Florence style chicken thighs


Florence style chicken thigs

Why Florence? Because one of the main ingredients in this care-free one-pot dish is white beans and people in Florence and Tuscany have been famous bean eaters. Beans are heart-healthy carbohydrates which also contain vegetable protein, help to keep an even blood sugar and are basic ingredients in the Mediterranean Diet.

Dried white beans need to be soaked overnight in a generous amount of water. Next morning, drain the beans and discard the soaking water. Cook them in fresh water without salt for about 1 hour, maybe even longer, adding more water if needed. Cooking time depends on the size and age of the beans so after 45 minutes start testing the beans. They need to be very tender but not falling apart. When the beans are done, drain them and discard the cooking water.

This is a time-consuming process but cooked beans can be frozen in batches. Of course, you can use tinned high-quality cooked beans. Just rinse them under running water before using.

2 servings

4 organic chicken thighs with skin

Olive oil

½ medium onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp. Provençal herbs

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp. from a chicken stock cube

150 ml white wine

2 tbsp. concentrated Italian tomato paste

2 tbsp. black olives, pitted and halved

2 handfuls of sliced mushrooms

About 250 ml cooked white beans

Chopped parsley or rocket to decorate

Warm 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat in a heavy casserole, such as Le Creuset, and sauté the chicken thighs on both sides until golden brown. Add the onion and garlic and continue sautéing for a few minutes. 

Warm 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat in a large frying an and cook the mushrooms until nicely coloured.

Preheat the oven to 200° C roast.

Pour the white wine in Le Creuset. Add the piece of chicken stock cube, tomato paste, herbs, and black pepper and stir into a sauce.  Bring to a boil.

Add the beans and mushrooms to Le Creuset. Then transfer the casserole to the oven and roast for 30- 45 minutes checking occasionally that there is enough liquid. Add a little water if needed.

Add the olives to Le Creuset after removing from the oven. Divide on the plates and decorate with fresh herbs.


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Tomato Courgette gratin

Tomato courgette gratin

Many years ago, they still often served vegetable gratins in small individual dishes in beach restaurants on the French Riviera. Nowadays you are more likely to find hamburgers on the menus.

These traditional Provençal vegetable gratins are easy to make, look beautiful in see-through Pyrex dishes and go very well with simple chicken, meat or fish dishes. In the image, they are served with sautéed chicken cuts and potatoes. Simple summer cooking!

2 servings

1 small courgette
Olive oil
1 medium firm tomato
2 eggs
1 tbsp. crème fraîche, 15% fat
1 tsp. organic tomato sauce
2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180° C, convection mode.

Wash a few basil leaves under running water and let dry on kitchen paper before chopping.

Warm a little olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Wash and thinly slice the courgette. Sauté the slices for 5- 10 minutes.

Wash and slice the tomato. Place the slices in a colander to remove the extra liquid.

In a bowl, whip together the eggs, tomato sauce, crème fraîche, black pepper, chopped basil, and a pinch of salt.

Oil 2 small see-through Pyrex gratin dishes and pace the courgette and tomato slices in layers. Pour over the egg mixture and bake for about 25 minutes until the eggs are set. Serve in their individual dishes.


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Smoked salmon with leeks and green beans

Smoked salmon with leeks and green beans


This simple sauté makes a nice warm lunch during colder days when we are still dreaming about summer. Serve with some good whole wheat or rye bread and a green side salad for a balanced meal.

2 servings

2 leeks

2 handfuls of frozen green beans

1 bouquet garni or a sprig of thyme

2 tbsp. olive oil

100 ml vegetable stock

1 tbsp. grainy mustard, moutarde à l’ancienne

Freshly ground black pepper

120 g smoked Alaska salmon

Wash the leeks and discard the tough upper parts. Cut them into about 15 cm long parts, then halve lengthwise.

Warm olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan. Sauté the leeks for about 5 minutes. Add the green beans and bouquet garni. Stir the mustard in the vegetable stock and add to the pan. Continue cooking for about 8 minutes until the stock has almost evaporated.

Cut the salmon into pieces and divide on top. Grind over some black pepper and serve warm.


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Beuil: Hike around Pin Pourri

Beuil and Mont Mounier

You will find many grassy and soft hiking trails around Beuil, in the upper Cians River Valley. We wanted to explore the trails east of the village, in particular Mount Pin Pourri (1826 m) which is located half way between Beuil and Roubion, another small ski resort.

We were inspired by the route described in another blog and first followed this itinerary.

We drove to Beuil (75 km from Nice) along the D28 road and parked just below the village where a narrow and paved road forked right to the hamlet and chapel of St-Ginié on the other side of River Cians. The original description advised to park there, near the chapel but there is very little space if any.

We located signpost #59 and followed instructions to a place called Liberture. After a short ascent to signpost #60 (la Moute, farmhouse, cows) we turned east, and climbed along a dirt track for just about 200 m. Our trail then forked sharply left along another dirt track as far as to a barn. We then continued the ascent along a path on a grassy slope. There were fading yellow markings here and there. In places, it was a bit hard to see the trail. Apparently, it was not one of the main hiking arteries! We reached signposts #63 and 64 next to Liberture (ruined houses, a chapel a bit lower).

Just after Liberture, the grassy southwestern slope of Pin Pourri became visible. We started to ascend along it to the summit. However, after a while we observed a big flock of lambs plus dogs guarding them. Not wanting to disturb them, we turned right and decided to circle the mountain instead.

We descended back to the marked trail and followed it to signpost#65, a place named les Compès. It was a crossroads of some trails and dirt tracks. We took the dirt track that ran along the eastern flank of Pin Pourri in the woods, then ascended to Col de la Couillole by the D30 road.

From here, we took the GR 52A trail which descended rapidly, first following the road. The trail went right through a cattle pasture area. This part of the trail was wet, trodden by cows. Having negotiated the pasture, the trail became nice and we descended back to signpost #59.

Climb: 450 m

Distance: 10,5 km      

Duration: 3h 50 active

IGN Map: Haut Cians Valberg 3640 OT

The map below shows our actual route in green, the planned shortcut in red. We have used the iPhiGénie mobile app.

Pin Pourri trail track


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Steak au poivre à la Tour Eiffel

Steak au poivre à la Tour Eiffel

This is a festive pepper steak recipe for special occasions inspired by a newsclip on the French morning TV Télématin. They showed how the famous Tour Eiffel pepper steaks were prepared by their restaurant chef. He gently cooked the fillet steaks on one side only in a heavy casserole, then made the sauce from stock and cream in the same casserole while the steaks were kept warm on a plate. The steaks were reheated in the sauce. There was no pepper in the sauce but the upper side of the steaks was generously peppered.

The following pepper steak recipe is my twist. As we are used to cook the steaks on both sides, we did so but gently over medium heat. I added a little Italian truffle flavoured balsamic glaze in the sauce to intensify the mushroom flavour as I served the steaks with fried mushrooms and roasted tomato halves.

2 servings

2 fillet steaks, about 3 cm thick

Olive oil

150 ml chicken stock

120 ml full- fat cream, 30% fat

2 tsp. Italian truffle flavoured balsamic glaze

Freshly ground black pepper

About 2 handfuls sliced mushrooms

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tomato, halved

2 tsp. breadcrumbs

Chopped parsley or rocket to decorate

Warm 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and fry the mushrooms with garlic until nicely coloured. Then turn the heat to very low to keep warm.

Cook the chicken stock in a small sauce pan until reduced by about half. Keep warm.

Preheat the oven to 200°C roast. Spread 1 tsp. breadcrumbs over each tomato half and sprinkle some olive oil over them. Roast in the oven for about 15- 20 minutes until nicely coloured.

Warm 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat in a heavy steel frying pan and cook the steaks for 3 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

Pour the reduced stock in the pan, followed by the cream. Let the cream reduce a little, then stir in the balsamic glaze.

Divide the tomatoes, mushrooms, and the sauce on the plates. Place the steaks on top of the sauce and grind over a generous amount of black pepper. Decorate the vegetables with chopped herbs and voilà!


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Spaghetti with zucchini, shrimps and capers

Spaghetti with zucchini, shrimps and capers

This simple but tasty pasta dish is perfect when you want the dinner quickly on the table.

2 servings

1-2 zucchinis
About 200 g cooked shrimp, peeled and cleaned
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. capers
Olive oil
50 ml white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. dried parsley
A handful of grated parmesan
Spaghetti for 2 servings

Wash and thinly slice the zucchini. Cut the slices in half.

In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add the zucchini, garlic, and dried parsley and toss well. Add the white wine and black pepper, cover and reduce the heat to simmering. Stir now and hen. The zucchini is cooked in 10 minutes. Then add the shrimp and capers for a minute or two to be reheated.

Meanwhile cook the spaghetti until al dente. Drain the pasta, add to the sauté pan and stir.

Remove the pan from the heat and toss in the parmesan.


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Mont Gros above Sospel

Bunker at eastern summit of Mont Gros

Situated north east of Sospel, Mont Gros (1272 m) can be easily reached along hiking trails from Col de Brouis by the D2204 road (879 m).

Several bunkers on Mont Gros remind us of its military history. Built between 1931 and 1935 as part of the Maginot line, it was allegedly the most expensive fortification in south east France. The only battle where Mont Gros was involved in took place in June 1940, against the approaching Italian troops. The French withdrew from the fortification in July 1940.

The two summits mark the south-eastern point of the Mercantour National Park. The southernmost fir tree forest of the Alps covers the northern flank (inside the park) of Mont Gros.

We drove through Sospel and took the D2204 road towards Breil-sur-Roya. We parked at Col de Brouis next to our trailhead, and walked back 100 m to signpost #124. We forked right and walked first along a dirt track, passing a ruined garrison. Following yellow markings, we came to signpost #125 bordering the Mercantour Park. We then ascended continuously in the woods as far as to Baisse de Levens (1068 m), and a crossroads at signpost #139. The trail that forked right went to Mangiabo (1821 m); we took the opposite direction (east) and ascended gently along a trail that ran along the northern flank of Mont Gros in the fir-tree forest.

We emerged from the forest and reached signpost #138 on a grassy ridge, turned south and climbed steeply towards the mountaintop. The views from the ridge were excellent, notably towards Sospel, the Bévéra River Valley and the coastal mountains.

We passed the first bunker just before the summit. We climbed to the eastern summit (1266 m), above some bunkers and turrets. We had the best views from here. Continuing southwest, we passed several concrete structures, and climbed to the western summit (1272 m). In spite of being the highest point, it was less impressive. We explored the area a bit more after our picnic break, then descended back along the same trail.

Duration: 3h 30 active

Distance: 8,8 km

Climb: 430 m

Map: IGN TOP 25 N°o 25 “Vallées de la Bévéra et des Paillons” 3741 ET

Mont Gros trail track


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Risotto with butternut squash and duck breast


Risotto with butternut squash and duck breast

This is a great recipe in autumn and winter when butternut is in season. Roasting gives butternut a nice sweetness which goes well with duck breast.

The Moroccan spice mixture Ras el Hanout adds an exotic twist to roasted butternut. If you cannot find Ras el Hanout in your shops, it is easy to make by mixing ground turmeric, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger, black pepper, and chili powder.

Roasted butternut cubes can be replaced by fried mushrooms; another great autumnal vegetable.

2 servings

1 duck breast, magret

For the roasted butternut:

About 2 handfuls of butternut cubes

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. Ras el Hanout

For the risotto:

120 ml risotto rice

120 ml white wine

About 700 ml chicken stock (you may not need it all)

1 shallot, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tbsp. olive oil

About a handful of grated parmesan

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200° C, roast.

Place 1 tbsp. olive oil and 1 tsp. Ras el Hanout in a plastic bag. Add the butternut cubes and give the bag a good shake. Line an oven tray with baking paper and pour the butternut cubes on it in single layer. Roast 20- 30 minutes until soft and nicely coloured.

Meanwhile cook the duck breast and make the risotto.

Criss’ cross the fat- side of the duck breast. Warm a heavy iron or steel pan over medium heat and start cooking the duck breast the fat- side down. After 10 minutes, turn the breast and continue cooking for 8 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board.

Make the risotto the classic way like in the recipe Seafood risotto with a twist

When everything is ready, slice the duck breast. Divide the risotto on two large plates and flatten to make a bed for the butternut cubes. Place the duck breast slices on the side. Bon appètit!


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Allos: Col d'Encombrette

Lac d'Allos viewed from trail to Col d'Encombrette

Lac d’Allos (2230 m) is a major attraction during the summer season. Located in the Mercantour National Park, it is the largest natural high-altitude lake in Europe. The mountains around the lake offer several hiking itineraries, culminating in Mont Pelat (3051 m).

Our goal today was a mountain pass called Col d’Encombrette (2527 m), south of the lake.

To reach the area from the Village of Allos, you have to drive up to one of the parkings by the paved D226 road. The parking Laus (2110 m) is highest and nearest the lake and costs 8 €, maximum capacity about 180 vehicles. There are parking possibilities by the road several km earlier. We chose to use the free La Cluit parking (about 1800 m). The trail from la Cluit connected with the GR56B/GRP trail which went to the upper parking, the lake and beyond.

Most visitors drove up to the upper parking, but even the lower one at La Cluit was busy early in the morning. This parking was unpaved, potholed, rocky and in an incline so be careful.

From La Cluit, we descended a bit along a PR trail which soon merged with the GR56B/GRP. We crossed a stream named le Chaudolin along a bridge (1713 m; the lowest point of the hike) and started to ascend. We passed Cascade de Chaloudin, then crossed the paved road a few times before reaching the upper parking. We crossed Plateau du Laus and turned south along a wide trail.

At the crossroads to the Lac d’Allos, we headed south towards Col d’Encombrette while most visitors forked left to the lake. We reached the tree line, and entered an area of vast alpine meadows, climbing gently. We had soon Lake Allos on our left-hand side and Mont Pelat dominating the landscape in the north. The trail was good and easy to follow all the way, and we saw Col d’Encombrette in front of us. There was a huge flock of sheep moving along our path, but interestingly no dogs nor shepherds. We had to wait a bit to let them pass before our final ascent to the mountain pass.

Deep in a basin below us, in the south, we had Lacs d’Encombrette while Tête de l’Encombrette rose to 2681 m behind them.

The col was a perfect spot to have a picnic break, and to admire the unique scenery.

We used the same trail back to La Cluit.

Duration: 6 h

Climb: 900 m

Distance: 17,5 km

Map: 3540 OT Barcelonnette, Pra-Loup, Le Sauze, Allos

Col d'Encombrette track
Col d'Encombrette track

Col d'Encombrette track satellite view
Col Encombrette track satellite view


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Allos: Tête de la Sestrière

Crête de la Sestrière

Tête de la Sestrière
(2575 m) is a summit above La Foux d’Allos (1800 m) mountain resort. The River Verdon has its sources on the mountain’s southern flank. The GR 56 long distance trail goes via the summit. From the upper Allos Valley, the mountain can be easily reached either from Col d’Allos (GR56) or from La Foux d’Allos using the GRP Tour du Haut-Verdon trail which connects with the GR 56 trail at Col de la Sestrière (2461 m).

We started from the southern end of La Foux d’Allos (L’Abrau; 1780 m), walked past the main square, located the signpost, and climbed northwest. We passed some ski lifts and crossed a few streams which formed the Verdon River. We reached a dirt track (at a signpost named Vallon des Sources) just after having crossed the Verdon. We continued the ascent along it as far as to Cabane de la Sestrière. At the Cabane, we left the track and continued along a path, still with GRP (yellow/red) markings. We crossed the track several times, ascending more steeply.

We reached the GR56 at Col de la Sestrière on a long ridge (Crête de la Sestrière) and forked left to our goal. The nearby Grand Seolane (2909 m) dominated the landscape in the north, but we had a great view down to the Ubaye Valley further away in the northeast. The numerous sources of the Verdon River were clearly visible.

We used the same trail for our initial descent but after Vallon des Sources walked along the dirt track on the river’s eastern side and eventually had to use the main road to reach the village, making a small detour. It is better to use the western side with pedestrian paths unless your accommodation happens to be on the eastern side of the river.

Duration: 4h 30     

Climb: 800 m

Distance: 12 km

Map: 3540 OT Barcelonnette Pra-Loup Le Sauze Allos

Tête de la Sestrière hike track
Tête de la Sestrière hike track


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