Monday, October 3, 2011

Socca! It's so... Nice

I know I just did another post about pancakes. But this, my friends, is a special pancake.  Imagine yourself strolling along the boardwalk in the South of France.  You spy a street cart with what looks like a large pizza pan next to a stove... he's pouring batter into a the pan and an eager line is gathering.

are they crepes?  no!  they're socca!

Socca are garbanzo flour pancakes.  In Nice, France, they're thin and crispy.  Across the border in Italy, a slightly thicker version of the same thing is called Farinata. 

It's one of those simple foods that people revel in, and whose recipes lend themselves to infinite variation:  soak sifted garbanzo bean flour in water with a little oil mixed in, at least an hour but overnight is apparently better.  Heat a huge flat pan with a lot of good quality olive oil in a hot oven for a few minutes.  Pour the batter into the heated pan and return it to the oven for 10-15 minutes.

Traditionally, a large quantity of fresh ground pepper is added to the top of the socca.  Once cooked, either flake off the pan in crispy yummy bits or cut in wedges like pizza.  Simple, n'est pas?

Why socca?  Well, I've been looking for recipes that use new and different flours ... the ones I see in the Asian groceries with inscrutable uses.  Sure, rice flour is pretty obvious, but gram flour? besan?  mung bean?  sorghum?  tapioca? huh?  I have often seen some of these in gluten free flour blends, but they are a bit expensive.  Why not go to a local Asian market and buy them for far less and make my own stuff from scratch?  
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So I went to my favorite Indian market and stood in the flour aisle for a while.  There were many flours based on lentils, rice, corn.  Gram flour, also known as Besan, it appears, is really just another name for garbanzo bean flour. 

When I Googled garbanzo bean flour, I found many results for spicy pakoras (i.e. deep-fried veggies, Indian style), which looked enticing.  But a word kept coming up in the results: Socca.  Recently returned tourists from France and Monaco waxed poetic about the flaky, crispy treat covered with black pepper and olive oil.  The New York Times had even blogged about it in their Minimalist food blog... heck, it had to be good!

Back at the store, since none of the gram/besan/garbanzo bean flours claimed to be allergen-free, I looked for one that didn't say it was manufactured on machinery where allergens were processed.  I comprimised on a flour that said it was ground in the same factory but not on the same machinery... and one that was made in Flushing, Queens, NY... not overseas where standards are a bit different in terms of cross-contamination and full disclosure of ingredients: Laxmi brand Gram Flour.  With images of palm trees and the Meditteranean Sea in my head, I drove home intending to make an exotic treat!

I based my recipe on the one at the link to the NYT Minimalist blog, missing that I should include the onions in the batter.  I also made the mistake of not whisking the flour and water together and ended up with clumps that I didn't ever really get incorporated well.  And yes, it does take a little while for the water to soak in.  But these are nuances... generally, this is a pretty failsafe dish! 

Note, the following is clipped from the New York Times (see link above)

"...Sift the chickpea flour into your bowl, so it doesn't lump, and use a whisk to combine it with water. Do not skimp on black pepper or olive oil; the pepper should really hit you when you take a bite. Preheat your skillet or pan in the oven. When the socca is done, put the pan on the table, cut it into random shapes, hand out napkins and have at it. If more than six people are present, get started making another.

Socca (Farinata)
Time: 45 minutes

1 cup chickpea flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon, at least, ground black pepper
4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced, optional
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, optional.

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a well-seasoned or nonstick 12-inch pizza pan or cast-iron skillet in oven. Sift chickpea flour into a bowl; add salt and pepper; then slowly add 1 cup lukewarm water, whisking to eliminate lumps. Stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cover, and let sit while oven heats, or as long as 12 hours. Batter should be about the consistency of heavy cream.
2. If using onion and rosemary, stir them into batter. Pour 2 tablespoons oil into heated pan, and swirl to cover pan evenly. Pour in batter, and bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until pancake is firm and edges set. Heat broiler, and brush top of socca with 1 or 2 tablespoons of oil if it looks dry.
3. Set socca a few inches away from broiler for a few minutes, just long enough to brown it spottily. Cut it into wedges, and serve hot, or at least warm.

Yield: 4 to 6 appetizer servings. "

So the result?   Delicious.  Basic, straightfoward and wonderful.   My son gobbled, grabbed, scarfed it down!  The garbanzo bean flour has a nutty, tangy and rich flavor all at once.  The crispy edges surround a thick, almost baked-egg tortilla consistency inside.  Dense, satisfying and light all at the same time.  

I can imagine a million flavor combinations:  add different spices (rosemary and pepper are traditional ... but what about basil, tarragon, cumin, smoked paprika? or go sweet with cinnamon, cardamom, sugar?)   Add thinly sliced veggies inside (like onion, zucchini, carrots, asparagus).  Another whole dimension would be adding toppings, a la pizza!  Now... if I could just get some soy, nut and dairy free cheese! (anyone?)  Here's an exploration of socca experiments that I have to really delve into...

The downside: 

As much as my son LOVED the socca, he had a reaction.  Nothing horrific or ER-trip inducing, but some facial spots and itching.  My best guess is that buying the flour while crossing my fingers that cross-contamination wouldn't be a problem was a bad idea.  I though I could get away with buying inexpensive flours in exotic stores that make me pine for globe trotting... but you know what?  It's just not worth it.  

I will be adding socca to the regular rotation of yumminess, but I will also be making sure that the flour comes from a confirmed allergy-free source.  Bob's Red Mill, I might as well buy stock in you right now. 


  1. Thanks for blogging Sue. As always I love reading and catching up with what's happening on your end.

    Making Socca tonight so hopefully it turns out well. One questions though, is it okay if I make the batter well ahead of time or will it ruin the final product?

    Miss you tonnes. Much love from Toronto,

  2. Hiya chickaroo!
    I don't think it's an issue for it to sit a while, but the key is to ensure it soaks for at least a half hour. Otherwise it seems gritty!

    I am so glad you like the blog ~ and are trying the socca... it's so yummy. Please tell me how yours turns out!

    Lots of love to you and the two chiclets, too!