Back in April I spent an indulgent afternoon with a good friend sampling the tempting delights of La Petite Maison, a restaurant in London’s Mayfair which describes its cuisine thus: ‘combining the best fresh seasonal ingredients with the culinary influences of the Côte d’Azur and neighbouring Liguria’. Popping up on the menu were so many Riviera favourites together with some iconic bottlings from the region, but my attention was immediately drawn to the Petits Farcis Niçois or stuffed vegetables, which I hadn’t tasted for years and had certainly never cooked myself. These little bite-sized portions of courgette and tomato (see photo above) looked so dainty, and they were awakened by the strong flavours of the veal stuffing, the resulting ensemble melting slowly in the mouth. I came away wanting to recreate this idea at home, and so began the research…..
Farcis, known as ripieni in Liguria are eaten all along the Riviera, but in usual local style thoughts on the stuffing ingredients vary from place to place. The elements common to most recipes are garlic, herbs, eggs, the scooped-out flesh of the vegetables themselves and leftover meat (ham, beef, veal, pork or a blend of more than one, chopped up finely). Some cooks add cheese, others rice. I came across breadcrumbs and mushrooms too, but what seems clear from the text accompanying many of the recipes I looked up, is that here is another recipe demonstrating the creativity and frugality of the people of the area who have traditionally used up leftovers from yesterday’s lunch and blended them with the fresh produce available to them locally.
Mireille Johnson, writing in her book ‘Cuisine of the Sun’ explains the raison d’être of these delicious morsels so romantically: “Farcis are a summer staple in Nice. On Sundays and festive days housewives and children carry large trays of freshly stuff vegetables to the village baker’s oven, returning at noon to pick up their crisp, golden farcis. Served at most picnics or buffets, farcis are usually prepared in large quantities, since they are delicious warm or cold”. She also advises the use of small vegetables and the avoidance of over-stuffing them.
For my version of the dish, I used baby peppers, young courgettes and medium-sized vine tomatoes. Served warm, the courgettes and peppers would make great canapés, the tomatoes would work better as a light lunch dish, with a green salad, as finger food they are not. Bon appetit!
1 medium-sized courgette (zucchini)
4 mini peppers
4 small to medium sized tomatoes
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
30g finely chopped cooked meat (I used pancetta)
20g parmesan, finely grated
tbsp chopped fresh herbs (basil & sage for me)
1 large egg, beaten
salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil to
Chop the courgette into four rounds and scoop out the flesh, ensuring that a good base of flesh is left at the bottom so as to make a small cup shape. Slice the top off the tomatoes and scoop out the flesh and seeds. Cut a slice across the length of the pepper and clean out the inside. Place the hollowed-out vegetables in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil.
Chop and reserve the courgette flesh, tomato pulp and seeds. Chop the pepper ‘lid’ into small pieces and add to the courgette and tomato pulp.
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.
Next, sauté the onion and pancetta in olive oil for 5 minutes on a medium heat stirring regularly. Then add the crushed garlic with 15g of the breadcrumbs and stir for a further two minutes. Add the reserved vegetable pulp and cook for another five minutes, stirring all the time. Then add the fresh, chopped herbs and stir for a minute or so.
Remove the mixture from the heat, place in a small bowl. and stir in the grated parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste. Finally, stir the beaten egg into the mixture.
Fill the hollowed vegetables with the mixture, sprinkle with the remaining breadcrumbs and drizzle with olive oil before placing in the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes uncovered. The tops of the vegetables should be brown and crispy when you take them out of the oven. Yummy.