Try this Sweet Treat from Nice: La Tourte aux Blette Sucrée
During my walking tours of Nice, I like to introduce visitors to local specialties. For this purpose, I often offer them a taste of a signature dish from Nice: “La tourte aux blette” (Swiss chard pie).
There are two types of this delicious tart, one sweet and one savoury. The first one is my favourite. My guests are skeptical every time I explain the ingredients to them: “Did you just say a sweet pie made with Swiss chard?” they always ask me in disbelief.
The Niçoise hold the Swiss chard vegetable close to their hearts; the “blette”, or “blea” in the local dialect, is a staple food in Nice and the surrounding area of Provence. Extremely fashionable during Roman times, it was later replaced by spinach. The Swiss Chard can be found everywhere in France, but this leafy, green plant is particularly popular here in the South and is used in many local delicacies, including cakes, tarts, gnocchi, pasta, and bread.
But why is “la blette”so popular here? The answer lies in the weather. Many visitors choose the Côte d’Azur every year for its beautiful sunny weather, however, the dry climate is not best suited for crop growing and so agriculture has historically been very poor in this area. For this reason, the traditional Niçoise cuisine is often called the “cuisine du pauvre” (“food of the poor”). Modern commerce and tourism has since changed that, but long before Nice became a popular destination for Russian Oligarchs, the Niçoise could only count on few local resources, including “la blette”. This modest but resilient vegetable thrives in the sunny, dry weather of the French Riviera.
The tourte aux blette is definitely one tasty way to utilize the abundance of Swiss chard in the fields of Provence. As for the ingredients, the filling consists mainly of finely chopped blette, eggs, sugar, raisins, pine nuts and apples (or, alternatively, pears). The dough contains flour, yeast, sugar, eggs and olive oil. Although some of the modern versions include butter, this is not part of the original recipe – butter was not available until recently in this area of France, and so olive oil has always been preferred to it. As a result, Niçoise traditional cuisine has a small but delicious range of desserts, which are often high in sugar but low in fat, such as candied fruits or nougat.
Dairy products have never been abundant here either (excluding dried ‘parmesan style’ cheeses), so most of the traditional cakes are high in carbohydrates with a dry consistency, like the tourte aux blettes. The addition of Swiss chard provides moisture and a touch of freshness to the tart.
Although the mixture of blette and sugar may at first sound unusual, once you take a bite you realize the taste of blette is that of a very subtle flavour. The tart literally melts in the mouth while releasing the sweet aroma of its custard. Very tasty and digestible, it is simply perfect with a cup of tea.
As one of the oldest culinary traditions of Nice, the tourte aux blette is embedded within the culture of this city and is among the 13 traditional dessert foods used to celebrate Christmas in Provence (representing the thirteen table guests of the Last Supper).
This curious little tart has truly become one of my favourite French desserts – I hope I have tempted you enough to try it, or perhaps to even make one yourself!
Watch our post feed for this traditional Niçoise recipe from Viktorija Todorovska. For more classic recipes read this post and pick up your copy of Nice Cuisine and the Art of Living.