Thursday, March 06, 2008

HAT’S OFF TO JULIA: A Pilgrimage

Just outside of picturesque Valbonne in Provence, there is a villa on a gentle hill that attracted a very famous American food lover’s eye in the early 1950’s. Julia Child embarked on a journey of conquest to learn everything about French cooking. She and her husband, Paul, made this heavenly spot their home. Today Kathie Alex and her cooking school, “Cooking with Friends” inhabit the same villa “La Pitchoune”. Sitting in her garden in the warmth of the afternoon sun, enjoying a glass of her specially selected pink sparkling wine and being served Pissaladiere together set the stage for her story about how she acquired this property. The tale is as intense and effervescent as what we are served and she is making it a bit sweeter than it probably was, but not as sweet as the caramelized onions. As for many of us who have been captivated by the food world, although not necessarily working within the culinary profession, our love for food and culture triggered us to travel and challenged us as human beings. Kathie certainly has a story like that.

She teaches groups from four to six people, all within her home. There are three double bedrooms with separate bathrooms, a lovely garden with a "piscine", an impressive herb garden and a beautiful vista enveloping an ancient landscape. Valbonne is about 35 min from the coast (and the airport in Nice), near the Cote d Ázur, named for its color and beauty.

Kathie focuses on simple and genuine French cooking and there is a lot to learn from her through the many stories she tells. If you go, we are quite sure you could get her to tell you the story of how she met with the former owner of the house, Julia Child and her association with her neighbor and pal, “Simca”, better known as Simone Beck.. What better way to celebrate the legendary diva in a “hat’s off” tribute? We guarantee that you will not regret traveling the journey to sit in the garden and hear the story. In the mean time here’s Kathie’s recipe for the traditional Pizza style snack from Nice.

By Lars Røtterud & Scott Givot, CCP

For more information about La Pitchoune visit

Pissaladière originated in Nice, France. Made principally with caramelized onions and traditionally on pizza dough. About the 16th century, young sardines or anchovies were preserved with salt until they were softened into a paste. The residue, (pissalat) from this process was mashed with herbs and spices and then was added to the onions to balance the sweetness of the onions. Today, there are many variations of this recipe. Anchovy fillets and olives are used as a decoration.

Onion and Anchovy Pizza

For 20 appetizer-sized servings or
6 to 8 first course servings

8 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil
bread dough or other pastry
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence or dried thyme
Salt and pepper
1 2-ounce cans flat anchovy fillets, packed in olive oil
24 Niçoise olives or any Mediterranean type, olive
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional) a sheet pan, about 11 x 17 inches
Parchment paper

Cook the onions over low heat in a large covered frying pan with 1/4-cup olive oil, stirring occasionally until they are soft and tender but not browned, about one hour. Add a little water if onions begin to burn. Remove cover, add Herbes de Provence and continue cooking for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently or until onions are caramelized.

Roll out chilled dough on parchment paper into a rectangle, 1/8 inch thick. Transfer to pan and trim off the overhanging edges. Fold edges of dough down against the bottom and make a decorative border. Prick the inside surface of the dough all over with the tines of a fork. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

When onions are tender, season with salt and pepper, and cool. Spread over the prepared crust. Cover and refrigerate until ready to bake. (Can also be wrapped and frozen at this point.)

Preheat oven to 425°F.

While oven is preheating, arrange a design of anchovies and olives over the onions. Sprinkle with cheese and drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil. (The oil from the anchovies can be used.) Bake in the lower third of the oven until the pastry has browned and is beginning to shrink from the sides of the pan or about 15 minutes.

Slide onto a cutting board or work surface and cut into serving pieces.

Photo by U Cuccu

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