Inspiration

Foodie guide to the South of France by Carolyn Boyd

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Carolyn Boyd

Guest Expert

5 min read

Carolyn Boyd has been on the road in France almost as long as we have. She loves the landscapes, the culture, the history, but above all the food. So much so, that she’s written a book about it. Amuse Bouche takes you through the food of France, giving you the cultural heritage of regional dishes, tips on dining and an incredible appetite. In these three extracts, Carolyn casts her expert eye over the salads, candied fruits and chillis of the South of France.

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Salade Niçoise, Nice  

If ever there were a dish to inspire debate, then it is the salade Niçoise. The most puritan chefs and cooks of Nice will rigidly state the rules of play: you must have anchovies OR tuna, and only canned tuna – no fresh fish allowed. It must have tomatoes, black olives (preferably of the caillettes variety), artichokes, radishes and spring onions and yes, of course, a hard-boiled egg or two. No red or white onion or red pepper; lettuce is a maybe, so too are broad beans and, as for the dressing, the juice from the tomatoes, some torn basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil should really be enough. The plate might have been wiped with a garlic clove to add some piquancy. Under no circumstances, though, will a salade Niçoise in Nice contain potatoes or French beans, aka haricot verts. 

For all its rules, however, today’s diners are lucky that its current incarnation is more than just tomato and anchovies, which is how it was first served in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. From those days on, more and more of the Riviera’s sun-blushed vegetables were added as the port began trading more produce. 

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Salade Niçoise

Calissons D’aix, Aix-en-provence And Regionwide – Provence  

The ingredients in a calisson provide a taste of summer just when you need it most: in winter. These little pointed oval sweets are available all year round and are made from Cavaillon melons. The melon is traditionally candied in the town of Apt, which is famous for its candied fruits, and is then added to almond paste from the Rhône Valley, to which they add a soupçon of orange peel for a little zing. The sweets are set out on a rice paper wafer, like those taken at communion, and finally topped with a thick layer of royal icing.

Visitors will inevitably be exploring Aix-en-Provence in summer, when you can stroll the golden-hued streets lined with glossy paving slabs, polished by thousands of footsteps. Sit on a café terrace in Place Richelme for a pastis in the shade of the plane trees, then be sure to buy a box of calissons from one of the many shops nearby. The most famous is Roy René; this confiserie was established in 1920 and tells the story of the sweets’ origins: the confectioner of the fifteenth-century King Roy René made a calisson, shaped like a smile, to impress the King’s bride, Queen Jeanne, on her wedding day. 

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Calissons D’aix

Piment D’espelette, Basque Regionwide  

It is puzzling that while the French are fans of strong flavours such as beer-washed cheese and the pungent andouillette, their culinary curiosity has not yet led them to love the heat of chilli peppers. While the Brits scoff blow-your-head-off curries, brought from our historical links with India, the French prefer to take things gently in the spice department. That is not to say the piment d’Espelette is bland; on the Scoville scale – where an explosive Habanero scores ten and sweet paprika scores one – it is a respectable four. 

In the Basque region, it’s likely that you’ll see this famous chilli before you have a chance to taste it: traditionally the peppers are strung on garlands called ristras across the façades of the region’s characteristic red timber-framed architecture, and families get through a string of twenty in a year. Their ubiquity reveals just how important they are to Basque cuisine. They’re celebrated at the annual Fête du Piment at the end of October, when the village of Espelette holds cooking demonstrations, tastings, concerts and parades. 

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Piment D’espelette

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Carolyn Boyd

Guest Expert

Carolyn is one of the UK’s leading food and travel writers and an expert on France. She likes nothing more than telling a good story, packed with expert insight and inspirational recommendations. Her writing for The Guardian, The Times, National Geographic Traveller and many more has seen her cycle across France, seeking out its beauty, culture and delectable produce in search of some of the most delicious and exciting experiences in travel.
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