Taste the Real St Tropez
It all started when my parents met on the beaches of St Tropez during the summer holidays, when they were young. Since then, my family has continued to come to this beautiful little fishing town every year, and I haven’t spent a single summer away from it since I was born. My book, Nina St Tropez, is a personal food-themed journey round the historic seaside town and surrounding area. In my 1970s Citroën van, our neighbour’s boat and at times on my trusty bicycle, I love to explore Provençal cuisine and create recipes inspired by the locals, places and stories of my summers here.
I am passionate about the Riviera style of cooking: strong, fresh flavours and colourful food that is above all, utterly delicious.
The St Tropez of today retains echoes of its long history and traditions. It’s full of artists, fishermen, vineyards, secret cycle tracks and bric-a-brac markets, as well as amazing restaurants, producers and neighbourhoods creating wonderful food far off the beaten track.
I want to show you the classic, often forgotten side of town – far away from the mega yachts and spray of champagne. From Le Mazagran’s unique homemade ratatouille, Elvis’s smoky, wafer-thin, Provençal pizza, Jacques Feline’s Bouillabaisse, the chefs at Sénéquier bakery as they roll out the croissants at 4am, to happy times spent eating at Del-Rey’s ice-cream parlour.
This is not the new St Tropez, it’s the real St Tropez; much of it has remained intact since its heyday in the 1950s, holding on to that old-world charm and glamour all the while.
Nina St Tropez features places that I have visited my whole life. In the book you’ll find my take on the classic recipes of the south of France, from easy-to-cook dishes for gourmet breakfasts, to picnic lunches, lavish teatimes or dinner parties to impress. Through its mouthwatering food, fascinating heritage and stunning scenery, I want you to discover the St Tropez I fall in love with summer after summer.
LUNCH / DÉJEUNER
Dotted around the St Tropez peninsula, from Brigitte Bardot’s house in the bay of Canebiers to the rocky shores of La Moutte and the bay of Pampelonne, are restaurants such as Salins and Graniers, and beach shacks offering tempting, colourful dishes that are perfect for tucking into at lunch when you’ve just come off the hot beach.
These popular haunts have inspired my own recipes ‘Driftwood Niçoise Salad’ and ‘Moules Marinières by Boat’. Le Club 55 is also a fantastic hangout – it’s not exactly low-key, but it has taught me a lot about the importance of sourcing quality ingredients and fast, fresh cooking.
The owner, Patrice de Colmont, and his family have been running this much-loved lunchtime eaterie for more than 60 years and their famous panier de crudités, a platter of raw, fantastic-looking vegetables, many of which are grown on their nearby farm, is a feast for the eyes.
After sampling the beach offerings, the next lunch stop is the markets, which are bursting with mouthwatering fresh produce, and I never fail to be inspired by the impressive displays of fish and vegetables.
This small area of coastline has many culinary influences, the most prominent of which is Italian. Wood-fired pizzas and pasta dishes can often be found on menus, and although artichokes, aubergines, courgettes and tomatoes are essential in the Italian repertoire, they’re also the foundation of many Provençal recipes – try my ‘Artichauts à la Barigoule’ or ‘Le Mazagran’s Ratatouille’.
I’ve even travelled as far as Nice to bring you Socca: gluten-free chickpea pancakes, which I serve with cinnamon roasted carrots and avocado. Other classics from the area are ‘Soupe au Pistou’, ‘Pissaladière’ and ‘Fillet of Sole with Sauce Vierge’, all of which are simple, tasty dishes, making lunch a truly memorable event. And I mustn’t forget a family favourite, ‘Josh’s Steak Tartine’, the ultimate sandwich that oozes Saint Agur cheese and juicy, caramelised shallots.
DINNER / DÎNER
Dinner in St Tropez feels like a feast every night. During the sunset golden hour people begin to flock into town, weaving around the cobbled streets. During the busy summer months the restaurant kitchens are blazing with grilled langoustines, charred entrecôte and buttery baked sea bass with traditional ‘tomates Provençals’ or ‘légumes farcis’ on the side.
For me, the ultimate dinner destination is in the old town, where there are three restaurants that, for decades, have evoked the very essence of St Tropez food. These are all huddled together on the Rue des Remparts: La Ponche, La Pesquière and Le Mazagran. According to Madame Duckstein herself, whose family bought La Ponche in 1938, Brigitte Bardot once said that this spot was the most romantic place in town. I could not agree more.
I can’t write about dinner without mentioning Bubi, my grandmother. She first introduced me to seafood in Port Grimaud, at La Table du Mareyeur. Every summer Bubi loved to come to this family-run business, where towering platters of lobster, tiger prawns, clams and oysters make up their spectacular fruits de mer menu. This is how seafood should be: simple and rich in colour with lashings of lemon juice. One of my earliest memories is of Bubi attacking one of these platters wearing a bib, with both hands dripping in gold jewellery. She made something so messy look ridiculously elegant!
Dinner parties with my family and friends are perhaps the best of all. Alongside the tempting cooking smells wafting from the neighbours’ kitchen, dinner time on La Giscle [Port Grimaud’s canal] carries the sound of chinking glasses, the last few boats chugging away – usually from our house – and Martha and the Vandellas’ Heatwave.
Such dishes as Donatella’s ‘Saffron Risotto’ with ‘Duck Liver’, my ‘Crab Pasta on The Rocks’ and ‘Steak à la Nina’ can be created with minimal effort, and have all been happily devoured many times right there in my back garden.
Place du Sud Warm Goat’s Cheese Salad
Just the thought of this salad makes me happy. It reminds me of when my grandmother Bubi would take me to the Place du Sud for one of our lunch dates. It’s a five-minute walk over the bridge from our house, and on the way home Bubi would always like to stop and have a time-out with me on the bench at the bottom of the bridge.
1 round lettuce
50g rocket leaves
4 black figs, quartered
1 tbsp olive oil
150g goat’s cheese
For the dressing
2 tsp honey
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt and black pepper
1. Whisk all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and taste to check the seasoning. Heat a saucepan over a high heat, add the hazelnuts and toast until slightly darker in colour, shaking the pan. Tip out and leave to cool. Roughly chop about half the nuts, keeping the rest whole. Wash and dry the lettuce and rocket leaves in a salad spinner and tear them into a mixing bowl. Add the figs and hazelnuts.
2. Add the olive oil to the same pan over a medium heat. Cut the goat’s cheese into 1cm slices, and when the oil is hot, fry the slices for about 1 minute, until golden. Turn over to brown the other side, then remove from the heat and spoon over 1 tablespoon of the honey dressing. Toss the salad in the rest of the dressing. Carefully arrange a few slices of the warm cheese on the serving plates, followed by a mound of leaves on top. Pile over the nuts and figs and finish with the last of the cheese. Serve immediately.
Bun Man Chicken
Ever since I was little, there has been a butcher’s stall near my house run by a fascinating man called the Bun Man. His hair is tied in a bun on the crown of his head, he wears mascara, he walks in clogs with a limp and has a pet goose in a basket next to his stall. When I buy one of his chickens I can only make one roast, and this is it.
1.5kg whole chicken
2 whole heads garlic, cloves peeled and roughly crushed
1 red onion, roughly chopped
2 lemons, halved
Bunch fresh rosemary
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Sea salt and black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4 and place the chicken in a roasting tin. Using a sharp knife, carefully make a few incisions through the skin over the breast and legs of the bird. Do not cut into the flesh. Gently push your finger through the cuts to make a hole under the skin and push a piece of garlic into each gap.
Put a handful of red onion inside the cavity along with 3 lemon halves, the rosemary and any leftover garlic. Arrange the remaining red onion under the chicken, finely slice the last lemon half and arrange the pieces around the bird.
Mix together the olive oil and spices to make a paste and cover the chicken with it. Season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 40 minutes before turning it upside down and roasting for a further 25. Turn it the right way up again and cook for 10-15 minutes more. To check if the chicken is cooked, gently tug at one of the legs, it will break away effortlessly when ready.
2. Allow it to rest for a few minutes before serving with Aïoli.
3. When I’m roasting a chicken, I chuck in a few garlic cloves for the last 30 minutes and let them roast until sweet and sticky. This can be mixed with any flavour you like. Try it with fresh herbs, raw garlic or smoked paprika, saffron or harissa.
Makes approx 400ml
1 free-range medium egg yolk
About 300ml sunflower oil
3-4 cloves garlic, roasted and crushed
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Finely grated lemon zest and few drops of juice
Sea salt and black pepper
1. Whisk the egg yolk with an electric, hand-held beater or balloon whisk. Very slowly, drizzle in a little sunflower oil while whisking, then continue until it’s all incorporated.
2. This will take a few minutes and do whisk constantly.
3. The yolk will become pale and shiny. It is important to add the oil slowly. Add the roast garlic, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice and zest to taste. Add any other flavourings, if using, and season with salt and pepper.
St Tropez Tart
This cake was named in 1956, in honour of Brigitte Bardot, while she was filming in town. Today, it’s the cake of St Tropez and is sold all over the region. This recipe is modelled on the secret one at the Sénéquier bakery. It’s a delightfully sweet brioche tart with a delicate almond crème pâtissière.
For the brioche
25ml whole milk
2 tsp fresh yeast or 1/2 x 7g sachet fast-action
200g strong white bread flour
2 free-range medium eggs plus 2 yolks,
25g unrefined caster sugar
2 tsp orange-blossom water
125g soft unsalted butter
For the filling
1 vanilla pod
270ml whole milk
120g yolks (6-7 free-range medium eggs)
100g unrefined caster sugar, plus 1 1/2 tbsp
100ml whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
unrefined icing sugar, for dusting
20g pistachios, chopped
1. First, make the brioche dough. Heat the milk until lukewarm and add the yeast and 1 heaped teaspoon of flour. Set aside for 30 minutes, covered with cling film.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat three quarters of the eggs, the sugar and a pinch of salt together. Add the yeast mixture, and spoon in the rest of the flour and orange-blossom water. Mix until everything is just combined, then cover with a tea towel and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
Now, set the mixer to a slow speed and begin spooning in the soft butter, letting each addition combine with the dough before adding the next. Once everything is incorporated, increase the speed and mix until the dough looks elastic and shiny. Scrape into a clean, dry bowl, cover with cling film and leave to prove in the fridge overnight.
3. Line a baking sheet with non-stick baking paper, tip the chilled dough on to it and shape into a flat circle, roughly 3-4cm high. Cover lightly with cling film and leave to rise for 2-3 hours in a warm, dry place, until doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas mark
4. Once the dough has risen, brush the remaining egg all over it with a pastry brush. Bake for about 25–30 minutes, until the top is gorgeous and golden. Remove and leave to cool completely on a cooling rack.
5. Prepare the pastry cream at least a good few hours before the brioche is ready, as it needs time to cool. Split the vanilla pod in half lengthways, scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife. Put the vanilla seeds and skins in a large saucepan along with the milk and heat gently for 10 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the 100g caster sugar until pale, then stir in the cornflour.
Slowly add the vanilla infused milk to the eggs a little at a time, mixing constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling. Carefully return the mixture to the saucepan and gently bring it to the boil, stirring frequently, for 5-10 minutes, until it thickens. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture through a sieve placed over a bowl and stir it through to remove any lumps, discarding the vanilla skins. Cover with cling film touching the surface to prevent a skin from forming, leave to cool and then chill.
6. Once cool, whip the cream with the 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, vanilla and almond extracts until light and fluffy. Loosen the cooled pastry cream with a whisk. Gently fold the whipped almond cream into the vanilla one. Slice the cooled brioche in half horizontally and fill with the pastry cream. Top the tart with a dusting of icing sugar and, for an injection of colour, some chopped pistachios.
Excerpt published with permission, from Nina St Tropez by Nina Parker, photography by Ivar Wigan & Paul Winch-Furness, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Hardback RRP £20, eBook £10.99. For more information, please visit www.ninafood.com. This excerpt was featured, with permission of the publishers, in France Today magazine.
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