“Boles de picolat is a Catalan dish where I am from. The Catalonia part of France is the most southern part of France at the foothills of the Pyrenees. You drive a half an hour and you’re in Spain. The closet town is Perpignan. It is a very typical dish from that area,” Nicolas said.
During the summer, Nicolas’ parents sent him to work on the farm of his uncle and aunt in Elne, also in the South of France.
“(Elne) is a very rustic part of France on the Mediterranean coast. The people from there are very honest and very simple, very grounded. Most of them were farmers when I was there. That was the number one occupation then,” he said.
“The folks in this region speak French, but you hear a lot of Catalan dialect being spoken everywhere. When you ask them if they are French they say, ‘No. I’m Catalan,” he said.
Nicolas’ aunt and uncle were farmers.
“They were growing peaches and also making wines. They had a lot of grapes. I would work the field picking up peaches, picking up pears, picking up apricots, and harvesting the grapes to make wine,” he said.
Being in the field all day, it was important to be refueled for the next day.
“Boles De Picolat was one of the main dishes the people would make because often you would have to feed not only your family but you’d have to feed the people that would help you on the field also,” Nicolas said.
Nicolas recalled long tables with 10 or 15 people gathered around.
“Boles De Picolat was the dish that people would make for a family gathering or when you had to feed a large number of people,” Nicolas said.
Nicolas’ aunt made the dish. He said each family has their own way of making it. Sometimes the meatballs are made with pork and meat or pork only. The cook might also vary the vegetables, such as potatoes and white beans.
“I am the kind of cook that is not good with a recipe. I read the recipe for direction and then I always add or remove stuff. I’m more of an innovative cook than a recipe follower. I make variations,” he said.
Nicolas’ family came to France from Spain when his grandfather immigrated during the Franco regime. His grandfather worked in a coal mine in Spain when he was 9 years old.
“My grandfather tells us the story that he actually lied to the man who hired him in the coal mine and told him he was 16 years old. The life was so miserable that he decided to leave Spain, and he walked to France and basically settled in France in the first town over the border,” Nicolas said.
In France, Nicolas’ grandfather managed property for an owner of a fruit orchard.
“He was basically the gardener for the property,” said Nicolas, who met his wife, Trish, on the ski slopes in France where he was a ski instructor. She had studied in France and remained there to teach English at a middle school in Valence v’Agen located between Toulouse and Bordeaux.
They moved to Marietta to be close to Trish’s parents and married at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in 1989.
“I truly lived the American dream. I showed up in the United States not speaking English with a thousand bucks in my pocket with a suitcase. Here I was starting from scratch,” he said.
Nicolas went back to school for seven years and earned a degree in design. He worked at night as a waiter. He works for Intercontinental Hotels Group as director of Global Brand Innovation & Design and has been with the company for 16 years. The couple has two children: 14-year-old Remy and 12-year-old Margaux.
“I ended up doing well,” Nicolas said.
“Boles De Picolat reminds me when I would go on vacation. It was a special moment now that I look back. It reminds me when you were together with the family and you have a simple traditional meal. There’s no fanciness about it. It’s really, really good. It’s very approachable. It reminds me of family getting together around the main dish,” Nicolas said.
BOLES DE PICOLAT
Serves 6 to 8
1 1/4 pound of ground pork
3/4 pound of ground beef
1 thick slice stale pain de campagne (or 3 to 4 slices of any bread), dipped in warm milk
1 shallot, minced
2 sprigs parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly
3 large onions, minced
6 to 8 cloves garlic
5 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cut in half
1/4 pound of green olives, pitted and blanched
3 ounce dried ceps (mushrooms), rehydrated in warm water for 15 minutes; reserve water for cooking
1/2 pound of carrots, cut into sticks
*Potatoes, white beans or other vegetables can be added per Nicolas
In a large bowl, combine the pork and beef with the bread, eggs, shallot and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well with your hands. Let rest while you make the sauce. (If the mixture is too soft, let rest for a few hours or overnight).
In a pot, brown the onions and garlic in oil. Sprinkle with flour and continue cooking for several seconds. Add the tomatoes, green olives and ceps. Reserve the water they soaked in. Let simmer.
Dampen your hands and shape the meat mixture into small meatballs the size of an apricot. Brown the meatballs in a skillet and add them to the saucepot. Pour the reserved mushroom-rehydration water into the pot (the meat should be covered with liquid). Add the carrots. Leave to simmer gently for about two hours. Adjust seasoning as necessary.