When I was about twenty, I went to live in the south of France. A trip that was going to last at the most a year, a chance to learn to speak the language properly, to meet new people, maybe even find love? At the time I knew nothing of the Impressionists, the romantic poets and their fascination with Provence, it’s light, it’s blue sea and sky, so, with nothing but a ruck sack I boarded the train in London bound for Cannes and my new life. As the year unfolded, thanks to the wonderful people I stayed with – artists and ecologists – who worked the land just outside Grasse and who had a deep respect for the nature that they lived in, I was awakened to all that the Mediterranean had to offer. I ended up staying for 2 years and then moved across the border to Italy for eleven years so it’s magic spell was well and truly cast. The photo above is one of my favourite images taken by Jacques Henri Lartigue called simply “Mediterranean.” For me it evokes that first encounter with the heat and blue of the sea, the almost shock of it’s promise, the driver and his passenger just arrived from Paris and it’s grey skies, stopping to bow to it’s magnificence. Each time I look at the photo I’m reminded of myself as a girl arriving in the Cote D’Azur, with all of my life ahead and a feeling of anticipation…..
So, what has that got to do with food? One of the great inventions of Nicois cuisine, albeit a snack, is the Pan Bagnat. A great, big, picnic sandwich usually bought from a street vendor on the seafront or on a market stall, stuffed with what is basically a Salade Nicoise, a large, chewy focaccia type roll filled with tuna or anchovies, (or both) tomatoes, peppers, local shelled tiny broad beans, Nicois olives, olive oil and basil. This version is for the putrists although also tolerated is the inclusion of sliced raw onion, radishes and hard boiled egg. I could happily eat the lot and usually, the vendor shakes a bottle of ready made vinaigrette and squirts it into the made up roll. You have to roll up your sleeves to eat it as the olive oil drips down your arms if it’s made properly! I’d buy one of these on the seafront at Cannes then whizz off on my scooter to a quiet beach to feast!