You may remember that I described myself recently as someone who finds cooking for more than five people at once overwhelming.
So last weekend, I planned to prepare dinner for nine. And not just any old dinner, but a gourmet French dinner for nine, using recipes from Cuisine Niçoise: Sun-Kissed Cooking from the French Riviera, a beautiful new cookbook by Hillary Davis.
Even though I had a lot of help from my husband and two daughters, I didn’t accomplish my original goal of preparing the entire meal (appetizers to dessert) using recipes out of Cuisine Niçoise, but the two dishes we did get to make were delicious and satisfied three generations of eaters around the table. (The group included people on low-fiber, low-carb, gluten-free, and vegetarian diets, reminding me of this New Yorker cartoon by Roz Chast, The Last Thanksgiving.
The original menu plan looked like this:
Pistachio Parmesan Chickpea Fries (p. 46)
Lentil Swiss Chard Soup with Orange Zest (p. 71)
Chickpea, Eggplant and Zucchini Fritters (p. 131)
Niçoise Zucchini Tian (p. 127)
Almond-Orange Polenta Squares (p. 219)
Doesn’t that sound delicious? We were just going to substitute vegetarian broth for any recipe that called for chicken broth, and serve a completely vegetarian meal, but once I realized we had to jettison the soup and dessert because I hadn’t purchased certified gluten-free lentils or cornmeal ahead of time and couldn’t get them from the local store, I panicked, and threw in plain old sautéed chicken breasts for the non-vegetarians. Sautéing is French, though, right? (And, yes, I did mess up this very simple meat preparation, and had to be rescued by my husband. For dessert, we had homemade gluten-free birthday cake, which my daughter has already blogged about.)
To go with dinner, my blogging daughter made socca (chickpea flour flatbread) which is mentioned in Hillary Davis’ introduction. At the time, I didn’t realize socca was authentic cuisine Niçoise, but it complemented the rest of the meal perfectly, and consoled us for the lack of Polenta Parmesan Croutons to top our Roasted Winter Vegetables (p. 144), which is what we ended up making in place of the Chickpea, Eggplant, and Zucchini Fritters. (Even a gluten-free meal can have too many chickpea dishes!)
We also made the Niçoise Zucchini Tian.
The rice, grated zucchini, and grated cheese blended together in a kind of a crustless quiche. We substituted vegetable broth for the chicken broth and left out the cayenne, but otherwise followed the recipe as closely as we could. We couldn’t find real Emmental or Gruyère, and had to substitute another Swiss-style cheese.
The recipe is included below, with the permission of the author.
In the book’s introduction, the author says Niçoise cooking – from the French region of Nice – emphasizes 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.”
The over 100 recipes in Cuisine Niçoise reflect this simple style of cooking, but since they use so many fresh ingredients, most require a good amount of preparation time, even those included in the section called “Easy Weeknights.” But although this isn’t a cookbook for complete beginners, it is definitely geared to the average home cook. Most of the recipes don’t require specialized equipment or techniques, just plenty of time for peeling, chopping, mincing, grating, etc.
For brunch the following day, I tried the recipe for Swiss Chard Omelette (recipe at Food Hunter’s Guide to Cuisine) and although we called it a frittata instead of an omelette and although I used a too-small plate when I went to flip it and a SMALL amount of uncooked omelette splattered on the stove, it came out looking just like the photo in the cookbook, pretty much!
Cuisine Niçoise is a beautiful cookbook with gorgeous food photography. The book is heavy, with good-quality paper and what appears to be a strong binding. It stays open no matter where the recipe you’re using is in the book. Descriptive notes lead into just about every recipe. The author also includes snippets of information throughout, related to an ingredient, dish, or some other aspect of the recipe, the regional cuisine, or her travels in France. For example, here’s her explanation of tians:
A tian is an earthenware baking dish and is one of the items most commonly found in Niçoise kitchens. Recipes that are made in the dish are referred to as tians. Most often in Nice, tians are made either of colorful layers of vegetables or to resemble a crustless quiche, like the recipe facing.
Reading Cuisine Niçoise is like taking a culinary tour through this region of France. It would make a great gift for the Francophile cook in your life.
Author Hillary Davis is a New Hampshire food & lifestyle writer who lived in the French village of Bar-sur-Loup, near Nice, for over 11 years. In addition to writing cookbooks and juggling speaking and teaching engagements, she maintains not one, but three blogs:
Niçoise Zucchini Tian
Le Tian de Courgette à la Niçoise
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup rice
4 medium zucchini
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 large eggs, beaten
8 basil leaves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups grated Emmental or Gruyère, divided
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 6-cup gratin baking dish.
Bring the chicken broth and rice to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and move the rice to a bowl.
Grate the zucchini on a box or flat grater, then squeeze dry with paper towels to eliminate excess liquid. Add the zucchini to the bowl.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet and cook the onions and garlic until lightly browned. Add them to the bowl.
Add the eggs, basil, salt, black pepper, and cayenne to taste, and 1 cup cheese, mix well to combine. Pour into the gratin dish, sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheese over the top, and cook for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden on top.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of the cookbook from the publisher, kindly offered to me via email by the author, whom I don’t know personally.
Happy Weekend Cooking!