socca

In the UK, 24th February 2009 is Shrove Tuesday or ‘Pancake Day’. Is it celebrated in your country? What sort of pancake will you be eating? Well, here it’s becoming increasingly popular – and commercialised. There are several fun pancake races in the morning, and many restaurants offer pancake menus. Speciality pancake restaurants – which are increasing in number – also hold pancake making demonstrations and competitions.

Pancakes are one of those foods that are found in some form or other in all countries and cultures. I’m sure you are familiar with the usual egg and flour versions, so I’m giving a recipe for socca – the legendary thin, crepe-like chickpea flour pancake from Nice. It happens to be vegan, probably gluten-free (though I don’t know for sure, so it’s best to check with a medical advisor if you have a gluten allergy), and baked in the oven rather than cooked on the stove top.

There are countless versions of socca all over Italy, India, and other parts of the world, too. So chickpea flour is available in large supermarkets, Indian stores, and Italian and French delicatessens.

In Nice, socca is eaten as a fast food snack wrapped in a newspaper – much like fish and chips in Britain, except that it is much healthier. My recipe is for a plain pancake, but you can add finely chopped fresh herbs (particularly a little rosemary) if you wish.

Socca is packed with protein, and makes excellent accompaniment to ratatouille, lightly braised vegetables such as fennel and chicory, and delicate stews made from haricot and flageolet beans. Or it can be eaten on its own with a hot or cold drink as a snack. Serves 4 as snack or accompaniment.

5 oz/ 125g chickpea flour (garbanzo flour)
8 fl oz/ 200 ml water
½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
4 tablespoons virgin olive oil (Provencal, if you have it)

To serve:
Coarsely ground rock salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1.    Pre-heat the oven to 220 C/ 425 F/ gas mark 7.
2.    Place the chickpea flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Add water, and whisk the flour and water together until well amalgamated.
3.    Add salt and 2 tablespoon of the olive oil. Mix thoroughly. If necessary, strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove any lumps, pressing down firmly on the mixture. (Alternatively, steps 2 and 3 can be followed using an electric hand blender to make the task easier). You should be left with smooth, thin chickpea flour batter.
4.    Swirl the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy, non-stick round baking pan or gratin dish. Heat the oiled dish in the pre-heated oven for 5 minutes.
5.    Then remove the dish from the oven, and pour in the batter evenly, taking care not to splatter in the hot oil. Bake the pancake for about 10 minutes. Do not overcook. Meanwhile, pre-heat the grill (broiler) on medium heat.
6.    Remove the pancake from the oven, and place under the grill until the surface is dotted with a few brown spots.
7.    Remove from the grill, and let the pancake cool in its pan for a couple of minutes. Cut into wedges, and sprinkle with coarsely ground salt and black pepper. Serve hot.

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