking up on me, but the tone of his voice told me otherwise,
‘Mom there’s been a fire.’
‘Oh no, our home… is everyone ok?’
‘No mom, it’s the business.’
He had been driving past, seen the flames leaping into the sky, and called the fire brigade.
I hurried straight to my business premises, where I could hardly believe my eyes. Wading through the water in Wellington boots, the smell was unbelievable. The kitchens looked like a stage set with melted pieces of equipment we’d used only that morning. All my recipes, the creations of a lifetime, had gone up in smoke.
I had 46 functions ahead of me that month and all the preparation had been done for a dinner the next night on a wine farm for a client flying in from Hong Kong with 40 friends. But as they say, the show must go on, and it did.
With the incredible help of suppliers, friends, my amazing staff and the support of my children, all 46 functions wentahead. To this day the Hong Kong client and other clients have no knowledge of the destruction of my kitchens and the disastrous loss of my recipe book library and 25 years of recipe development.
The dessert for the Hong Kong client was Port Berry Jelly, which needs to set overnight. I changed the menu wording to Port Berry Soup Drizzled with Crème Anglaise, and no one noticed the difference.
SERVES 8 – 10
In a saucepan place 250ml ruby port, 100g caster sugar and the juice from the cherries (below) to simmering point.
■ Take off the heat and gently stir in a mixtureof berries such as one tin of pitted black cherries, 250g fresh raspberries, 250g small strawberries, 250g fresh blueberries and 250g blackberries. You can use 1kg frozen berries, too.
■ Sprinkle 45ml powdered gelatine over 125ml of cold water, leave to sponge.
■ Melt over hot water or place in the microwave for 20 or 30 seconds. Make sure all the granules have dissolved before stirring into the warm fruit mix.
■ Spoon into 8–10 ramekin dishes or champagne flutes, ensuring the fruit is equally distributed. Once cool, pop in the fridge to set, ideally overnight, as the flavour improves with standing.
■ Serve in the glasses or turn out onto individual plates and surround with a pool of crème anglaise. Serve with mini meringues and thickly whipped cream.
In Rosé country in the south of France, I make a Rosé raspberry jelly. It is one way of making sure you enjoy more Provençal Rosé.
■ Gently mix 500ml Rosé and 500g fresh raspberries.
■ Add 20ml gelatine sponged in 62ml cold water and melted as above.
■ Pour into moulds. Enjoy with a glass or two of Rosé.
You can buy ready-made custard and vamp it up with vanilla seeds and brandy, or whip up your own delicious Crème Anglaise.
■ Whisk until pale 8 egg yolks and 100g caster sugar, adding 500ml cream, 300ml milk and seeds from half a vanilla bean or 2,5ml vanilla powder.
■ Blend liquids using a stick blender and thicken in a microwave in short blasts of one minute, stirring in between, until thick.
■ It is best to use a stick blender to mix the custard. If the custard curdles, blend until smooth.