Focaccia, fugassa or figassa?


Focaccia is made all over Italy nowadays, and well beyond its borders too, but in Liguria “fugassa”  as it is known in the local dialect (figassa in Genoese) is widely available and enjoyed as a snack, often with a coffee mid-morning.  A thick, flatbread that is liberally dosed and doused with olive oil, it is most commonly served with an onion topping, thus resembling the French pissaladière.  Elizabeth David, writing in her book Italian Food, refers to focaccia as the ‘Genoese pizza’ but normally focaccia recipes include more yeast than for pizza, making the cooked dough thicker.

In the seaside town of Recco, the delicious focaccia col formaggio (cheese focaccia) is made by sandwiching dollops of the local soft, melting cheese, Crescenza, between two sheets of dough and baking until the top is golden brown.  Another popular version of the bread, focaccia col rosmarino, originally thought to have been created to attract the tourists, is studded with rosemary or other herbs, sprinkled with coarse sea salt and simply oozes with olive oil.  You’ll find the recipe for this last focaccia below and I can promise you it’s a real crowd-pleaser and will have everyone eating more than they really ought to so here’s a useful tip: make plenty.

I like to serve the rosemary focaccia warm with a selection of charcuterie, artichokes in olive oil and a salad of ripe tomatoes.  Or perhaps a ball of gooey Burrata cheese.  If there is any left the next day (a rare sight in my house), try toasting it and serving simply with unsalted butter or a slug of olive oil and some chopped tomatoes. Given the thickness of the bread, it’s great for sandwiches – just slice it in two and fill with tapenade or pesto, sliced tomatoes and goat’s cheese.


If you happen to be in Recco on Sunday 1st June this year, look out for La Festa della Focaccia di Recco, a local festival celebrating this local culinary icon.  More info here:

Rosemary Focaccia
(makes two loaves, each measuring roughly 12cm x 30cm)

500g strong white bread flour
10g fast-action yeast
120ml extra virgin olive oil plus more for brushing the top of the bread
275ml warm water
10g fine salt
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary

Mix the flour, yeast and salt then add the olive oil and water.  Knead the mixture on a floured board for up to ten minutes by which time the dough should be smooth and elastic.  You can also use a food processor with a dough hook for this.  If the dough is very sticky, add a little more flour.

Form the dough into a ball and leave in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic film, for an hour until it has at least doubled in size.

Heat your oven to 220°C and oil two 12cm x 30cm baking trays.  Take the dough from the bowl, cut into two pieces and mould both pieces into oval shapes to fit the baking trays.  Use your knuckles or fingertips to make slight indentations all over the dough.  Brush it with extra virgin olive oil and stud it with rosemary leaves (you can chop them finely first if you prefer), and press them into the dough.  Sprinkle with the coarse sea salt and drizzle with more olive oil.

Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for half an hour then bake in the middle of the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown – keep an eye on it as it can turn brown suddenly and will easily overcook and become too hard.

Take the bread from the oven and place on a wire rack for a few minutes.  Drizzle with more olive oil and serve.








Socca Chips (Panisses / Panizzie)


One of our rituals on a visit to Nice is a wander down the winding, narrow streets of the Old Town in search of a plate of socca.  Known as farinata across the Italian border, socca is a thick pancake made from chickpea flour and in Vieux Nice it’s great fun to see it being deftly cooked in the street in large, flat pans.  Once it’s ready, this delicious street food is roughly cut and sprinkled generously with black pepper (essential).

As with all things culinary in this part of the world, there are endless arguments about the correct ratio of chickpea flour to water and many people believe it is not a recipe to be cooked at home but one to be brought back to the house as a takeaway.  I tend to agree as it’s not easy to produce something as good as what’s on offer in Vieux Nice so maybe it’s one of those local specialities that should only be enjoyed in situ.

Socca chips however are an entirely different matter and my family go mad for them.  These little chickpea flour fries are called panisse in Nice and panizzie in Western Liguria where they are also made.  Simply make a thick chickpea flour paste, leave it to cool, slice the mixture into batons and fry these batons in olive oil.  I like to add a little grated cheese and some cumin to the batter, ideas pinched from Hilary Davis’ recently published book ‘Cuisine Niçoise’.  Serve the chips on their own as a snack or a hearty canapé with the obligatory twist of the black pepper mill and a pinch of sea salt.

Socca Chips

175g chickpea flour
1 ½ tsps ground cumin
1 ½ tbsps extra virgin olive oil plus extra for frying
25g gruyere cheese
675ml water
Pinch sea salt


Whisk the above ingredients together in a large bowl, then transfer to a heavy-based saucepan and heat until thick, stirring constantly.  This should take about five minutes.

Pour the thickened mixture into a greased baking tray and leave to cool.  I use a 22cm square tin which gives quite thin chips. Cut the mixture into slices and fry in olive oil until crisp and browned on the outside.

Serve the chips straight away with salt and pepper sprinkled over them as desired.


Pesto Pistou…how it all started

Tomatoes & Pesto

Since a stint living in Nice in the 1990s, I am often drawn back the distinctive flavours and very individual recipes of the Riviera coastline which stretches from Nice in France, across the Italian border into Liguria and on to the Tuscan border, passing Genoa, the home of pesto, along the way.  Whilst it’s not possible to truly recreate the ‘cuisine of the sun’ miles away in the UK, I’ve set up this blog as a way to record my experiments with similar ingredients albeit with a British twist from time to time.  Thrown in too, some tasting notes on the local wines, little known away from the Riviera itself.  How I look forward to being back there again…..

So, where to start? It would seem apt to kick things off with a post to explain the name of this blog so here’s the lowdown on the provençal sauce, Pistou and its Italian cousin Pesto Genovese.  Their recipes share many ingredients, namely garlic, basil, olive oil and cheese (usually pecorino and/or parmesan).  Writing in his book Cuisine Niçoise, former Mayor of Nice, Jacques Medecin explains the key difference between the two – it’s all about which side of the Franco-Italian border you reside on:

“I make no attempt to settle the question of whether pistou migrated from Nice to Genoa, or vice versa, but let me simply say that the Ligurians like to add 100g of pine nuts to the ingredients pounded in the mortar”.

The reference to the pounding of the sauce in the mortar is an important one.  Pistou, a word from the Nicois dialect, means “pounded” as does the Genoese word Pesta.  To this day, purists use a pestle and mortar believing that the use of a blender causes the capillaries in the basil leaves to close up which stops them from releasing their full aroma.  The blender method has become acceptable in today’s modern kitchen however, and the speed of making it means there is always fresh pesto (or pistou) in my fridge just waiting to top a bowl of pasta or a vegetable soup.  The pounded version is well worth it when time allows.

Pasta & Pesto

Recipes for both pistou and pesto vary widely depending on the cook or the village where it is being made, and the debate about whose sauce is best rages on.  How much garlic should be used? Which cheese works well and how strong should it be? In Liguria, some add cream, others ricotta.  One thing that everyone is clear on though: the sauce should never be heated up on its own prior to serving.  Simply stir a spoonful into hot pasta or soup at the very last minute.

Here is my version of basil pesto which will keep well in the fridge (best used within two days of making) and the freezer if frozen the same day. I’ll be posting a variety of pesto recipes in the coming months together with ideas for dishes they can be added to.  But we won’t just concern ourselves with pesto here.  The blog is about the food (and wine) from across the Riviera – think socca v farinata and salade niçoise v cappon magro – and we will touch on tips for travelling in the region as well.

Thanks for taking the time to look at the blog.  Feedback will be happily received!

Basil Pesto

25g basil leaves
20g pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan
10g pecorino romano
10g parmesan
1 small clove garlic, crushed
40 ml extra virgin olive oil
tiny pinch salt

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and whizz on high speed for a few seconds to form a paste.  Stir in more olive oil if you like a slightly runnier consistency.

Basil Pesto