Rosa Jackson's Edible Adventures

Saturday, 28 March, 2009

Cooking with La Capelina d'Or


The Niçois love to argue, and nothing provokes a better argument than the subject of how to make one of their classic dishes. 

You might think there is not much to argue about when it comes to a simple dish like pissaladière, caramelized onions on a bread dough base. Oh, how wrong you would be. Here, every detail is a subject of endless controversy: Should there be an egg in the dough? A garlic clove with the onions? Bouquet garni or crumbled thyme? A little sugar in the topping? A knob of butter with the olive oil? Anchovy paste stirred in at the end?

So, it should have been no surprise when I attended my first cooking class with La Capelina d'Or to find a room filled with people arguing loudly even as five amateur and professional cooks demonstrated dishes at the front of the class. These Niçois cooking classes take place once a month at the Lycée Paul Augier, near the airport, and are such a well-kept secret that it took me three years to get hold of a schedule, despite being a member of this association whose goal is to uphold the traditions of Niçoise cooking.

At first, the noise was a bit of a shock - one member's job was to stand in front of the class shouting "would you shut up!" every minute or so - but I soon got into the spirit of things, chatting (as quietly as I could) with my neighbors on either side. One was a Niçoise with a prodigious appetite, while the other turned out to be an American from Wisconsin who had lived in France since the 1970s and was there with her mother-in-law.

On the menu that day were pissaladière, ravioli filled with squash and walnuts, stuffed squid, barba juan (little fried vegetable turnovers made with a kind of pasta dough), stuffed squid in tomato sauce and a rich dessert made with lady fingers, fresh and candied fruit, eggs and milk. Despite having made pissaladière dozens if not hundreds of times, I picked up a few tips that I will be applying to my own recipe - it's funny how butter can often sneak into this olive-oil-based cuisine.

Most fascinating to me, though, was a technique for making ravioli as demonstrated by chef Laurent Laugier of the restaurant La Capeline in Toudon. A specialty of the Nice back country, these squash-and-walnut stuffed ravioli in a sauce of walnuts, olive oil and sbrinz (a Parmesan-type cheese from Switzerland) are labor intensive: Laugier starts with 5 kg of squash to obtain just 500 g of squash purée, once he has pressed out all the liquid. He also insists on shelling the walnuts by hand, since he doesn't trust the quality of pre-shelled nuts.

What I enjoyed was watching him fill and cut the ravioli. First, he rolled out a long strip of pasta dough by hand and piped two strips of filling all the way across. Then he folded each outer edge inwards before cutting along the center. After flouring the two sausages of filled pasta with dough and patting them with his fingers, he marked the ravioli with a chopstick before cutting them with a roller. Watch the video above if you'd like to see how expertly he does this. (He isn't talking as another demonstration was going on at the same time, and he probably would have been drowned out anyway.)

At the end of the class, plates were passed around and the students pounced on the food like a pack of hungry wolves: these are definitely people who appreciate good cooking. I plan to be back next month and soon will be arguing with the best of them.

Tags: Nice


5 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.

Saturday, 28 March, 2009 3:33pm [ 1 ]

That is a wonderful report. How I wish I could be there to participate. Up here in still frozen Estonia, I miss Mediterranean food more than anything.

Sunday, 29 March, 2009 2:13pm [ 2 ]

Rosa, I think the whole concept of this class full of chatty old women is hilarious. I can't wait to see for myself next month!

Sunday, 29 March, 2009 9:24pm [ 3 ]

Patience Martha, spring must be on its way! Just think of the beautiful berries and mushrooms you have that we don't have...

Sara, it's a riot, you'll see!

Beth Marlin
Saturday, 4 April, 2009 10:04pm [ 4 ]

Rosa, what a joy to participate in a cooking class so full of flavor and flavorful characters! I was enthralled and hooked until I got to the item on the menu flippantly revealed as being stuffed squid in tomato sauce. If you knew me when I was 10 you would have found a girl who thought that a bologna and Kraft cheese sandwich on Wonder Bread was a gourmet meal. If accompanied by a bag of Lays potato chips and a Coke, I was in Heaven. Where was I when the foodie gene was passed out? At least I have managed in adulthood, to expand my palate, and I do today, enjoy a wide variety of foods, including seafood and shellfish, which have not been a part of my diet until recently. I have tried and developed a love of shrimp and lobster, halibut and Chilean Sea Bass, but squid? How could you possibly stuff one, anyway? I envy the European ability to eat with alacrity, squirmy, slippery things from the sea and hope that my adventures in eating will enable me to enjoy such classic dishes as Bouillabaisse and Moules Frites. Not surprisingly, I feel equally squeamish about things like organ meats and sweetbreads. And I positively refuse to eat insects.

Monday, 13 April, 2009 11:05am [ 5 ]

Beth, I ate my share of trashy food while growing up, believe me! But somehow I have never been squeamish, which must have something to do with living in France when I was very young. My son's favorite foods are octopus salad and sushi, so there must be something in the air here!

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