(Photograph: Andy Sewell)

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A few weeks ago I idly suggested that the splendid Ligurian torta pasqualina might have arrived from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, as a result of Phoenician trading. I got it in the neck for that. A learned Madrileño took me to task: apparently most of Spain is littered with various tortas, most of them with cheese, many with spinach and all with a filo topping.

And did I know that I had made the same mistake as many others, thinking America was discovered by the Genoese? I might as well have said that the moon was walked upon by the people of Cincinnati because that was Neil Armstrong’s home town.

I stand corrected, Professor López. He went on to write, explaining the ubiquity of certain Mediterranean foods, “In Spain we have a saying: ‘In all the lands of the chickpeas ...’” He has a point: chickpeas are the common denominator whether you are munching garbanzos in Valencia, couscous and chickpeas in Tangier, socca in Nice, pasta e ceci in Tuscany, falafel or hummus just about everywhere else. I had better stop there before the professor fires off another missive.

The socca in Nice is great fun and I had thought it unique. If I had listened to the prof I would have known that unique is a rare commodity.The delivery, on the back of a bike into the market, is theatrical and fun. Should it still be hot and crisp, a few mouthfuls are just the thing after a morning’s shopping.

However, I prefer the Tuscan equivalent, a bit thicker and served as part of a range of antipasti. Some cured meat and salami are an essential part of this meal. I have served it with French beans but I might have roasted and peeled some peppers, stewed some chard or cicoria or just cut up a few tomatoes. I won’t risk conjecturing who made a chickpea pancake first .


Call it chickpea bread or a pancake: it tastes the same. Serves 8 as part of antipasti.

250gchickpea flour
1 litre water
100ml olive oil
1 sprig of rosemary
1 clove garlic
  1. Sieve flour into a mixing bowl and add a teaspoon of fine table salt. Slowly add the water, whisking well as you do so. Add 75ml of the olive oil and continue to whisk until you ensure a smooth paste. The dough will seem very wet.
  2. Warm a large frying pan with the remaining olive oil, the peeled and smashed clove of garlic and the sprig of rosemary. Without allowing the oil to get too hot, let the garlic infuse the oil for five minutes before removing it and the rosemary.
  3. Turn up the heat, pour in the batter and let it cook on a steady to moderate heat for five minutes. Place the pan under a hot grill to set the top and then invert the pancake on to a plate and turn it back into the pan to cook for a couple more minutes. Turn it out on to a board and let rest for a minute. Sprinkle with a little flaked sea salt before cutting into wedges.

French bean salad

Only worth doing when the beans are genuinely fine and will snap in your fingers.

1 kgFrench beans
1 tsp mustard
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 tbs white wine vinegar
3 tbs olive oil
2 large shallots
  1. Top and tail (please don’t leave those nasty little tails on) the beans. Drop them into a large pot of boiling, salted water and cook on a good boil, uncovered for two or three minutes. The beans should be bright green, still firm but have lost any starchiness.Drain them quickly and refresh them in cold water.
  2. Whisk together the mustard, salt, pepper and vinegar before adding the olive oil to produce an emulsified vinaigrette. Peel and slice the shallots very thinly. Toss the beans in the vinaigrette and sprinkle the shallots over.

Rowley’s drinking choice

I’m looking forward to long, lazy lunches in Italy this year, washed down with some fresh, zesty white Orvieto.

Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais

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