Unfortunately I’ve never encountered any of the street-wise gamins dégourdis who once sold la socca in the narrow streets of the old town of Nice. This Niçoise speciality, said to have originated in Genoa, resembles polenta except that chick-pea flour replaces that made from maize.
The slightly sweet taste of the socca goes well with game and especially partridge. (Replace the socca with polenta in the recipe if you prefer.) The Vivarais is famed for its subtly flavoured red partridge, known as the rock partridge or bartavelle; Louis XIII had a keen appetite for them and they still fetch a high price in the Paris markets.
Unless you have a local supply you may like to know that Harrods sell red-legged partridge and the larger branches of Sainsbury’s stock them on the game counter. Fortunately, like most game, partridge freeze well. One plump partridge can make a memorable meal for two.
In a heavy-based pan, gradually mix the chick-pea flour with
Spread the mixture in a lightly oiled shallow pie dish or cake tin and spread level. Dribble olive oil over the top and grind some black pepper over the socca. Bake in a moderate oven (Mark 5, 190°C, 375°F) for 20–25 minutes until the outside is slightly crisp and the inside is still soft.
Cool in the tin then cut into fingers or triangles. When the partridge is almost cooked, lightly fry the pieces of socca in olive oil and butter. Drain on paper and keep hot.
Place the partridge in a small roasting pan; halve the tangerine or apple and tuck it into the body cavity, and add the rind from the bacon if you have it.
Spread the breast and legs of the partridge with butter and season with salt and pepper. Stretch the bacon, halved if necessary, over the bird. Roast in a moderately hot oven (Mark 6, 200°C, 400°F) for 30 minutes basting from time to time.
Split the bird in two through the breast bone, discard the fruit and place the halves on a hot serving dish; return to the oven, turned to low, until ready to serve.
Lightly sauté the grapes in the pan juices and butter in the roasting pan for a few minutes. Add the wine and simmer together. Spoon the grapes over or beside the partridge and add the remainder of the butter to the reduced sauce. Place the hot fingers of socca beside the partridge and serve with the sauce. Any socca over may be cut into small pieces, sautéd in oil and served to nibble with drinks.
© 1987 Geraldene Holt. All rights reserved.