Eglefin au four sauce tartare

One of the simplest weeknight dinners I know is baked fish, in this case fillets of haddock with homemade tartar sauce, French style. The fish is dusted with salt, pepper and a little cumin — no flour is involved — and drizzled with olive oil before being roasted in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets. While the fish is cooking you can whip up the tartar sauce, and presto. Dinner is ready in less than half an hour.

Eglefin au four sauce tartare / Baked haddock with French tartar sauce
Sauce tartare / French tartar sauce

Before returning to the subject of the sauce, I’d like to say a few words on the subject of the fish. First, it doesn’t have to be haddock. The recipe works well with all types of fish fillets. Second, fresh fish will produce superior results, but frozen fish may be used as well (so long as the fillets are fully defrosted before you begin). Third, and here is where it gets interesting from a linguistic point of view, what do the French mean by haddock?

The answer, mes amis, is that they mean ‘smoked haddock’, which is sold here in bright yellow-orange skin-on fillets. But not to panic. This recipe calls not for haddock (pronounced ah-DUCK), but rather for églefin, or ‘fresh haddock’.

Oddly, the word églefin derives from a Dutch word, schelvisch, which looks more like shellfish to me. But languages evolve in mysterious ways, and somehow over the centuries the word changed to something that sounds far more French — égle evoking aigle, or ‘eagle’, and fin meaning ‘fine’ or ‘thin’…

But this does not answer the question of: why two words for the same fish? Well, one only has to think about ‘kippers’ (smoked herring) and ‘herring’ (other forms of herring) to understand. This fishy linguistic duplicity can be tricky for people new to France. I remember that when I moved to Paris in the ’70s it took me a long time to figure out that cabillaud (fresh cod) and morue (dried salt cod) were indeed the same fish.

Ok, now on to the sauce. How is French sauce tartare different from the tartar sauce served, say, in the States or in England? Well, for one thing it isn’t sweet. For another it uses capers and can dispense with pickles or pickle relish altogether. This produces a more sophisticated flavor, in my view.

French sauce tartare combines the capers with mayonnaise, lemon juice and chopped fresh herbs. You don’t need to make the mayo. Store-bought is just fine — but check the sugar content (no sugar = more authentic). The French sometimes also include chopped cornichons, the tiny vinegar-cured cucumbers that pass for pickles over here. But as they are hard to find elsewhere, I have omitted them from today’s recipe. And to be honest, I prefer my sauce tartare without the cornichons.

French tartar sauce marries beautifully with fish and shellfish, and may also be used alongside chicken, veggies and cold meats. It takes no more than 5 minutes to prepare.

Happy cooking.

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Tarte roquefort-poires

A savory tart made with pears and Roquefort cheese can be a lovely start to a meal, and with pears now in season this is a perfect time to try it. The tart is best if you make the crust yourself, in this case a pâte brisée — a tender, savory crust. This may be done a day ahead of time, after which preparation is remarkably quick. I had my tart in the oven 15 minutes after getting home with the pears, and 40 minutes later it was ready.

Tarte roquefort-poires / Roquefort-pear tart

By that time tantalizing aromas were wafting through the house. I waited a short while for the tart to settle, then had a taste — just to make sure it was safe to serve to the guests arriving later. Well, dear reader, I wasn’t disappointed. The tang of the Roquefort marries beautifully with the sweetness of the pears, and these flavors are enhanced by a fruity red. I’d suggest a Beaujolais, say a Brouilly, Fleurie or the delightfully named Saint-Amour.

The beauty of this tart is that it may be made in advance and reheated just before serving — as a lunch dish, accompanied by a green salad, or as the starter for a more elaborate meal. If you’re serving it at dinner time, you could stick with the fruity theme and follow up with a dish like chicken with fresh figs or duck with black currant sauce. Or you could choose a more classical main dish, such as roast shoulder of lamb or, for vegetarians, roasted butternut with pine nuts or caramelized celeriac with walnuts and greens. And for a fruity autumn dessert,  pommes au four (baked apples). Of course!

Happy cooking.

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Confiture de figues

I first discovered fig jam many summers ago when I spent a few weeks at a country house in the Cévennes region of southern France. The place was idyllic, lush with fruit both cultivated and wild. We picked the figs straight from the tree. Making the jam was easy, as no pitting of the fruit is involved. And, as I learned, fig jam is heavenly. It manages to capture the musty, lusty fragrance of fresh figs — which happen to be in season right now.

Confiture de figues / Fig jam

Fig jam is fabulous not only on toast or on buttered baguette, as in the photo, but also on yogurt (which we also made ourselves during that summer in the Cévennes). I usually make this jam with dark purple figs, which lend the jam a beautiful ruby color, but I suspect it would be equally good if made with green figs.

In today’s recipe, which was kindly passed along to me by a neighbor, rosemary and lemon juice are added to the figs and sugar as you set them on the stove to boil. The recipe is super quick, especially if you a) limit the amount you make at one time, and b) use jam jars with screw-on lids, which eliminates the need for paraffin (a vacuum forms when you screw the lid on a jar of hot jam, and this preserves it).

Fig jam didn’t exist in Wisconsin to my knowledge when I was a kid growing up. Nor did fresh figs. The only figs I tasted during childhood were the dried variety that came in Christmas fruit baskets sent by elderly relatives once a year. Then came a summer study program in Avignon. Walking to class one day, I smelled a deiicious aroma. I looked around, and there was a fig tree, heavy with fruit. Well, dear readers, that was an ‘aha’ moment for me.

Other recipes involving figs on this site include country ham with figs, salad with fresh figs, savory goat cheese tart with figs and rosemary, chicken with fresh figs, figs roasted in vanilla cream, fig tart and caramelized peaches with fresh figs and pine nuts. And by the way, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m quite fond of figs…

Happy cooking.

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Minestrone à la française

You don’t need to live along the French-Italian Mediterranean rim to enjoy a summer vegetable soup topped with parmesan and fresh basil. This version omits the beans and pasta but is otherwise rather similar to both Italy’s minestrone and Provence’s soupe au pistou. Oh, and did I mention that it also leaves out the tomatoes? It’s an improvisation I came up with one recent sultry day using the ingredients I had on hand in my Paris kitchen.

Minestrone à la française / Minestrone, French style

The result was a zingy, flavor-packed soup that had the people around my table calling for more. Instead of borlotti beans (Italy) or white beans (Provence), it features split peas. And instead of pancetta (Italy), I used a bit of bacon — although this may be omitted for a vegetarian/vegan version. The soup may be made with chicken broth, veggie broth, water or a combination. And the veggies? Well, that’s up to you.

In my case, what I had on hand was red onion, garlic, zucchini, finocchio and carrots. Other options include spinach, potato, celery, leeks, butternut, peas, green beans and the list goes on. The split peas add both substance and texture. And the fresh basil adds that little je ne sais quoi that gives this healthy, earthy soup its punch.

Minestrone has been around in one form or another since long before Caesar conquered Gaul. It began as a peasant soup, sans tomatoes, and has evolved over the centuries as it moved up the Mediterranean coast. Cooks in Genoa innovated by stirring pesto into the soup. In Provence, pistou — the local version of pesto, sans pine nuts — is used instead.

In my version, the basil is snipped over the soup just before serving — no need to make a separate sauce. Preparation is relatively quick. This is an advantage given the kind of heat wave we’ve been having here in Paris — the weather has had me heading for the swimming pool instead of the kitchen. The good news is that this soup may be made in advance, i.e. in the morning before it gets hot, and refrigerated until you’re ready to serve it.

Happy cooking.

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Pêches au vin au romarin

A bowl of sliced peaches poached in rosé wine with rosemary makes a light and refreshing dessert for hot summer evenings. You can serve the peaches on their own, as I prefer, or take a page from my daughter’s book and serve them over a luxuriously rich burrata. The recipe is simple — the peaches are slipped out of their skins, sliced and poached in a syrup flavored with the rosé and rosemary. A dash of freshly ground black pepper adds bite.

Pêches au vin au romarin / Peaches poached in wine and rosemary

I dreamed up this recipe in late July, shortly before leaving for 10 days in England — more on that later — but, as sometimes happens, the photo didn’t turn out well. So I put it on hold until I could make it again. This time I also used a different kind of peach. Here in France, peaches come in several varieties — round (pêches rondes) or flat (pêches plates), with flesh that is either peach-colored or white. The flat ones look like somebody stepped on them — they’re as wide as the round ones but only about an inch (2.5 cm) high.

I used flat white peaches the first time I made this recipe, with less than spectacular results. The slices came out more like small wedges due to the shape of the fruit, and the color of the peaches in wine was less beautiful than the second time, when I used round peach-colored fruit. So I’d recommend the second version.

And now to England, where I visited friends in Surrey and London and had various misadventures along the way, including 10 straight days of rain. Oh well. No one goes to England for the weather but rather for its charm, its theater and the British sense of humor (humour). And sometimes also for the food. I had a couple of truly spectacular meals and have brought home two recipes that I hope to share with you in future posts.

The first was at a country inn set in beautiful grounds. It was too wet to eat outside, so we perused the menu concocted by the inn’s very creative chef in a cozy room next to the very lively bar. My lunch companion and I both chose as a main course a risotto of mint and peas with watercress, fresh basil and parmesan. It was to die for. When the rain stopped and we went outside for coffee we crossed paths with the chef, who was kind enough to share the recipe. I hope to try it out at home soon.

The second was at a small, Spanish-themed restaurant in Covent Garden where the pre-theater menu included a dish of black rice with small bits of octopus and baby squid, and dots of aïoli flavored with red pimento peppers. Absolutely fabulous. That time I did not talk to the chef but will phone up one of these days to ask, among other things, whether he/she used black rice (less likely) or turned white rice black with squid ink (more likely). Once I’ve tried it out, I’ll let you know.

I like picking up new recipes when on the road. It happens less often here in Paris as I go out less often, mainly because restaurants have become very pricy and the food is often less good than what you could make at home. Which is why, for the foreseeable, I’ll continue to regale you with stories about my adventures as an everyday French chef.

Happy cooking.

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Boulettes de poulet colombo

Colombo, a spice mix widely used in the French Caribbean, gives its name to this dish of spicy chicken balls in a coconut-curry sauce. The dish is generally served over rice to temper its heat. Start off the meal with ti punch, a cocktail of rum and lime, and if you’re feeling ambitious you could bring out a platter of acras de morue (spicy cod fritters). Serve an avocado-tomato-cilantro salad alongside, and you’ll feel those trade winds blowing.

Boulettes de poulet colombo / French Caribbean chicken balls

The words ‘French cuisine’ tend to evoke classic dishes such as coq au vin, cheese soufflé and boeuf bourgignon. Much less often do people associate French cooking with the cuisine of France’s farflung overseas states (départements), like the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the West Indies. Their distinctive cuisine includes dishes like stuffed crab, fried plantain and le féroce, a fiery Creole take on guacamole made of avocado mashed with salt cod and cassava flour, as well as the cod fritters mentioned above.

Another classic dish of those islands is le colombo, which comes in many forms: with chicken, pork, fish or lobster, and goat is popular, too. Coconut milk, lime juice, green onion and hot red pepper (scotch bonnet or bird’s eye) are often involved. The essential ingredient, though, is the colombo spice mix, a milder version of curry powder that also includes Caribbean flavors like allspice. While colombo powder is widely available in France, it may be impossible to find elsewhere. But not to worry — you can mix it yourself.

As its name implies, the colombo spice mix has roots in Sri Lanka and its main city, Colombo. It evolved from spices that were brought to the Caribbean by Indian and Sri Lankan laborers who were sent to work on the islands by the British and the French during a less than glorious chapter of colonial times. From there it made its way back to France, where it is used in various adaptations of Caribbean and Indian cuisine.

Colombo with chicken balls is both easy and fun to make. You first chop skinless chicken breasts in a food processor with onion, garlic, cilantro, hot pepper, lime juice, salt and pepper. You then shape the mixture into balls and sauté them with the colombo spice mix, coconut milk, more lime juice and a little sugar. This process is even more fun if you have a glass of ti punch handy.

Happy cooking.

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Crème de la crème, Part IV

This post featuring favorite summer dishes wraps up my 10th anniversary series on the best of The Everyday French Chef. And I have to say that, given the bounty of the season, it was hard to choose one special dish to highlight. My first thought was ratatouille, the ever-so-French veggie dish from Provence, made even more famous by the Disney film starring a gourmet Parisian rat. But in the end the winner is (drumroll, please)…

Grand aïoli / Cod with vegetables and garlic mayonnaise

I chose this dish because it combines so many foods I love — cod, steamed veggies, eggs and, especially, the intensely flavorful aïoli sauce, in which an olive-oil mayonnaise is infused with garlic. The name of the game here is variation. In addition to the veggies pictured above — carrots, potatoes, asparagus, chickpeas and cherry tomatoes — typical ingredients include sea snails (bulots), green beans, finocchio, artichokes and cauliflower. As for the fish, salt cod is traditional — but a lot more work than fresh. So I’ve switched.

Like ratatouille, aïoli is from Provence, which is where I first enjoyed it. This was back in the 1970s at a seaside restaurant outside Marseille, what with the waves lapping at the shore and the cicadas chirping in the summer heat. It’s a great dish for summer because it is served at room temperature. Everything may be prepared in advance and assembled just before serving. All you need to complete the picture is a bottle of chilled dry white or rosé.

And now to my favorite summer dishes, followed by menu suggestions for summer meals.

Assiette de crudités / French vegetable plate
Caviar d’aubergine épicé / Spicy eggplant caviar
Piste de moules à la sétoise / Spicy cocktail mussels

Crème de poivrons rouges / Chilled red pepper soup
Soupe froide de tomates / Chilled tomato soup
Velouté de courgettes épicé / Spicy zucchini soup


Salade d’eté aux figues / Summer salad with fresh figs
Salade mesclun à l’huile de noix  / Salad of mixed greens from Provence
Salade niçoise / Salade niçoise

Oeufs brouillés à la truffe / Scrambled eggs with truffles
Omelette basquaise / Basque omelet
Omelette soufflée / Omelet soufflé from Alsace


Savory tarts and sandwiches
Pan bagnat / Pan bagnat sandwich from Nice
Pastilla / Pastilla
Tarte à la tomate / French tomato tart

Fish and shellfish
Gambas au pastis / Shrimp sautéed in pastis
Petite friture / Fish fry, French style
Tartare de saumon / Salmon tartare


Pintade rôti à la sauge / Roast guinea hen with fresh sage
Poulet grillé en brochette / Grilled chicken brochettes
Rôti de canard au romarin / Rolled roast of duck with rosemary

Meat dishes
Boulettes d’agneau aux herbes / Lamb meatballs with herbs
Paupiettes de veau / Stuffed veal scallops
Petits farcis / Stuffed vegetables from Provence


Beignets de courgettes / Zucchini fritters
Gratin d’aubergines / Eggplant gratin
Ratatouille / Provençal vegetable stew

Pasta and grains
Fusilli aux courgettes / Fusilli with zucchini
Storzapretti / Corsican dumplings in tomato sauce
Torsades au pistou / Summer pasta with French basil sauce


Clafoutis aux cerises / Cherry clafoutis
Fruits d’été au cassis / Summer fruit cup with cassis
Ricotta à la lavande et aux mirabelles / Ricotta with lavender and plums

As an everyday French chef, how would I combine these dishes? Here are some examples.

For an everyday lunch, I might make a pan bagnat sandwich or salade niçoise. Vegetarians might enjoy a tomato tart and a mesclun salad of mixed greens. For vegans, eggplant caviar and zucchini soup. Everyone could follow up with seasonal fruit.

For an everyday dinner, everyone could start with a summer salad with fresh figs. Omnivores could follow with lamb meatballs, vegetarians with eggplant gratin and vegans with … ratatouille! For dessert, a cheese plate or seasonal fruit.

For a weekend dinner, salmon tartare and rolled roast of duck for omnivores, zucchini fritters and Corsican dumplings for vegetarians and chilled red pepper soup and pasta with French basil sauce for vegans. All could follow with a mesclun salad of mixed greens. For dessert, cherry clafoutis or ricotta with lavender and plums for omnivores and vegetarians, and summer fruit cup with cassis for vegans.

Happy summer, and happy cooking!

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Storzapretti are Corsican dumplings made with spinach or chard and cheese, topped with tomato sauce and more cheese, and baked until bubbly and golden. According to legend, a priest once found the dumplings so delicious that he stuffed himself to the point of choking, hence their name, which translates roughly as ‘strangle the preacher’. One might think they’d be heavy, but after eating a plateful my guest pronounced them delightfully light.

Storzapretti / Corsican dumplings in tomato sauce

I stumbled upon this recipe during a recent trip to Corsica, known by the French as l’Île de Beauté (the Isle of Beauty). And it is incredibly beautiful. White sand beaches, pale turquoise waters, charming villages nestled in mountains rising just inland from the sea, parasol pines, flowers everywhere. Seafood is plentiful, the veggies are gorgeous and local specialties include brocciu, a fresh cheese similar to ricotta made of sheep or goats milk.

One of the island’s signature dishes is cannelloni au brocciu, in which the tubular cannelloni are stuffed with a mixture of brocciu and Swiss chard. Storzapretti are like cannelloni au brocciu minus the cannelloni. There is a bit of potato, making them somewhat akin to gnocchi, but they are far lighter and fluffier. As brocciu can be hard to find outside Corsica, and even in Corsica has a season, ricotta may be used instead.

Upon returning from Corsica I did a little research and discovered that the dumplings have roots in the Trentino region of Italy (and, as my Italian friends like to point out, Corsica was ruled by the Italians long before it became part of France). I also discovered that, within Corsica, the dish is a regional specialty, the region being the north of the island and in particular the area around the city of Bastia. When I asked a Corsican friend about the dish, she’d never heard of it — her family’s place is further south.

The name itself is problematic. According to Laure Verdeau, whose grandmother was from Bastia and who wrote about storzapretti recently for M, the magazine of Le Monde, the name translates from Corsican into French as étouffe-prêtre, or ‘choke the priest’. Other sources translate the name as tordre le moine (‘twist the monk’) or presser le moine (‘squeeze the monk’). But if etymology can be a guide, then the Italian version, strangolapreti, resolves the argument. It very clearly means ‘priest stranglers’.

The Italian dish differs from the Corsican version, however. My favorite Italian recipe site describes strangolapreti as ‘a truly ancient dish of truly special gnocchi made with stale bread and spinach’. No potato and no fresh cheese. The herbs are also different. The Corsican dumplings are flavored with mint and parsley, the Italian with fresh sage. And the Italian dumplings are served with melted butter — no tomato sauce involved.

This being said, the cooking of the dumplings is similar. You make a batter, form oval shapes, dust them with flour and drop them into boiling water until they fluff up and rise to the surface. This is the fun part of the recipe, which is admittedly a bit more of a production than most of the recipes on this site. But you can do it in stages, for example by making the tomato sauce the day before embarking on the dumplings themselves.

The storzapretti may be served either as a vegetarian main course or starter, or as a side dish with grilled or roasted meat, fish or poultry. You could begin with, say, melon and prosciutto and follow up with fresh summer fruit or a fruity dessert. Either a chilled rosé or a dry red would marry well. You might just feel like you’re on a beautiful island…

Happy cooking.

Posted in 9. Pasta, Rice, Grains | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Saucisses-fenouil-pommes de terre

Italian-style sausages marry beautifully with finocchio, aka fennel, in this one-dish meal for all seasons. It’s a crowd pleaser that also includes potatoes, and you can round out the dish with a seasonal veggie — e.g. peas in springtime, butternut in the fall. Here in France I used the readily available saucisses de Toulouse, which like Italian sausages are about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. But it could be argued that the Italian variety is better.

Saucisses-fenouil-pommes de terre / Sausages with finocchio and potato

The difference is that, in general, saucisses de Toulouse contain little seasoning, if any, other than salt and pepper, while Italian sausages are often seasoned with fennel seeds and sometimes include hot pepper and/or herbs, such as basil, as well. As Italian sausages are not that easy to find in Paris, while saucisses de Toulouse can be found in any supermarket, I chose the latter and compensated by adding fennel seeds, garlic and a crushed cayenne pepper to the mixture while sautéing the sausage and finocchio.

But, you may well ask, why are the French sausages called saucisses de Toulouse if they can be found in any supermarket across the country? Well, mes amis, this type of sausage is indeed said to originated in the venerable southwest city of Toulouse — also known as ‘the rosy city’ due to the color of its buildings. People from other regions tried it, liked it and began making it in their own neck of the woods. This, of course, incensed the fine people of Toulouse, who have since added a Red Label for ‘veritable saucisses de Toulouse‘ that are made according to traditional methods, with few additives.

What I like about this dish is its versatility. If it’s summer, you could add tomatoes — and even skip the potatoes if you like. In winter you could substitute sweet potatoes for regular potatoes, or use both. Preparation is very simple, with a little chopping and sautéing after which the dish simmers for about 20 minutes in water or, better, homemade chicken broth to allow the potatoes to cook and the flavors to blend. Start or finish with a green salad, accompany with a bottle of sturdy red and you’ll be all set.

Happy cooking.

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Pan bagnat

If you’ve ever been to Nice, you will have encountered the pan bagnat, that city’s trademark sandwich: a large roll stuffed with tuna, tomatoes, black olives, hard-boiled egg, anchovies, green pepper, green onion, radishes and basil. It’s like a salade niçoise in a bun. The city is so proud of the sandwich that citizens have formed an association to defend and promote it, with a web page entitled, no less, The Official Site of the Free State of Pan Bagnat.

Pan bagnat / Pan bagnat sandwich from Nice

On that site they’ve posted what they call the official recipe, which would be just like mine except that it has no green pepper and notes that baby broad beans and/or little artichokes may be added in season. But beware. The site adds a warning: ‘In no case may any other ingredient be added to the authentic Pan Bagnat of Nice under penalty of creating a vulgar vegetable sandwich.’ A vulgar veggie sandwich? Really? How do you say oy vey in French?

So let’s talk about authenticity. According to food historians, the original pan bagnat contained no tuna, which at the time — the 19th century — was considered a food for the rich. The pan bagnat was a poor man’s meal, often made with stale bread (‘pan’ in Provençal) that was bathed (‘bagnat’) with a little water to soften it. These days, the rolls ‘bathe’ in drizzled olive oil and juice from the tomatoes. And while the so-called official recipe may not include green pepper, it is hard to find another recipe without it.

I first encountered the pan bagnat when, as a 19-year-old student, I found myself digging for pre-Neanderthal man in a cave outside Nice for the last three weeks of a summer study program. In the evening after work, the other student diggers and I would walk into town along the corniche, the beautiful coastal road overlooking the Mediterranean. Often as not, we’d pick up a pan bagnat for supper. The sandwich is big enough to be a meal in itself.

Now that spring is finally turning sunny and warm in Paris, it felt like the right time to try to make a pan bagnat at home. Problem No. 1: Where to find the bread? Pan bagnat rolls measure 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) in diameter, i.e. as big as or bigger than a jumbo hamburger bun. They’re crusty outside, tender inside, with an olive oil tang. I had never seen one at a Paris bakery, but a quick online search revealed that at least one Paris baker makes them, and by luck the shop — Tout Autour du Pain — is a short walk from my place.

Happily I phoned ahead, as the pan bagnat rolls had to be made to order. The next day I collected four beautiful crusty rolls. The rest was easy. I made a sauce of olive oil, garlic and basil, boiled an egg, sliced the veggies, sliced the roll and layered on the ingredients, drizzing with olive oil from time to time. In a very short while the venerable sandwich was ready.

What to do if there is no such baker in your vicinity? Improvise! You can make your pan bagnat on a Kaiser roll, a pita, a chunk of a crusty French loaf. If you don’t broadcast your deviation from authenticity, the defense committee will never hear about it…

For the record, concerning sandwiches in a bun, the venerable pan bagnat predates the venerable hamburger by at least a century, although the origin of neither is totally clear. When I told an Italian friend I’d be posting the pan bagnat recipe on my French cooking site, she bristled: ‘But that’s an Italian sandwich!’ Since Nice used to be part of Italy, she may have a point. But who cares? The real point is that the sandwich is a treat.

Part of the magic of the pan bagnat is that its taste changes according to the weather. It’s best outdoors on a hot sunny day — at the beach, on a boat, at a picnic. Bring along a bottle of chilled rosé and plenty of napkins to catch the olive oil. The other part of the magic is that, wherever you are when you bite in, the Mediterranean will not be far away.

Happy cooking.

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