This recipe was written and sent by Fabienne Bantigny.
“Being in Nice (Southern France) and unable to leave it because of the lockdown, I had the idea of cooking a regional dish. Because of the quarantine however, I could only prepare these Barbajuans with ingredients that I had on hand. I deliberately distanced myself from the original recipe and added some lemon, which gives it a kick and reminds me of Lebanese Chich Baraks (which is white soup served with tangy raviolis) which I absolutely adore!”
About the dish
Meaning “Uncle Jean” in the local dialect, Barbajuans are said to be originating from the village of Castellar. It is there that local pasta maker Jean, would have had the idea of frying raviolis. The experiment was a success and the Barbajuans became a regional delicacy traditionally served for weddings, family reunions and other special occasions.
Barbajuans come in various shapes, from triangles to squares. Filled with various cheeses, herbs and vegs, their flavor can vary with the seasons. However, one ingredient of this recipe is paramount (no matter the time of year): olive oil. Fried or baked, the olive oil is the key ingredient which allows Barbajuans to get their typical golden color.
The use of olive oil comes as no surprise as Barbajuans are characteristic of the Alpes-maritimes, which is part of the french region of Provence, notorious for its olive oil.
About the Swiss chard
Being an easy growing vegetable, Swiss chard has long been used to flavor and support various meat stuffings. Both originating from regions where meat was historically scarce, french dishes such as the “Caillette” or the “Farci Poitevin” pair little amounts of meat with large amount of Swiss chard, turning the two into a proper filling dish . On the one hand, the “Caillette” makes use of a mixture of chard, pork and salad wrapped in fat netting; on the other, the “Farci Poitevin” often combines spinach, chard and bacon in one large pâté, this time wrapped in green cabbage leaves. Both recipes are the expression of a former French countryside life where gardening and home slaughtering were more than common.
Let us also give a nod to the unique “Chard pie” which paires the chard with parmesan cheese and raisins! Originating from the same region as the Barbajuans, this main dish/dessert is one of the few ancient recipes clearly mentioning the Swiss chard in its recipe. Indeed, traditional recipes of the past four centuries often call on the use of leafy greens without specifying the species, which leaves the reader to choose either spinach, Swiss chard, cabbage, kale, etc, or even cardoon! This may well be one of the reasons the chard was overlooked in the past centuries and why, thanks to the expansion of vegetarian cooking, it has today resurfaced.
Ingredients(for approx. 24 Barbajuans)
For the dough:
300g of spelt or wheat flour
150mL of water
5 tablespoons of olive oil
A pinch of salt
For the filling:
1 big Swiss chard
A large bunch of flat leaf parsley
4 spring onions (they many names, from scallions to green onions)
5 cloves of garlic
250g of ricotta cheese
Some grated Parmesan cheese
To make the dough:
- Put the flour in a wide bowl, make a well in the center and pour in the water.
- Stir the mixture by hand until combined.
- Add the oil and salt and knead the dough until soft and shiny.
- Cover with clean film and store in the fridge for 3 hours.
To make the filling:
- Separate the leaves of the Swiss chard from the stalks.
- Blanch the leaves in boiling water for 1mn, drain and leave them to cool down in a bowl of cold water.
- Note: Keep the stalks of the Swiss chard for another dish; they are lovely first steamed then fried in butter and served with bacon.
- Sauté the chopped onions and minced garlic in olive oil.
- Finely chop the parsley and the blanched leaves of Swiss chard.
- Zest the lemon and juice it.
- In a bowl, combine the Swiss chard and the onion mix with one egg and the juice and zest of the lemon.
- Add the ricotta and Parmesan cheese.
- Season to taste.
- With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a approx. 2mm thickness.
- Cut out the dough in approx. 10cm diameter circles (you can use a soup bowl or a mug as a guide).
- Arrange the filling in the center of each circle and fold in two.
- Carefully seal the edges by humidifying the rim with water.
- Brush the Barbajuans with olive oil and arrange them on a tray lined with baking paper
- Bake at 190°C (375°F) for 40 minutes.
- Once golden, leave the Barbajuans to cool at room temperature.
- Eat as appetizers with a side of fresh salad.
- The membrane that surrounds the internal organs of a freshly slaughtered pork.
- Pick preferably a flour made from a locally grown crop. Note that other flours may not contain as much gluten than spelt or wheat which may lead the Barbajuans to crumble or loose their shape.
- This recipe was developed in the Southern french city of Nice, close to the Italian border, where good Italian products are available. You can swap them with any available local cream cheese or a salted hard cheese of your choosing.