Dr. Jessica B. Harris is an award-winning culinary historian, cookbook author and journalist who specializes in the food and foodways of the African diaspora. With this column, "My Culinary Compass," she is taking people all over the world — via their taste buds — with recipes inspired by her extensive travels.
Compass points: 43.40 degrees north, 7.17 degrees east. Nice, Provence, France.
The musical background of the season has rolled from “Sumer is Icumen in” to “Hot Time, Summer in the City." I am officially through with my oven for a few months and am trying to stay away from the stove. When my thoughts turn to summer cooking, the mouth begins to water for the bright tastes of the Mediterranean, flavored with olives and lemons. I think of meals taken in the South of France in Saint-Paul de Vence at La Colombe d’Or or those I had when staying with a classmate who live in La Gaude both towns perched precariously on the hillsides above Nice.
Provence has always loomed large in my fantasy life. While I have spent a fair number of holidays in Paris and even penned a guidebook to the City of Lights, the South of France holds me in its thrall. I have visited it less but love the look of the sunflowers that carpet the hillsides in brilliant yellow at certain times of the year, the villages perched on hillsides that seem almost ready to tumble into the cerulean Mediterranean and the scent of lavender that perfumes the air around Grasse.
I could spend hours wandering around the flower market of the Cours Saleya in Nice where, even in the dead of winter, the market flourishes. In January, the place is awash in fragrant blooms of hyacinths and anemones, and tulips are available. Small citrus trees abound — oranges, limes, and lemons for planting in the terra-cotta pots and olive jars that are a part of the area’s decorative ethos. In the summertime, it is almost too lush to bear. When flower-gazing becomes too much, I move into the food section, which delights me with everything from small, intensely flavorful tomatoes and tiny, thin string beans that we now call by their French name of haricots verts. Nice’s proximity to Italy is sensed not only in the rolling accents of the vendors, but also in the stalls that sell fresh pastas and assortments of homemade gelatos.
If it’s Monday, the market is closed, but I never complain because it is replaced by an open-air antique and flea market that is quite simply heaven. Then, I wander through stalls selling everything from old books to vintage clothing. I’m always on the lookout for old postcards and antique jewelry. Should hunger pangs strike, a nibble of the chickpea crêpe, known as a socca, is a market must, guaranteed to keep them at bay until I can get to a restaurant where I scan the menu to see if I can find the tiny fresh anchovies that might turn up in a friture (a fry-up of the small fish).
Replete after a meal, I return to some of the shops of Nice’s Old City and stock up on everything from the Provençal tablecloths that I alternate with vintage ones on my summer tables to the glazed fruits and fruit syrups that I have to pack in double plastic baggies and send in my invariably overweight checked luggage.
I’m not getting to Provence any time soon, but this summer, I will recapture the feeling of the area with an anchoïade: a high summer dish that keeps my oven firmly turned off and allows me to savor the bounty of the farmers market on Martha’s Vineyard, where I usually spend my summer days.
Anchoïade is a magic, no-cook sauce. Blending my two favorite flavors of garlic and anchovies, it is a sauce that goes splendidly with almost any blanched or raw vegetable. I use breakfast radishes, blanched broccoli, snow peas, haricots verts, cauliflower, small new potatoes, carrot slices and crunchy pieces of baby turnips, but it’s also great drizzled over slices of steak or pieces of chicken. Add a glass (or two) of rosé then follow my lead: Close your eyes and pretend you’re on the Côte d’Azur. Santé.