Do you know the real meaning of panisse
(as in Chez Panisse)? Do you know what duck magret is? How about how to make a pumpkin casserole? I didn't know any of these things until two weeks ago, when I took a cooking class in Nice, France, with Rosa Jackson at Les Petits Farcis.
Rosa Jackson is a Canadian who took up residence in Nice, France, with her charming French husband Philippe and her young son Sam. She runs market tours, meet-the-producer field trips, and cooking classes in Nice, and they are more than worth the price. She and her husband were warm hosts -- her husband efficiently washed every dish and prepped most of the pans. She joked that she should create a Philippe action figure for her soon-to-open boutique.
We started with a morning tour at Nice's famous market, the Cours Saleya. Rosa pointed out much of the local produce, oils, and honey, and explained why Nice is not actually a very good town for seafood - despite its coastal location.
Then we went back to her cozy apartment in the old district of Nice, where we cooked a three-course meal. We started with a salad made with cherry vinegar from England and a lovely hazelnut oil. Then there was a pumpkin tian -- a French word for casserole. This was actually my favorite dish of the meal. We cooked squash gently until soft, then mixed it with rice and egg and baked the whole thing with herbed breadcrumbs on top. I've made it three more times, and it's already made squash lovers out of some inveterate squash haters.
After that came the main course of panisse, duck magret, and glazed turnips. Rosa explained that chickpea flour is a common ingredient in what used to be a very poor region, and old traditional foods often include it. Socca, the famous street food of Nice, for instance, is made with chickpea flour -- it's a giant, thin, hot chickpea crepe. Delicious. Panisse, on the other hand, is more like polenta. We cooked chickpea flour with water and oil until it was thick, then let it cool in saucers. When completely cool we sliced it into fingers and fried them for a crispy, custardy savory treat.
The duck magret was also delicious -- an incredibly rich dish of duck breast made with a chestnut honey glaze. Duck magret is breast of a duck that was raised for foie gras, so it's much fattier than usual. We rendered down the duck fat then cooked it until tender inside and crispy outside, and made a chestnut honey sauce. Chestnut honey is dark and slightly bitter -- a good match for the rich, sweet duck.
We also had turnips braised in water and a little sugar, reduced until glazed and shiny. We also drank plenty of the local rosé wine; this is a very different kind of rosé from the sweet sorts usually available here. This was a great bottle; it was quite dry, and it tasted like apricots and peaches. It complements the local foods very well.
After a great cheese course the final dish was poached pears -- simmered in red wine with vanilla. They were simple, delicious, and a perfect way to end such a wonderful meal.
Rosa made each of us in the cooking class feel warmly welcome; she was hospitable, knowledgeable, and welcoming all at once.
Have you ever taken a cooking class in another country? This was my first, and while I was hesitant to do so, I am so glad I did. It was a warm day of new friends, new ideas about food, and some wonderful new recipes to try. In fact, my husband and I hosted several of his colleagues for dinner the next evening in our apartment, and I was so glad I had had the class because I just made two of the dishes! They were still fresh in my mind.
And if you are anywhere near Nice, I highly recommend a tour or a class with Rosa -- you won't regret it.
• Rosa's blog: Rosa Jackson's Edible Adventures
• Take a cooking class in France: Les Petits Farcis