Focaccia col formaggio

IMG_20150825_204810I’ve written about focaccia before but not specifically about cheese focaccia which is something altogether different.    We typically think of focaccia as a thick, dimpled yet fluffy bread, dripping in olive oil and crunchy with salt, sometimes garnished with a diverse range of toppings such as olives, onions and/or rosemary.  Cheese focaccia on the other hand is a true flatbread.  There is no yeast and the dough is rolled out as thinly as possible into two large discs which are then sandwiched together to hide a mouthwatering cheese filling: a filling so gooey and tasty that is difficult to achieve without using chunks of the tangy, fresh Crescenza cheese, a speciality of Northern Italy, made from cow’s milk.

For a while now I’ve been trying to reproduce the wonderful examples of this bread that we tasted in Genoa a year ago but I should point out that Genoa is not the original home of this iconic Ligurian snack.  It is Recco, a seaside town further along the coast to the east, and a place where once a year in May the Festa della Focaccia takes place celebrating focaccia in its many different forms.

festa di focaccia

Here in the UK, and in France where I spend some of my time, it is difficult impossible to find Crescenza cheese.  Taleggio or a blend of mozzarella and cheddar make reasonable substitutes, giving the characteristic oozing, melted cheese look and feel to the finished product.  But it’s not quite the same.  So imagine my delight on a recent visit to Lombardy to find Crescenza cheese readily available in supermarkets! We had driven to Italy with the thought that we might bring back some edible goodies so I was well prepared with a coolbox to transport this delicacy back to my kitchen in France, and it was well worth it.

Focaccia col formaggio

500g ‘00’ pasta flour
50ml extra virgin olive oil
250ml water
A pinch of salt
450g Crescenza cheese or alternatives as mentioned above

Heat the oven to 230°C.  Mix all the ingredients together, except for the cheese, and knead the dough to bring it together.  Leave the dough to rest for 20 minutes.

Split the dough into two pieces and roll each piece out as thinly as you can to fit the size of a round pizza base.  Place one half of the dough onto a round pizza baking tray, dot the cheese around it and then top it with the second piece of dough.  Crimp the edges to seal and drizzle with olive oil.  Bake in the hot oven for 15 minutes, but keep checking it as you cook as oven temperatures/flour types vary so much.

When browned and bubbling, take out of the oven, cut into slices and eat immediately.



Wine tasting in the Var – Clos Cibonne

IMG_20150806_174749I’ve just returned to Burgundy after a blissful few days in the Var where we stayed on the Med in the town of Le Pradet, five miles to the east of Toulon.  Having recently been introduced to the wines of a local Var estate in the UK by independent merchant, Red Squirrel Wine, I was delighted to find the vineyard just round the corner from our base.

Clos Cibonne is an estate with Cru Classé vineyard sites and a history that dates back over 200 years.  The Cru Classé classification system was established by the Côtes de Provence appellation in 1955 and sought to recognise quality wine estates within its area of production.  Still in place today with no modifications, only eighteen of the original twenty-three estates remain, the other five having ceased wine production.  It should be noted that the term itself refers only to particular vineyard sites within these estates.

IMG_20150806_145057Arriving at Clos Cibonne on a blisteringly hot afternoon, we were relieved to be ushered into the cool tasting room which provided a welcome break from the heat of the day.  Production on this 15-hectare estate is geared towards rosé wines, the blend of each of these being dominated by the Tibouren grape, an ancient Mediterranean variety which has been grown in the region for centuries but is first thought to have been found in Greece.  It performs best in coastal areas, is light in colour and low in tannin making it ideal for rosé.  Clos Cibonne’s Cru Classé ‘Tradition’ range of rosés are matured in old casks making them much more complex and fuller-bodied than the estates ‘Tendance’ and ‘Tentations’ ranges.   Hence they are great food wines, perfect for matching with bouillabaisse, grilled, meaty fish or Asian cuisine.

IMG_20150806_142142We tasted two of the reds from the ‘Tradition’ range:  the 2014 Cuvée Tradition made predominantly from Tibouren with a touch of Grenache, which was soft, light and bursting with red fruit flavours – a perfect summer red and a recommended pairing for roast veal or chanterelles; then the Cuvée Prestige Olivier 2012, a vin de garde made mostly from Syrah with smaller quantities of both Grenache and Tibouren – much fuller-bodied with darker fruit and definitely one to open up again in a few years to accompany a robust winter dish.


Very little white wine is made under the Côtes de Provence classification but we were impressed with Clos Cibonne’s only white, a blend of 90% Rolle (known as Vermentino in Italy) with a soupçon of Ugni Blanc.   The 2014 vintage is refreshing with bags of citrus and some floral hints, medium-bodied and perfect for barbecued seafood.

The setting of Clos Cibonne is beautiful as I hope you can see from the photo that heads this post.   The wine shop is open all year round from Tuesday to Saturday (9:00 to 12:00 & 15:00 to 19:00) and is located at Chemin de la Cibonne, 83220 Le Pradet.


In pursuit of pan bagnat


For friends of ours who also lived in the area some years ago, any visit back to Nice involves a search for the perfect pan bagnat, and until this most basic of food cravings is satisfied, no trip is complete.  Inspired by their enthusiasm, we have become fans too and were lucky enough to have double helpings during our last stay. It’s always fun to see how each ban bagnat varies slightly from the next.

You may have already seen a photo of the pan bagnat we found at La Fougasserie in Nice this summer, but our base on this trip was Roquebrune Cap Martin and on my morning strolls down to the popular Boulangerie Rey & Fils I endured several mouthwatering encounters with their freshly-made, stuffed rolls which would stare out at me from behind the counter.  But I was only there for a breakfast baguette and so, morning after morning, I resisted temptation, and if you check out the photo at the top of this post you will see how difficult this was.  Towards the end of the week, however, I found proper, unfilled pan bagnat rolls for sale in Monaco – large ones and this is important because there’s a lot of filling to pile into one of these sandwiches.  With the perfectly designed, beautiful rolls appearing before me unexpectedly, I gave in.  It was time for the DIY pan bagnat.

So what is this irresistible speciality?   Its literal meaning is soaked bread, and years ago it was a salad using the same vegetables and fish we see in today’s ‘sandwich’.  Back then torn pieces of stale bread were thrown into the salad and they would soak up the olive oil, vinegar and the juice from the tomatoes.  Nowadays things have perhaps become more convenient and the aforementioned ‘croutons’ have been replaced by white bread rolls into which the same salad and fish mixture is stuffed.  Essentially pan bagnat is salade niçoise in a roll.  The fundamental fillings include tuna and/or anchovies, sliced tomatoes, black olives, sliced hardboiled eggs, and a variety of other ingredients according to who you believe: radishes, green peppers, spring or regular onions, broad beans, tender baby artichokes, gem lettuce, cucumber and basil all get a mention in someone’s pan bagnat.  The whole mixture is bound together with a generous slug of extra virgin olive oil and a splash of vinegar.

We enjoyed our ‘homemade’ pan bagnat sitting out on the terrace with a view straight across the bay to Monaco, a glass of chilled provençal rosé proving to be a happy pairing.  Back here in the UK, it’s virtually impossible to find bread rolls of the right dimension so I’ve experimented with making my own – see below for details.  Some recipes talk about hollowing out the roll and weighting down the stuffed sandwich for two or three hours.  Do try it if you have the willpower.  I, unfortunately, do not.  Choose your own fillings from the long list already mentioned.  In lieu of pitted black olives which have a tendency to fall out of the roll while you’re eating it, I like to whizz up a handful of them with a little olive oil to make a spread for one side of the roll. And do add a squeeze of lemon juice if you dare.  I like to but traditionalists will tell you it is not the done thing.



IMG_20141115_124742Pan Bagnat Rolls

500g strong bread flour
15g dried yeast
5g salt
50ml olive oil
280ml warm water

Add the liquid to the dried ingredients and mix either in a food mixer with a dough hook or by hand.  Follow mixer instructions or kneed by hand for up to 10 minutes until you have a soft dough that’s not sticky.  Form into a ball, place in a large, oiled bowl and cover with a cloth.  Leave to stand in the kitchen, away from draughts, for an hour or until the dough has at least doubled in size.

When the dough has risen, cut it into four equal parts.  Form into round bread roll shapes and, with a sharp knife, score in the typical pan bagnat criss-crossed style as shown in the photos above.  Flour two baking trays and place two rolls on each – make sure they are well spread out on the tray as they will expand further.  Leave again, covered, for another hour.  After half an hour, pre-heat your oven to 220°C.

After an hour, the rolls should have risen considerably.  Sprinkle them with flour and place them in the oven.  Bake for 12 minutes or until nicely browned on the top.  Cool, assemble and enjoy…..


La Fougasserie, Nice

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A cousin of the Ligurian focaccia, which is also known as fugassa over there, fougasse is a provençal loaf easily recognised by the slashes cut through it prior to baking.   Back in August, after a mooch round the beautiful Cours Saleya food and flower market in Vieux Nice, we went in search of a bakery I had heard good things about whose name called out to me – La Fougasserie.   Heading off down the rue de la Poissonnerie, a narrow, old town alley just off the market square, we found bread heaven at No. 5.  It was approaching lunchtime as we arrived and the olive fougasse which I had really set my heart on had sold out, but no matter.  There were still ample stocks of plain fougasse with a tempting range of other breads and sweet treats.  And don’t get me started on the pan bagnat!  Business, unsurprisingly, was brisk at La Fougasserie.

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As much as we enjoyed the plain fougasse, and we did hugely, the craving for olive fougasse just wouldn’t subside so back home in the UK I had a go myself.  What I love most about fougasse is that it’s common to add all sorts of delicious, chopped-up extras to the dough.  Olives and herbs are perhaps seen most widely, but sundried tomatoes, ham and cheese work well too.  In my recipe, I’ve grated a little gruyère cheese and folded it into the dough with the olives, and this seems to make for another of those ‘don’t blink or it’ll all be gone’ snacks that won’t hang around for long in my house.  With that in mind, you’ll be relieved to know that this bread is great for part-baking, freezing and bringing out another day for the final bake.  All the details are below.

Olive and Gruyère Fougasse

Makes two loaves

A note on flour types: You can use strong white bread flour although experiments using 00 pasta flour have been pretty successful too.  To make a more rustic loaf I have mixed stoneground spelt flour with white bread flour (half and half) for a slightly heavier texture.

500g flour of your choice
12g dried yeast
5g salt
50ml extra virgin olive oil
280ml warm water
100g gruyere cheese (or parmesan), grated
Two large handful of black olives, roughly chopped

In a bowl (or a food mixer with a dough hook) combine the flour, yeast, salt, olive oil and water.  Knead the dough for ten minutes until it is smooth, elastic and non-sticky.  If using a mixer, follow the machine’s instructions for making bread dough.  Place the dough  in an oiled bowl covered with a cloth and leave it in the kitchen for an hour to prove by which time it should have doubled in size.

Put the dough on a lightly floured surface or board and cut it in half.  Roll each dough out to around 20cm by 15cm and sprinkle each one with half of the chopped black olives, but leave a few to decorate the top of the loaves.  Press the olives into the dough.  Fold a third of the dough over into the middle and then fold in the other third to cover it so that all the olives are contained within the dough.  Roll out again to 20cm by 15cm and repeat the same procedure for the cheese, using all of it this time as none is required for decoration.

Roll each piece of dough out to approximately 30cm to 20cm but try to taper the top end of the loaves so that one end is thinner than the other in the typical fougasse style – see the photos below.

Slash the loaves down the middle and in smaller diagonal cuts fanning out from the centre – again see the photos below.  You should cut right through the dough when making these incisions.

Stud the dough with the remaining chopped olives and place each loaf on a floured baking tray, cover with a cloth and leave to prove for a further 30 minutes.  Turn the oven on to the maximum setting – 220°C.

Uncover the loaves, sprinkle them with flour and bake, one at a time, in the oven for 15 minutes or until lightly browned on the top.  Reduce the baking time to 8 minutes if you plan to freeze the loaves, allow them to cool then place in the freezer in plastic freezer bags.  Cook from frozen at 200°C for 10-12 minutes.

Enjoy! In our house, we love to cut slices of the bread and dip them in a bowl of extra virgin olive oil – provençal of course!



Wednesday’s Wine: Reporting from the Riviera (part 2)

AltaviapicThe second tasting of our recent trip to the Riviera saw us heading up another steep hillside, this time on the Italian side of the border and high above the medieval town of Dolceacqua.  Altavia Vineyard has been going for eight years, producing the local wine, Rossese di Dolceacqua, and experimenting with grapes from further afield very successfully.

We had tasted the Rossese di Dolceacqua at home in the 2009 vintage and you can see my post on that wine here.  In situ, we tried the 2010 which was much lighter in body and our charming and knowledgable host, Chiara, told us about the local dish of rabbit, coniglio in Italian, cooked with Rossese wine. We wished we could have stopped in the restaurant she recommended down in the town which had this speciality on the menu, but we had to give in to a most persuasive argument from our children who favoured the pizzeria nextdoor. Hopefully there will be a next time.

We loved Altavia’s white wine, Noname 2013so called because they simply couldn’t come up with a name for it.  It’s an exciting blend of the widely-grown local Vermentino grape, and the meatier Rhône grape, Viognier. With herby, aromatic and citrus flavours from the former and an added floral, zingy dimension from the French grape, the resulting wine is ideal for pairing with punchy seafood dishes, perhaps featuring a hint of chilli and spice.

Amongst the reds, we were intrigued by the recently-bottled Touriga Nacional, a grape associated with Portugal and port wine with its propensity to add structure and concentrated flavour and this 2005 single varietal is proof in point. Big, bold, black fruit dominates, but the tannins have softened sufficiently to make it just the thing to go with a hearty winter casserole or roast, preferably in January and not too far from a roaring log fire.


The tasting room at Altavia looks out over the valley with the same idyllic views as can be witnessed from two stone holiday villas on  the property which are available for summer rentals.  Located in the olive groves with vines on all sides and sharing a swimming pool, they offer true get-away-from-it-all stuff.  For more information, check out the Altavia website.

Some of the Altavia wine range is available to buy in the UK at Red Squirrel Wines and the vineyard has an online shop. I was keen to buy some bottles from the cellar door and, despite much muttering from my husband about having to leave a child behind on the Riviera, I did squeeze a case selection into our boot together with some of the property’s extra virgin olive oil made from their own taggiasca olives.  Now being tasted in Dorset!

Wednesday’s Wine: Reporting from the Riviera (part 1)

IMG_20140819_165126 (2)As you may have gathered, we spent some time on the Riviera last week and before leaving home I had booked in visits to a couple of my favourite vineyards.  Cue much yawning from the children.  So this Wednesday’s Wine post describes how we got on at Saint Roman de Bellet, in the hills above Nice, and I’ll tell you about our second wine tasting in Dolceacqua, a few miles inland from Ventimiglia, in a forthcoming post.

The wine area of Bellet is a small one with ten producers making wines from only 60 hectares of vines.  Much of the wine produced is consumed in the finer restaurants of Nice, but my local wine merchant here in the UK, Yapp Brothers, imports the wines of Domaine de la Source and I have come to know and love the red, white and rosé from this vineyard, made predominantly with grapes found only in Bellet itself.

Carine and Eric Dalmasso gave us a wonderful welcome and took us into the vines which slope down the hillsides with the most idyllic views across the valley. The Braquet grapes for the rosé already had a gorgeous light red hue and looked plump and ready to pick although Eric explained that the harvest would probably start in mid-September for the rosé and white Rolle grapes, and that the Folle Noir and Grenache for the red wine might be picked as late as early October.

After a quick peek at the cave, a tasting followed in the garden, complete with trampoline to keep the kids entertained. In the heat of the late afternoon with a gentle breeze and incredible light on the hills, we tasted through two vintages of rosé (2012 and 2013).  Carine told us that the later vintage made a great aperitif whilst the 2012 was probably at its best when paired with seafood and niçois dishes.   The 2013 Rolle (white) was so refreshing, dominated by grapefruit and distinct mineral nuances, that I could just imagine it being sipped delicately in a fancy fish restaurant down in the Nice port area, accompanied by a plate of oysters or langoustines.  We rounded off the wine element of the tasting with the 2011 red which was full of warmth and sunshine, mid-weight and well-suited to heartier dishes based on mushrooms or game.  Drinking well now, it will age gracefully over another ten years our hosts explained.  We also had a sneak preview of the 2012 red which was due to go on sale three days after our visit.  The reds are matured for some eighteen months in barrel before bottling, and the oak is so subtle and well-integrated leaving the flavours spicy flavours with cherries and liquorice to the fore.

Our tasting also included the domaine’s extra virgin olive oil made from the Cailletier olives grown on eighty olive trees that are scattered around the estate.  The oil and the olives have been awarded Appellation d’Origine Protegée  status under the AOP Olive de Nice et Huile d’olive de Nice for products that meet the grade anywhere from Grasse to Menton, on the coast or up in the mountains.  The Dalmasso oil was delicate and soft with almond and artichoke flavours, followed by a strong kick of pepper on the finish.   Carine also makes a range of four preserves using fruit and olives grown at the domaine and sells them to calling customers.  The black olive paste and the lemon confit were my favourites, but she also makes preserves using figs and oranges which went down well with those in our group who have a sweeter tooth.  I loved the fact that the ingredients had travelled virtually no distance at all and that you could taste a definite burst of sunshine in each of the four varieties. This diversification from the main wine-growing activities seems like clever business.

To meet Carine and Eric, to see the vines, the cave and to taste the unique wines made on this beautiful estate was a great pleasure and I heartily recommend Domaine de la Source to you.   We headed off back down the hill towards Nice, but not before swinging by the entrance to the domaine a couple more times, the satnav having become rather confusing.  I can only hope our hosts didn’t spot the mad English people getting spectacularly lost in the hills.

Domaine de la Source
303, chemin de Saquier
Saint Roman de Bellet
06200 NICE

Open daily from 10am to 7pm without appointment.


Ventimiglia Market

IMG_20140822_112219The Friday market in the Riviera border town of Ventimiglia is quite a sight to behold, but if there were one piece of advice I would give you, particularly in August, it would be this:  go on the train.  We enjoyed a beautiful drive along the coast road from Roquebrune Cap Martin, passing through Menton, where we paused for a moment to gaze at the view that heads this blog, before sailing over the border into Italy to be greeted by more glorious glimpses of the Med. Ventimiglia itself, by contrast, was gridlocked.

Fortunately, my husband and son bravely agreed to battle through the traffic to find a parking spot while my daughter and I disappeared into the crowds and quickly browsed perhaps a kilometre of stalls along the seafront which were selling mostly shoes, clothes and bags.  A tiny section of stalls on this stretch were piled high with pasta of assorted colours, huge hunks of parmesan, hams, salamis and olive oil based preserves.  But this was not the Ventimiglia market we were looking for, so we headed back into town to seek out the covered food, vegetable and flower market (fish too) on Via Roma.  We stopped briefly en route to pick up some slabs of pizza (tomato & anchovy and my favourite, gorgonzola) at La Boutique del Pane Mondino, also on Via Roma – no. 38.  Their focaccia and farinata (chickpea pancake) are definitely worth a try if the awaiting crowd – I won’t call it a queue, we’re in Italy here – was anything to go by.

At the covered market, the boys finally joined us and we spent a happy half hour wandering through the cornucopia of fresh produce. The market was bustling; it almost exploded with colour; it was noisy with chatter, and money was changing hands for beautifully wrapped bundles of the highest quality baked and fresh goods.

After much debate we settled on two types of focaccia (olive oil and cipolla – onion), a ball of burrata wrapped in vine leaves (a mozzarella-like cheese that is unctuously gooey in the middle), and some gorgeous little ravioli, one box filled with salmon, the other with rabbit.  With the pizza we’d bought earlier, that was lunch and supper sorted and supper for the next day too, all for around €32 for four people.  Had we not been heading north the following day, I would have added fresh artichokes and borlotti beans to the basket and hunted out some recipes from my Riviera cookbook collection.

And so to lunch which was contemplated with greedy anticipation on the way home in the car. We enjoyed it slowly with a view of the Med and a bottle of rosé.  Siestas soon followed.  By the pool.




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Baby broad beans, goat’s cheese and gremolata

IMG_20140807_175651Greetings from Burgundy, our home for a week or so before we head south to the Riviera.  It’s fantastic to be here, don’t get me wrong, but strangely for such a Francophile my departure from Dorset was tinged with some regret because the garden in the UK was suddenly awash with ripening veggies much earlier than expected.  Our friends who have kindly agreed to keep the plot going while we are away will certainly be ‘picking their own’, but their bounty will not include the broad beans from the dwarf plants I have been tending with care these past months.  I harvested those and brought them with me.  I couldn’t resist.

I’d been watching the beautiful, green pods emerging for a few weeks, wondering whether our summer holidays might clash with their ripening so it’s fair to say that I probably picked them a little too soon.  They are undoubtedly baby broad beans.  Recipe ideas from the Riviera for these delicious pearls of goodness are numerous, and I have gone for something that shouts summer: baby broad bean bruschetta with fresh, Burgundy goat’s cheese, – Baratte made near Macôn – and basil gremolata.  It goes down a treat with a glass of Bourgogne Aligoté, a fresh, simple, dry white wine with lots of citrus going on and well-suited to the kick of the garlicky gremolata which itself makes a great contrast to the ‘meaty’ broad beans. Give it a go and, by the way, there’ll be more on the wines from round here in next week’s Wednesday’s Wine post.

Baby broad beans, goat’s cheese & basil gremolata (on toast)
Makes enough for two as a light meal or for four people as canapés

120 g podded broad beans
50g fresh, young goat’s cheese
A few slices of country bread
The leaves from 4 large sprigs of basil
Extra virgin olive oil for mixing and drizzling
1 lemon
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste

Put the broad beans in a saucepan of water and bring to the boil.  Turn the heat down and continue cooking for a minute or so until the beans are softened but still have a little ‘crunch’ when you poke them with a knife.

Meanwhile, zest the lemon, finely chop the basil and crush the clove of garlic. Mix these ingredients together with salt to taste – this is your gremolata.

Drain the beans and refresh in cold water then peel off the outer skins.  Mash them roughly with a little extra virgin olive oil and the juice of the lemon then set aside.

Cut four slices of medium-sized country bread and toast.  Leave to cool slightly.  Cut into your desired size depending on whether this is lunch or pre-dinner nibble nosh.

Spread the toast with the goat’s cheese, top with the crushed broad beans and sprinkle over some gremolata.

Finally, a teeny drizzle of extra virgin olive oil wouldn’t go amiss.

I hope you enjoy this taste of summer. Mozarella, fresh ricotta or feta would be good cheeses to match with the broad beans in the absence of fresh goat’s cheese.




A rather English pesto

IMG_20140718_150045These last two summers I have successfully grown watercress from seed in large tubs at home, starting the crop in the greenhouse and then moving it outside once the threat of a late Dorset frost has passed in May.  When I first mentioned to friends and family that I was experimenting with this tangy, peppery green leaf, there was much raising of eyebrows and several snorts of derision.  Watercress? In the garden of a country home? Doesn’t watercress need meadows and constant running water?

Well if my experience is anything to go by the answer to those questions is a resounding ‘NO’, but in the early stages I was inclined to think that these doubting Thomases might be right.  For weeks after sowing the seed nothing happened.  Finally a few specks of green appeared in the tubs, but I managed to convince myself that they were probably weeds.  By July, however, a healthy crop of strong-tasting watercress was flourishing and replacing itself quickly after initial pickings.  Admittedly my homegrown watercress does need constant watering, but this is a small price to pay for fresh, peppery salads, and the surprise on friends’ faces when presented with a pot of homegrown watercress pesto.  My 14-year-old daughter, chief pesto taster and aficionado, claims it to be the best pesto I’ve made and I make a lot, be assured.

My recipe is below.  We love to drizzle it over roasted salmon, but our most recent discovery is to boil a few new potatoes, toss them in a generous spoonful of watercress pesto, and top this mouthwatering mixture with a few freshly podded peas to finish.  This warm potato and pesto salad idea comes courtesy of my cousin Belinda who told me about her potato and mint pesto salad – another delicious, summer combo that we shall soon be trying.

Watercress Pesto

50g watercress, thick stalks removed
25g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
20g pecorino romano, finely grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
A pinch of salt 100ml extra virgin olive oil

Place 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.