For Pablo Picasso, food was a central part of life. From the age of 17, he auctioned his sketches for around one peseta (about the same price as a bottle of house wine) to raise money for his supper at Barcelona’s El Quatre Gats (The Four Cats) restaurant – for whom he designed their classic menu and where his first exhibition took place. All through his life he loved the ritual of eating – albeit frugal dishes such as Catalan sausage and beans, fresh fish, a little wine and lots of fruit and vegetables. Food was his constancy, for him the kitchen was the centre of home – a source of comfort and familiarity. Never more so than after the war when he discovered the ceramics that reinforced the importance of culinary vessels in his art – after all “pottery is baked, like bread, in the oven, then used for cooking and eating. It’s hard to think of a more elemental art form, or one more focused on food and drink”. Much later in his life – 1964 to be exact – Picasso was interviewed by American Vogue’s Ninette Lyon to whom he gave two of his favourite recipes one for his beloved eel stew and one for his ‘omelette Niçoise‘. My interpretation of the latter is baked in the oven simply because that’s the way I like to make omelettes; I also added some feta because I had an opened packet in the fridge but otherwise this is a completely authentic interpretation of Picasso’s recipe. It is exquisite. There’s something in the long slow cooking of the vegetables that renders them into a sticky sweet melange that’s so comforting to the soul. I can see why he loved it so.
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely sliced into half moons
4 peppers, red and green, finely chopped
3 tomatoes, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tsp Herbes de Provence with lavender (optional)
2 tbsp good quality red wine vinegar
100g feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground mixed peppercorns
Classic salade verte à la française:
1 head lettuce, washed and finely sliced
Radishes, finely sliced
2 tbsp mixed fresh herbs, finely chopped
For the vinaigrette:
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp good quality red wine vinegar
Pinch of sea salt flakes
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
Freshly ground mixed peppercorns
How I make it
Place a large frying pan on a medium heat and leave to warm up. Add a couple of glugs of olive oil and fry the onion for around five minutes until it’s soft and transparent. Then add the peppers and leave to cook for another five minutes before adding the chopped tomato. Add the herbs (if using) and season to your taste. Cover, turn the heat right down and leave the mixture to gently cook for 40-60 minutes until everything has become soft and unctuous (stirring occasionally).
Remove the lid and add the vinegar, turn up the heat and allow the mixture to simmer until all the liquid has gone. Set aside to cool.
Heat an oven to 180C.
First make the vinaigrette. In the bottom of a large salad bowl combine the mustard and the vinegar. Add the salt and stir. Add the oil and stir until it resembles a thick golden mayonnaise. Add the minced shallot and grind in the pepper. Set aside to allow the flavours to combine.
Line a shallow pie dish with baking parchment and pile in the cooked vegetables making sure that they are evenly distributed. Crumble over the feta (if using).
Mix the eggs together with a fork and season to your taste. Pour the mixture over the vegetables and carefully place in the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, add the salad leaves, radishes and herbs to the salad dressing and toss everything together.
Serve at room temperature with the salad, some crusty bread and a bowl of garlicky mayonnaise.