Apéro Hour

Bowls of olives, plates of thinly sliced saucisson sec, and lots of opened bottles greeted us when the local white wines of 2018 were recently launched at the old cave co-operative in Saint Montan. The farmers who grew the grapes were keen to talk as they offered glasses of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and a superb viognier – made with the grape variety native to the Ardèche – which had just received a gold award. 

Wine villages all over France were doubtless welcoming the new vintage in similar style. This friendly degustation was a little early for an apéritif but still took the shape of the most frequent style of entertaining hereabouts – an enjoyable preprandial hour or so for chatting and exchanging opinions. 

Cocktails are rarely seen in the Ardèche, local wines are preferred and the choice is now far wider than in the past. Individual winemakers, some with celebrated names, still prosper alongside the large co-operative in Ruoms. Last year, to mark 50 years since its foundation, the Vignerons Ardéchois produced a refreshing pale pink rosé made with grapes harvested at night which turned into a highly popular best-seller during the hot summer months. 

In 30 years, I’ve never been offered a glass of wine without an accompanying plate of something savoury and delicious. Chestnut flour biscuits, local salted almonds, and jars of both green and black tapenade are often on sale alongside the bottles in my local wine-making co-operative.  Otherwise every supermarket has an aisle devoted to savoury nibbles.    

When time allows, I make my own accompaniments for serving with apéritifs – often a tart served warm from the oven or a savoury cake, made without sugar that is popular in France. Nancy R has asked for the recipe of the Ham and Mustard Apéro Cake that I often bake  

HAM AND MUSTARD APERO CAKE

Makes 16-20 slices

120 g/ 4 oz butter

4 eggs

15 g/ ½ oz flat parsley leaves, finely chopped

3 tablespoons Dijon seed mustard

200 g/ 7 oz cake or self-raising flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon finely crushed herbes de Provence 

120 g/ 4 oz Cantal or Gruyère cheese, grated 

150 g/ 5 oz jambon cru or smoked bacon, finely chopped

2 sprigs fresh young rosemary leaves

Melt the butter in a mixing bowl, either over hot water or in a warm oven. Whisk in the eggs with parsley and mustard. Stir in the flour sieved with baking powder then mix in the herbes de Provence, cheese and bacon. 

Spoon the mixture into a buttered and floured 1.25 litre/ 2 pint loaf tin, ideally long and narrow, that should be about ¾ full to allow the cake to rise. Arrange the sprigs of young rosemary leaves on top. 

Bake the cake in an oven preheated to 180’C 350’F gas 4 for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is beginning to shrink from the tin.

Cool the cake in the tin for 10 minutes then turn onto a cooling rack and serve, in slices, when warm or at room temperature.