On a late-summer evening many years ago, I followed my Lonely Planet guidebook down a tiny street in Nice, France to find somewhere to eat socca, a traditional chickpea pizza served on the shores of the Mediterranean. The street was lit by the warm light of a restaurant that vibrated with the happy noises of people enjoying excellent food. I joined them, and was promptly served a chilled glass of rosé and a large plate holding a pancake-like base topped with glossy tomatoes and olives.
It was my first taste of the earthy, peppery socca, and it was not my last. I returned to that restaurant the next night and on other trips and have since started making socca at home. I can’t replicate the soft mediterranean sun or the atmosphere of the old town, but this recipe is almost fool-proof and definitely brings a little bit of Nice into my kitchen.
Socca is an excellent base for an array of flavours, from traditional pizza toppings to Middle Eastern spices, even fresh greens. The chickpea flour brings a nuttiness to these pancakes that renders them tasty all by themselves. If you add some spices, onion or herbs to the batter they’d be lovely served just as they are, or perhaps with a dip like hummus.
I opted for a bright salad of herbs, some creamy avocado and grilled asparagus on mine. Parsley does not need to be relegated to the garnish category. It has a wonderful woody flavour that makes a very pleasing salad when paired with capers and a squeeze of lemon. This piquant combination goes particularly well with fried or fatty foods and would like to be considered as a side when you’re next frying up some fish. In fact, some grilled sardines would have been delicious on top of my socca.
Chickpea flour is used in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian cuisines, so if you can’t find it in your supermarket, try a speciality grocer or a health food store (it’s gluten free). Buy more than you need for one batch, then you’ll have an excuse to make these again, which you will not regret.
The batter is forgiving. I don’t have kitchen scales, so I estimate the amount of flour required by judging how much was in the packet to begin with and how much I have left, then mix it with water until it looks a little thicker than pancake consistency. The recipe below calls for egg whites to be whisked in, which adds a lightness to the batter that I like. Other recipes leave the egg out, which would make this recipe even simpler.
- 230g / 8 ounces chickpea flour (gram flour)
- 450ml (15.2 fl oz, or just under 2 cups) water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- Pepper to taste – though don’t skimp, you want the pepper to hit you when you take a bite
- 2 egg whites
Pre-heat the oven to 170c/340f and line two baking sheets with baking paper brushed with a bit of oil.
Put the chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well with a hand whisk or fork. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites till they form soft peaks and fold in to the chickpea mixture. This mix can be used straight away or sit for a few hours if you’re planning ahead.
The next step is exactly like pancakes. Heat a small non-stick frying pan and give it a light brush of olive oil. Heat the pan on high then reduce to medium-high when the pan is hot. Pour the batter into the pan, it should be around 5mm (1/5 inch) thick. Cook till you see bubbles forming then carefully flip to the other side and cook for another minute or so. Transfer the socca to the lined baking sheet and repeat.
If you also experience the universal truth that the first pancake always sticks, then do a test run with a small amount of batter to find your pancake groove.
When you’ve made all your socca, place the baking sheets in the oven for 5 minutes to crisp up the edges.
To serve, spread with toppings of your choice and eat it hot or warm.
(Recipe from the vegetarian bible, Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)
- Follow Ottolenghi’s advice and caramelise some onions, roast up some baby tomatoes and serve with creme fraiche
- Add some spices to your batter like toasted cumin and chilli and serve with hummus
- Start with a base of store cupboard tomato sauce and top with crumbled feta and torn basil leaves
- Spread labneh over the socca and drizzle with olive oil
- Roast some mushrooms with thyme and garlic and squeeze lemon over the whole thing
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems removed and roughly chopped
- 1 shallot, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon capers, rinsed
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Combine parsley, shallot and capers in a bowl. Mix the lemon and olive oil and add to salad. Season to taste.
(Adapted from the most wonderful book, An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler)