SOCCA WITH HERBY CHICKPEAS
One of the most frequent questions we get at the restaurant as people look over the menu is, “what is a chickpea crȇpe?” We’ve had people look askance at their sandwich when it arrives on a ciabatta roll and not a crȇpe, we’ve even had a few people ask with concern what “that meat” was on their vegan sandwich.
So chickpea crȇpe? Honestly, my attempt to come up with an approachable name for something delicious, but relatively unknown here in the States - a thin flatbread or cake made from chickpea flour, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mine is just the most recent in a long line of names; Socca in Southern France, farinata in some parts of Italy, cecina in others, and fainà in Italian-influenced areas in South America, this popular street snack has many aliases. It is traditionally baked in copper pans in a wood-burning oven, topped simply with rosemary and cracked black pepper when it comes out of the oven, cut into wedges and enjoyed. Using milled chickpea flour to make these cakes gives them a distinctly custardy texture, while retaining that wonderful nutty, satisfying flavor.
My love of anything chickpea-related is well documented and something of a joke at the restaurant. By popular consensus if I ever write a cookbook it will likely be titled something along the lines of 1001 Ways to Use a Chickpea. I do my utmost to sneak chickpea flour onto the menu in every restaurant I work at. Once, I even forced my friends on a death-march through the summer heat half-way across Manhattan to go to a restaurant that had cecina on the menu. Not even to eat a full meal, just to get cecina as an afternoon snack.
The simplicity of the method for socca makes it a great candidate for week-night dinner. Just whisk together chickpea flour, water, salt, pepper and a little bit of olive oil and let it sit while you preheat the oven. Preheat the pan with a little more olive oil, ladle in the batter and bake. You may not have a wood-burning oven or a fancy copper pan, but this is the perfect use for that cast-iron skillet you bought in a fit of culinary ambition and have been too afraid to use since because you might not clean it properly.
SOCCA WITH HERBY CHICKPEAS - Gluten Free ; Vegan if you omit the parmesan
SERVINGS: 2-4 — PREP TIME: 30 MINUTES — TOTAL TIME: 1 HOUR 30 MINUTES
INGREDIENTS FOR SOCCA:
2 ½ c chickpea flour
1 t salt
1 t black pepper, ground
2 c water
1/4 c olive oil, plus 1 Tbps
1 Tbsp preserved lemon peel, minced
INGREDIENTS FOR HERBY PESTO CHICKPEAS:
4 Tbsp pine nuts
1 tsp coarse or kosher salt
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 c parsley leaves*
1 c basil leaves*
½ c mint leaves*
½ c cilantro leaves*
6 Tbsp parmesan
¼ cup olive oil
1 14 oz chickpeas, drained (1 can)
* don’t stress about the exact amount of herbs - use a mix of whatever you have on hand, as long as the total weight is the same, you’ll get a good end result.
1 recipe herby pesto chickpeas
4 oz arugula
¼ c parmesan shavings
Olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
INSTRUCTIONS FOR SOCCA:
Whisk together the chickpea flour, salt, and black pepper in a large bowl. Make a well in the center, pour in the water and gently whisk the water into the chickpea flour. The batters should be pourable, like the consistency of thick pancake batter. Cover and let sit for 30-45 minutes to allow the flour to hydrate while you prepare the herby pesto chickpea topping.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit. Place a 9” cast iron skillet or metal cake pan in the oven and preheat for 5-10 minutes. Whisk ¼ cup of olive oil into the batter with the minced preserved lemon peel. Remove pan from the oven, add remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, and pour the batter in. Return to the oven and bake, 20-25 minutes, until golden on top and the edges begin to color and pull away from the sides of the pan.
Cut the socca into wedges and top with herby pesto chickpeas. Arrange the arugula over top, finish with parmesan shavings, a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, salt and fresh-cracked black pepper.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR HERBY PESTO CHICKPEAS:
Roughly chop all of the herbs. Combine the pine nuts, salt, garlic and herbs in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse gently to combine, then continue pulsing until the herbs are mostly broken down into a paste. Add the parmesan and while the motor is running, drizzle in the olive oil. You should have a rough, fairly thick paste. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Alternatively, combine pine nuts and garlic in the bowl of a mortar, and crush gently to form a paste. Add the salt and herbs (you may need to add the herbs one at a time and crush them down before adding the next handful). Once the herbs have been reduced to a paste, add the cheese and mix into the herb and nut paste. Slowly drizzle in the oil, mixing to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Heat a couple teaspoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Once the oil is hot, add the drained chickpeas, stirring to coat them in the oil. When the chickpeas begin to pop and color, about 3 minutes, add the pesto and stir to coat the chickpeas. Cook for 1-2 minutes to tame the garlic, then reduce heat to low and add a couple tablespoons of water, stirring to create a creamy sauce. Remove from heat and reserve until your socca is finished baking.
Although traditionally served on its own, I think that socca makes a great vehicle for herby salads, gooey eggs or pizza toppings. Or you could do as the Uraguians do and use it as a pizza topping. Point being, socca is a great option whether you want to be healthy-ish today or healthy… tomorrow.