After Normandy, M. Cheesemonger and I spent a whirlwind week in Paris, where every day, nearly every meal, we had the chance to catch up with friends and family. Next, we hopped on the TGV (the French high speed train) to the south of France. Our first stop was the hilltop medieval town of Grasse, known for its fine perfume factories. After a cramped seven hours (five in the TGV and two in the local train), we were greeted by the smiling faces of my friends K* and P*.
We wound our way through the climbing, narrow pedestrian streets of the old town to the very top. K* and P* are lucky enough to have a hilltop apartment with views stretching to Cannes and the Mediterranean Sea. Swallows constantly swooped overhead in the warm sun, while far below us, a limited number of cars squeezed through the narrow roads.
The four of us caught up on the past three years over an aperitif of crostini with homemade tuna/St. Mauré dip (delectable!) and local liqueur. P* decided to regale us all with some French southern cooking—homemade tagliatelles au pistou. K* prepared a chilled homemade ratatouille packed with eggplant, tomato, and zucchini to help us beat off the intense heat.
I asked P* for the pasta recipe, and he responded, “Just mix in 1 egg for every 100 grams of flour, and add a little water if you need to thin out the dough. The pistou is just a large handful of fresh basil mashed together (with mortar and pestle) with as much garlic as you want. Add olive oil last.” That’s it. Obviously, a pasta machine is needed in there to form the pasta, but cooking it only takes about a minute, and the pistou needs no cooking. Other pistou recipes I’ve read add pine nuts, but P* shook his head saying, “No! No! The real Niçois recipe just uses basil, garlic, and olive oil. No pine nuts!” So there you have it, authentic Niçois cooking advice.
By the time we sat down to our meal, the sun had set, and I could almost detect a light breeze. The pasta was perfect—a little bit chewy, but not too much. The fresh garlic added some zesty bite to the highly aromatic pistou. There’s nothing like fresh, sun-kissed southern French cooking. The recipes are so simple, but that is where the beauty is. It’s just beautiful, simple cooking. To digest all of that pasta, P* picked up his accordion and accompanied the rest of us as we danced a bourrée (if you go to a French dance festival, you’ll see something like this), a Scottish (actually a French dance, not Scottish at all), and a Carnaval de Lanz (Basque!)—some of my favorite traditional folk dances. It was like old times again!
Afterward, we took a late night stroll through town, where we saw families sitting and sipping pastis outside, and children running the streets with their soccer balls. The streetlights illuminated centuries-old structures and swelled them to exaggerated dimensions as we moved passed. On one plaque, we learned that Catherine de Medici had stayed at this address during one of her passages. We came upon a sculpture depicting a 17th century perfume maker, and an esplanade where seven contemporary sculptors had each carved a large marble sculpture in public view.
We were heading to Aix-en-Provence the next morning, so my time with K* and *P, some of my dearest friends on the planet, was short. We parted ways at Cannes the next day, promising to keep each other updated on life, and glad for these few hours we had shared together. They were off to some of the summer dance festivals, anyway! Such is the story of so many friends in my life! We find some great people to make music with, we part ways, and sometimes we find each other again. No matter what, though, the rhythm keeps us all moving forward.