Monaco’s National Dish is the Perfect Holiday Appetizer
Updated: Dec 11, 2020
One of the best things about travel has to be the food. Whether sampling nasi goreng in Bali or trying tartiflette in the French Alps, food creates memory, bringing us back to places and times we’ve loved.
Travel and food daydreams are getting us through the winter. Fantasies of lounging by the Mediterranean Sea, strolling sun-drenched seaside boardwalks, exploring winding fairytale streets, and marveling at historic architecture in far-flung destinations.
In other words, these days we’re dreaming of Monaco.
It’s why we’ve been making batch after batch of barbajuan (also known as barbagiuan). Not only are the savory filled pastries an irresistible comfort food, they’re Monaco’s national dish. Every bite through the crispy crust to the warm, hearty filling is like being whisked away to the bustling street markets of Monte Carlo—think of it as globe-trotting to the French Riviera, but with your taste buds.
Traditionally served as an appetizer or snack, barbajuan is a classic treat that brings people together. We can imagine Princess Grace adding them to the menu for a seasonal cocktail party. But even with a low-key, soirée-free season ahead of us, trying your hand at the rustic-chic dish can be an occasion in and of itself. Though there are a lot of steps, barbajuan is impressive without being too fussy, making it the ideal project whether you’re looking for a weekend cooking challenge—there are only so many episodes of Chef’s Table you can rewatch in one stretch, after all—or just keen to cook up something special to share with your family, partner, or roommates.
But what’s the story behind the enduring barbajuan? Outside of Monaco, the stuffed pastry is mainly found in northern Italy and the eastern part of the French Riviera. In the Monégasque language, “barbajuan” means “Uncle John,” a nod to the man who allegedly created the dish. As the story goes, this hungry young gentleman was lacking sauce for his ravioli, and got creative, stuffing the dough with Swiss chard and frying the whole package—much like a bite-sized, Mediterranean samosa, or a fritter with a spanakopita-esque twist. The result was a delectable, rustic hand pie, an innovation that quickly spread through Monaco and beyond.
Many home chefs in the region have their own variation of the dish. While Swiss chard and ricotta is the classic filling, the simple format of this inventive treat has allowed for a wide range of experimentation over the years, with ingredients like rice or onion making their way into the mix. In Italy, a pumpkin-filled variety is known as barbagiuai; our own spin on the hors d’oeuvre, shared below, does the same, filling the pastry with a savoury Cinderella pumpkin mixture that’s just right for winter.
While barbajuan is eaten most often on the National Day of Monaco on November 19, these palm-sized pockets make wonderful snacks any day of the year. And while we’re stuck at home, they also offer us a little taste of another world—and isn’t that something we’re all craving right now?
Recipe: Hearty Homemade Pumpkin Barbajuans
Yield: 20 barbajuans
Total time: 2.5 hours
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup ice-cold water
One small “Cinderella” pumpkin, cut into chunks, seeds and strings removed
¼ cup olive oil
3 spring onions, chopped finely
1 ¼ tsp fine sea salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
2 large eggs 1 cup coarsely grated parmesan
1 egg yolk (for the egg wash, to seal)
6 cups peanut oil, for frying
Coarse sea salt, to taste
Parsley, to garnish
To make your pastry and filling, follow the directions laid out by Alain Ducasse, the illustrious Monagésque chef who was the first to have three restaurants awarded with three Michelin stars at the same time. But don’t worry if your kitchen is lacking official stars—now is the perfect moment to invest in satisfying cuisine that takes time to prepare. Assemble and cook the parcels, and serve on a warmed platter or in a basket lined with festive napkins. Enjoy solo or with friends!
Once your barbajuans are simmering, make sure you have a gift for everyone on your list with the Grace Influential Holiday Gift Guide.