Recipes: Cocktail Hour Treat
I’m thinking about retiring the ubiquitous cheese plate to its rightful place at the end of a meal. I love cheese, make no mistake, and it’s ever-present at my house when I entertain. But lately, I want something new—and warm—to serve to guests as they arrive. Socca (as it’s known in France—in Italy, it’s farinata) is an impossibly easy, pizza-like snack, concocted of no more than chickpea flour, water, salt, extra virgin olive oil and the toppings of your choice. The dish is ubiquitous in Nice, in the south of France, and in Liguria, in northern Italy; in both places, it is traditionally eaten as a morning snack by workmen (as well as hungry and happy tourists).
I discovered socca thanks to a long-ago food magazine article about cookbook guru (and part-time Columbia County resident) Madhur Jaffrey and her then-new book, World Vegetarian (Potter, 1999). Her recipe for something called “Chickpea Flour Pizza” intrigued me; mostly, I think, because I’d never heard of chickpea flour (also known as besan, gram, or cici, depending upon where in the world you are when you speak of it). Over the years, I’ve made this recipe dozens of times, varying the flavorings that go atop the ultra-simple base: onions, finely chopped, with rosemary and grated parmesan; diced tomato with a chiffonade of fresh basil; and my newest favorite, sliced kalamata olives, crumbled blue cheese and chopped fresh sage. As a bonus, this dish is high in protein, relatively low in fat, and a great, satisfying treat for carb-phobes: chickpea flour has about two-thirds the total carbohydrates of the same amount of wheat flour, but with almost four times more fiber.
The whole thing comes together nearly instantly: You mix chickpea flour (the Bob’s Red Mill brand is available at Guido’s, or, if you’re more adventurous than I, you could also attempt to make your own, then combine it with water, and salt and allow the batter to sit, so the flour absorbs the liquid. After 30 minutes, during which time you’ve preheated your broiler and prepared your flavorings, you give it a stir, heat a skillet on the stove, add some olive oil and the batter. Toppings go on a few minutes later, and then the whole thing gets a fast turn under the broiler to brown and bubble. Done. Serve. Relax. Unless, of course, your guests send you back to the kitchen, hungry for more.
Socca (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian)
2/3 cups chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour
1 cup water
1 generous pinch kosher or coarse sea salt
2 T extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper
Toppings (amounts for each version below are to top the entire socca—you could also make less of each, and divide your pie between two or even three different flavors):
Onion and Rosemary:
2 T chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/3 cup finely chopped red or yellow onion (or more to taste)
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
Tomato and Basil:
2 T fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly
1 small ripe tomato, diced
Olive and Blue cheese:
1 T minced fresh sage
1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and quartered lengthwise
1/3 cup crumbled mild blue cheese
Stir the flour, salt and water together in a medium-sized bowl, using a whisk to get out all the lumps. Leave to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes (longer is fine, too, though you should probably cover it and refrigerate.)
Preheat the broiler with the rack about three inches underneath the heat.
Put olive oil in a 10-12 inch skillet (non stick is easiest, but not absolutely necessary) and heat over medium heat until the oil starts to shimmer.
Give the batter a stir and pour into the skillet. Sprinkle in whichever herb you’re using, and add a good grinding of fresh pepper. Allow to cook for about four minutes, until the batter starts to bubble a bit. It will begin to look brown around the edges and firmer in the middle. Add the other toppings, and cook one minute more before transferring to the broiler. Broil for four or five minutes, until the socca is golden brown. Serve hot, either cut into wedges like a pizza or into small squares.
Serves four to six, depending upon appetites. —Paige Orloff
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