I can’t quite express how addictive and wonderful I find socca to be. The first time I tried it I was home alone on a sunny Sunday afternoon and kept saying out loud to no-one at all, “oh my god, oh my GOD” as I took greedy bites. So if you’re wondering just how tasty and moreish socca is, now you know. It is talk-out-loud-to-yourself good.
In my opinion it’s best eaten straight from the cutting board that you use to slice it into squares. Just drizzle a generous amount of good olive oil, sea salt, and crushed black pepper on top and dig in with your fingers. That’s really all you need and I dare say, the first time you make it, that is exactly how you should experience it. Those flavours alone are plenty and allow you to taste the wonderfully nutty socca throughout. You’ll have bites that are crisp as crackers where the socca has blistered and begun to burn, and bites that are soft and pancake-y, and each bite is likely to make you fall in love anew.
I first heard of socca from Stephanie Meyer on her blog Fresh Tart, which is full of imaginative, beautiful, gluten-free recipes. Socca is a thin unleavened pancake-type deal made very simply with chickpea flour, water, and olive oil.
It’s a specialty of Southeast France, particularly in and around the city of Nice, which was news to me because despite spending summers there in my teens I never came across socca. I think I need to go back and look harder. Apparently in that neck of the woods it’s formed into a flat cake and baked in an oven, often on a huge cast iron pan, and then seasoned generously with black pepper, wrapped in paper, and eaten while hot with your hands. It’s street food, intended to be washed down with a plastic cup of icy rosé. Put that on the must-do list.
I found some great advice both from Steph’s blog, The Kitchn, and the inimitable David Lebovitz on how to make socca and I’ve used that combined wisdom in my various attempts, all of which have happily been very successful. I like to eat socca plain as described above (and imagine myself standing on the stony beach in Nice, rosé in one hand; socca in the other), but there are lots of ways to enjoy it. Steph recommends it with a fried egg and spinach or as a grilled cheese-type construction. I also like it warm from the oven, piled high with some peppery greens dressed in lemon juice, olive oil, and honey. If you want to make more of a meal out of it, then this variation with pesto and a spring salad looks amazing and I’ve also heard wonderful things about adding a smear of olive tapenade.
Socca (Chickpea Flour Pancakes)
Makes 2 thin 10″ pancakes
- 1 cup (92 g) chickpea flour (also known as gram flour)
- 1 cup (240ml) water (add an additional tbsp water for a thinner pancake)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
- Sea salt
- Optional seasonings: 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano), pinch of spice (chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, za’atar)
- Optional toppings: try fresh arugula dressed in lemon juice, olive oil, and honey – or – olive tapenade with some fresh greens – or – a fried egg and wilted spinach
- Sieve the chickpea flour into a bowl and whisk together with the water, olive oil, a pinch of salt and any other seasoning you’re trying. Cover with a tea towel and let the batter rest for 1/2 hour to 2 hours to give the flour time to absorb the water.
- Set an oven rack six inches below your oven’s broiler and turn on the broiler. Set a cast iron skillet on the rack to warm for five minutes.
- Add a teaspoon or so of olive oil to the pan and swirl to coat the bottom of the warmed pan. Whisk the chickpea batter quickly and then pour half into the hot skillet. Tilt the pan so the batter coats the entire surface of the pan.
- Broil the socca for 3 to 5 minutes or until you see the top begin to blister and brown. If you find the top browning before the batter is fully set, move the skillet to a lower oven rack until done. The socca should be fairly flexible in the middle but crispy on the edges.
- Carefully remove from the oven and use a spatula to work your way under the socca and ease it from the pan. Slice it into wedges or squares, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with a little good olive oil. Repeat with any remaining batter.