Last post’s long and winding road to broth was probably a step too far for some of you. Although extremely gorgeous with the toasted Asian aromatics and the lightly seared vegetables, I have inserted into the post a welcome sentence, in bold: If you want to take a shortcut you may skip the first two steps and just pop everything in the pot as per a ‘normal’ stock. So, if you looked at the Really Useful Asian Broth recipe and thought “stuff this,” maybe I can persuade you to reconsider. Or at least read down to the tamarind meatball bit.
Anyway, as a way of saying sorry – and because it so shut-the-door-delicious – today’s recipe is easy as pie/pancakes. Although the main ingredient, chickpea flour, is not quite store cupboard there are other recipes you can make with it including falafels and the Italian panissa, a chick flour-based polenta. I have just bought a big head of creamy white cauliflower and fancy making these baked cauliflower pakora with it. So a small bag tucked away in your pantry shouldn’t be a problem. You may just want to keep making these crepe-like pancakes anyway as they are naturally gluten-free way of eating pancakes, and have a low-glycemic score. I am even posting a sweet edition soon, so watch out for it. The nuttiness of the cooked flour actually goes surprisingly well with sweet spicing and a little sugar.
But before you rush out to buy it, a wee tip for any chickpea flour newbies: it is rarely called chickpea flour. You will see it as besan, garbanzo flour, gram (NOT graham) flour, farina di ceci, farine de pois, but rarely as chickpea flour. I don’t know why. This tip may save you a lot of head-scratching.
People with apparently not much to do have been discussing on the Internet the difference between the European versus Indian chickpea flour. The lighter European style seems preferred for more delicate and less spicy dishes, like socca and its Ligurian doppelgänger, farinata. I used Dove’s Farm Gram Flour, which uses chana dhal. I have never bought the Italian flour, so I can’t comment on which is better, but personally I think the debate is a bit of snobby hogwash because I got the frilly edged result I was after with the cheaper chana dhal. And it also makes gorgeous fluffy pakoras. So just get what is available. If you have the luxury of choice, and you are flush from payday, knock yourself out and buy both for a taste test – not raw though as it is hideous beyond belief – and let me know which you prefer.
What isn’t up for debate is the near-foolproof nature of this friendly batter. It is pretty much just a pancake batter by another name. Like normal from-scratch pancakes the first socca may be a duffer – perhaps a bit too thick for your liking, or stuck a bit to the pan – but once the necessary adjustments are made, the second one will be fine. With or without any tweaky garnishes, I think anyone you knocked this up for would be suitably impressed. If you keep a bag of gram flour handy you could easily rustle this up for unexpected visitors while your other half dashes madly to the corner shop for a cheap bottle of room temperature rosé (very French). Lol. Or you could just make it for yourself as a well-tasty TV snack, with a bottle of beer or two to wash it down.
And so, this recipe. This is my variation on a still-popular Provencal market food. ‘Socca de Nice’ is the most enduring basic recipe, with water, chickpea flour, oil and salt magically transforming into a crispy yet moist treat. But you can get variations across the Provencal region, and even some made with other flours elsewhere in France (so I am told). Mostly it is unadorned, just served in waxed paper cones to be eaten on the hoof as you browse the seasonal produce, and sample the pungent cheeses. But some fripperies can be welcome. Paris-based food blogger extraordinaire David Lebovitz seasons his lightly with a small but potent fleck of ground cumin, which I think tastes delicious – I tried his version in my quest for my own – but I prefer the more meal-compatible flavours and aromas of fresh herbs. I have also seen recipes including pinches of dry-cure Nicoise olives and grated courgettes.
Although traditionally cooked in a wood-fired oven, where the socca gets its characteristic blisters, I have played it a bit safer and certainly more conventionally by cooking mine like pancakes, in a cast iron skillet over a gas flame. This method gave me the most consistent results over innumerable testing batches. The author and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman also uses a pan on the hob, but he puts his in the oven to bake, broiling the top to get it crispy. I find it easier to keep it all on the hob, and flip for a final colouring up. I like my socca crispy-ish but cook for less time if you want them softer and suitable for easy rolling around a filling (the crispier one still rolls up though). You can also use a sturdy, non-warping pie tin whacked in a blisteringly hot oven. This method is even preferred by some cooks, especially if you want yours soft. But I love the lacy edges that a stove-top skillet brings to the dish. Plus, it is easier to know when it is done. Instructions are given for both.
The only other thing to add is that it is meant to be rough and imperfect, eaten greedily with the hands, so don’t stress about tears or stuck-on bits. Those bits are the tastiest anyway. I have given a couple of ideas for topping and accompanying the socca - with a main dish to come soon -but, as with most of my recipes, just use your imagination. You may even want to go completely fusion and roll one around some tamarind meatballs!
I am linking this with the Herbs on Saturday Challenge over at Karen’s Lavender and Lovage and Vanesther’s Bangers and Mash. Also entering this in to the made-from-scratch challenge Made With Love Mondays over at Javelin and Warrior, as well as the Credit Crunch Munch challenge, hosted by Helen at Fuss Free Flavours and Camilla the author of Fab Food 4 All, a linkup that is new to me. My socca recipe is decidedly cheap, especially if you use home-grown herbs. Thyme, rosemary and oregano are at my kitchen door so this is recipe is practically free!
Rosemary and Thyme Chickpea Pancakes (Socca de Nice)
Miss R’s Track of the Week: Shelter Song by Temples - hallucinogenic and swirly, in a good way. Good batter mixing tune!
Not quite a household name in the US or UK, socca are brilliant little crepe-like chickpea pancakes from Provence, in France. Extremely easy to make, and even easier to eat, these unfussy little street food pancakes will almost make you think you are strolling the markets of Nice. You can keep them plain with just the water, flour, oil and salt, or fancy them up with all manner of spices and herbs. You can even stuff them with curd cheese, salad or cooked sausages – spicy North African merguez, not Cumberland please.
Chickpea flour – also called besan, garbanzo, gram and farina di ceci – can be purchased at many larger supermarkets, either in the ethnic section or in the aisle catering for food intolerances; the latter because it is a naturally gluten-free flour. Any health food store or Asian market worth their salt will have it. You may think you have never had anything with chickpea flour before, but if you eat Indian food you most probably will have: the puffy golden pakoras that you can’t resist ordering are made using gram/chickpea flour.
The batter makes enough for 2 10-inch thin pancakes, or one thicker 12 inch one. Just cook them and slice up like a pizza, or tear with your hands into random pieces. The recipe is easily increased. For your first go at this perhaps double the batter to allow for any sticking disasters. You can keep the uncooked batter up to one day, covered in the fridge, but whisk up again before using. The cooked socca are incredibly filling so don’t be tempted to eat both yourself!
Optional: snips of sun-dried tomato or black olives
Sift the flour into a bowl to rid it of any lumps and stir in the herbs, salt and pepper. Make a little well and add a little less than half of the water and give it a thorough whisking. When you have a smooth batter whisk in the rest of the water and the oil. The batter should run off a spoon like single cream at this stage. Cover and leave to absorb for between 1 and 2 hours – although you could get away with 30 minutes (just don’t tell a Nicois).
Cooking Method One: When ready to make, heat one tablespoon of rapeseed oil in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet * over a medium-high heat. Test the heat of the oil with a small fleck of batter. If it sizzles immediately it is ready for the batter. Pour in half the batter and carefully swirl the pan to cover the bottom evenly. Top with sun-dried tomato pieces or olive pieces, if using. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Carefully use a heat-proof spatula to loosen the pancake and flip, cooking a further 2-3 minutes. Two minutes on each side should give you a cooked but very flexible socca, while the three minute timings will give you a firmer crisper pancake, as shown. You can also start the skillet on the stovetop and finish in the oven for five minutes, or until done, broiling/grilling the top to colour it if you like. Repeat with more oil and more batter.
Cooking Method Two: Put 1 tbsp of oil in a 10-inch sturdy cake tin and heat in a very hot oven – 220C/ 450F - for one minute, then carefully remove the pan and pour in the batter, swirling to evenly coat. Pop it back in the oven for 8 minutes, then under a hot grill until it is patchily browned. Cook it for 10 minutes in the hot oven if you want a firmer cake. Repeat with more oil and more batter.
Eat immediately, with or without toppings.
Serves 4 as an appetiser, 2 as a light meal with toppings
* You could use a sturdy, good-quality non-stick skillet, or a stainless steel pan, but I haven’t tested with these. There is also some doubt about the long-term safety of most available non-stick pans when used at higher temperatures or over long periods of time. Read this article for links to more information about this topic.