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 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.


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