When I travel, I like to try local specialties. It’s just part of the fun of eating and drinking in other countries. But learning about different foods and experiencing them is also a huge part of becoming a better cook.

I’ve had haggis in Scotland (a bit bland), banana beer in Rwanda (terrible), conch in the Cayman Islands (incredible.) Two foods I’ve refused to try were Casu Marzu in Corsica, a cheese covered in live maggots, and red-sauced, still-moving snails in Spain.

I’ll probably never eat fried spiders, grilled grasshoppers, and definitely not barbecued guinea pigs. So I guess I’m not the most adventurous when in comes to experiencing local food, but I do my best.

In the fall of 2015, my husband and I traveled to France, to begin a magical two-week road trip. Our guide was the incomparable Stéphane Gabart, from the blog My French Heaven. This was my third time visiting him. He knows and loves France, and he has great passion for French food and wine. He’s a professional chef, photographer, he’s really funny, and best of all, he’s my friend.


On this trip we traveled throughout Provence, stopping in quaint villages. Stéphane planned lunch in Castelnaudary, just so we could experience authentic cassoulet. And when we reached le Côte d’Azur, we enjoyed traditional bouillabaise in Cassis. In Avignon, I ordered pieds paquets, or veal toes, after treating myself to snails (the kind that are not alive).

Before leaving Nice to return home, I wanted to try a local specialty socca. I must have seen it in a cookbook, but had no idea what to expect. I expected socca to look more like cornbread, but it was more crêpe-like.

What makes socca different is that it’s made with garbanzo bean flour and not wheat flour.

The restaurant where we lunched in vieux Nice is at the left of the plaza.


At our final lunch together, I ordered socca with a Salade Niçoise and this is what it looked like.


Just for fun, I thought I should recreate socca at home. I am using a recipe from the blog Foodie Underground, written by Anna Brones.


Mine don’t look quite the same as what I had in Nice, but they were good!

Here’s what I did.

Makes 8 – 6″ in diameter

1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup garbanzo bean/chick pea flour
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon salt

This is the garbanzo bean flour I used for the socca.

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk well.


At this point, the batter is watery. Cover with a dish towel and put the bowl in the refrigerator for one hour minimum. The batter will thicken, but still be a “thin” batter.


Lightly oil a large round flat skillet. I used my Le Creuset crêpe pan that came with a little wooden tool. I’ve never used it for crêpes, just flatbreads!


Turn the heat to high. When the oil is smoking, gently pour a scant 1/3 cup of the batter onto the skillet, much as you would a crêpe.

The high heat really grabs the batter. You can see little holes forming around the edges.

Wait just until the middle of the socca has firmed up, then flip it over. To best assist with flipping the socca, I used a giant spatula that I usually only use for moving pastry. It’s really thin.


Flip over and cook for just about 30 seconds. This one got a little too browned on the first side.


While still warm, I folded the socca into quarters. My French socca were definitely more pliable than these.


To serve with the socca, I put together a green salad with some fun goodies.


The vinaigrette is a creamy lemon and parsley.


The socca were fantastic. I really loved the flavor of the Herbes de Provence.


Other recipes for socca list cumin or rosemary.


I’ve also seen recipes for socca that are thicker and cooked in the oven, served in wedges. I’m definitely going to experiment more because there is obviously more than one way to make socca. Plus, there are Ligurian recipes for the Italian version, called farinata, which makes sense since Liguria is so close to Nice.


Notice the lacy look of my socca.

The taste is really lovely, and there was no bitterness from the garbanzo bean flour. Their look is so-so, but I’d definitely make these unique pancakes again!

If you’re interested, check out highlights of our trip here Je Ne Regrette Rien.

Croxetti with Smoked Salmon


Last April when my husband and I visited New York City for my birthday, we went to Eataly. I could have spent much more time there, but my “other half” has limited patience shopping. We checked out the whole place, which requires a map if you want to do it in an orderly fashion, and then ate an incredible lunch.

My husband convinced me to shop online at instead of dragging groceries back home in my suitcase. In retrospect I think it was a trick to keep me from really shopping, but nonetheless I did grab a few Italian goodies.

One was Croxetti, a beautiful embossed pasta that I’d never seen before. I have since learned that the spelling can vary, but these “pendants” are Ligurian in origin.

Over the many years of Croxetti development, the “traditional” designs have varied. The following photo is an example of a wooden stamp used for embossing, taken from the blog A Path To Lunch.


I highly recommend reading the blog post I highlighted above. The blog’s authors, Martha and Mike, describe and photograph a meeting with the craftsman Mr. Pietro Picetti, who custom designs croxetti stamps in his workshop in Varese Ligure, Liguria.


For the croxetti, I chose a light cream sauce with smoked salmon, hoping it would be a delicate enough sauce to not destroy the integrity of these delicate pasta discs once cooked.

No real recipe is required. The pasta is cooked according to the package directions.

I sautéed a few minced garlic cloves in hot olive oil, just for a few seconds, then added cream to the pot. Pour enough in the pot to lightly coat the pasta, about 12 ounces of cream for the 1.1 pound of croxetti.


Julienne thin sliced of smoked salmon or lox, and add them to the cream. Heat through.


Gently add the drained pasta discs to the cream and let sit, stirring once or twice as necessary to allow the cream sauce to coat the croxetti and get absorbed.


Serve warm and sprinkle with capers, if desired.


If you would prefer a thicker sauce, consider adding a little Marscapone or ricotta to the cream.
Other options for this simple recipe would be to use butter instead of olive oil, and one could include clam juice with the cream for a fishier yet less rich sauce. Also, lemon zest would be a nice touch.


If you happened to have fresh dill, a few leaves would be pretty on the pasta, but I only had dried dill leaves.


The croxetti actually didn’t end up being as delicate as I assumed they would be. Of course I treated them gently as well. They were really fun to eat!




Last September 22nd, right after I began my blog, I posted on pesto. I called the post summer pesto, which is a bit silly, because when else would you make pesto?!!

Pesto is such a huge deal in my house. Mostly because my husband could eat it on ice cream, practically. But for me as the cook of the two of us, it’s just so extremely versatile. This basil and garlic flavored emerald-colored paste can be added to soups, breads, meat or seafood, salad dressings, and so many other dishes.

The only thing is, you have to make it. I know you can buy prepared pesto, but it’s expensive and I think home made is better.

Now, I’m not going to talk about making pesto using herbs other than basil, and nuts other than pine nuts. So every one can just relax. (However, those “others” are fun, too!)

I’m talking about making traditional Genovese basil pesto that’s from the Ligurian region of Italy where basil grows in abundance. I’ve always heard that the best pesto is made only from the baby basil leaves, but I use the larger ones as well, as long as they’re not “leathery.” I will also de-stem the basil leaves, if necessary, like I do with larger, tougher spinach leaves.

The only other thing I do when I make huge amounts of pesto is not add cheese. Don’t panic. When I use pesto in a dish, I will add the cheese then. But omitting it when I make a large batch of pesto saves space. Plus, I’ve always heard that it freezes better without the cheese. Besides, when you’re making your dish, you can add as much Parmesan as you want. With pre-made pesto, you’re more limited.

So every summer I spend many different days when the basil plants are flourishing and make pesto. I didn’t even realize until I was in the freezer today that I’m down to five jars! That’s absolutely horrifying! I must get busy!!!
So here’s my recipe for basil pesto, when you have an abundance of basil leaves. There’s no exact recipe, and you’re welcome to alter it to your own tastes.


4 ounces of pine nuts
Approximately 10 ounces of good olive oil
2 heads garlic, peeled
Basil leaves – a giant arm full of branches, spiders removed

Firstly, place the pine nuts in a skillet over high heat. Shaking the pan as it heats up, brown or toast the pine nuts. This step isn’t in traditional pesto, but I prefer the flavor of toasted nuts, in pesto and otherwise.

Watch the skillet carefully – the pine nuts will toast before your eyes.

before toasting

before toasting

The toasting takes only about 2 minutes.
after toasting

after toasting

Then place the pine nuts in the larger size jar of a blender. Give them a few minutes to cool off, then add the olive oil and garlic cloves.

Blend until smooth. This step will assure that there will be no bits of garlic or nuts in your pesto.

before blending

before blending

Because once you start adding the basil leaves to the mixture, it will get more difficult to blend.
after blending

after blending

Then, add a blender full of basil leaves.


And blend the mixture to incorporate the leaves.


Repeat. Continue adding basil leaves and blending until the mixture gets nice and thick. Scrape down the sides as necessary with a rubber spatula. When the is ready, pour it into sterilized jars.


Cover and freeze. They will stay good for at least one year. Thaw in the refrigerator as necessary. The color of the pesto will darken a bit due to oxidation at the top, so if you want to prevent this, just pour a little oil on the top to completely cover the pesto. Then it will stay green and fresh.

Remember that this version of pesto is very condensed. You don’t need to use as much. All you do is add cheese.

And by the way. With the second batch of pine nuts, I made a pesto that included parsley and 4 fresh jalapenos. Seeds and all. Awesome!!!