Friday, February 04, 2011
Have you heard about socca? It's a popular street food in southern France, and it's called farinata in Italy. It's also the easiest skillet flatbread you'll ever make. With its popularity in western Europe, you may be surprised to find out that the main ingredient (pretty much the only ingredient) can be found for the best price at Indian grocery stores.
To make socca, all you do is whisk chickpea flour with spices, olive oil and water to make a batter, then bake it in a hot skillet. The result is most similar to baked or grilled polenta, only more dense and flavorful. Chickpea flour itself is a very fine powder make from nothing but ground garbanzo beans. The great thing to my mind is that you're getting tons of protein and fiber from the chickpeas. Polenta and traditional flatbread/pizza dough are made from grains, not legumes, and therefore lower in protein and high in carbohydrates. That's not to say whole grain carbs aren't healthy--they absolutely are; but subbing protein-rich beans for grains on occasion can be a nice way to balance out your diet.
I first read about socca in a Mark Bittman Minimalist column, which apparently ran FIVE years ago. When I started shopping at my favorite Indian grocery store in Chicago and spied a bag of chickpea flour, I grabbed it in the hopes that I'd get around to making socca (No India market? Don't worry. Bob's Red Mill makes garbanzo flour, which is available at Whole Foods and online; and Lucini now sells a farinata mix that's worth keeping an eye out for.). It still took awhile, but after reading about authentic socca here and ideas for socca pizza here, I finally tried it.
This is a great alternative to pizza, especially if you don't have any homemade dough in the freezer and don't want to make any (I'm kind of a pizza snob. I'll use fresh dough from Whole Foods if I absolutely must, but I just love homemade.). With the chickpea flavor and very moist texture, it's really a whole different category of flatbread. You can top your socca with anything. I wanted something substantial, so I used thin roasted potatoes, caramelized onions, sauteed spinach and goat cheese. Just delicious.
Socca Pizza with Potatoes, Spinach and Goat Cheese
Adapted from askgeorgie.com and Mark Bittman.
Find chickpea flour at India markets (called besan or gram flour), or see sources discussed above. The toppings I used for this pizza--roasted potatoes, sauteed spinach, caramelized onions--can be done ahead of time to make things easier. Socca itself is quick and simple, and you can definitely use less labor-intensive toppings. I'd try broiled zucchini and eggplant, sausage, fresh tomatoes...anything simple that you'd put on pizza.
Serves 2 to 3 as a main dish or 4 to 6 as a starter.
1 1/4 cups chickpea flour (150 g)
1/2 to 3/4 tsp salt
Generous freshly ground black pepper
Pinch dried thyme
Pinch dried rosemary
1 1/4 cups water
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1 medium to large Russet potato, peeled
Salt, pepper and dried rosemary to taste
1 Tbs olive oil
1 medium red onion, sliced into half moons
6 ounces spinach (approx.), sauteed
3 ounces goat cheese
To make socca, preheat oven to 450 F, and place a 12-inch cast iron in the oven to heat up as well.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, pepper and herbs. Add water and whisk to form a smooth batter. Rest 20 minutes (may be made several hours ahead). Add olive oil to hot skillet and return to oven just until oil is shimmering, 1 to 2 minutes (don't let it smoke). Swirl oil around skillet to coat sides, then pour hot oil into batter; stir to combine. Pour batter into skillet and return to oven. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until center is set and top is golden brown.
Switch oven to broil. Top socca with roasted potato slices (see below), caramelized onions, sauteed spinach and goat cheese. Return to oven and broil until goat cheese is lightly browned, about 5 minutes (Don't get too close too broiler's heat; I kept my skillet in the center of the oven). Rest 5 minutes. Cut into 6 or 8 wedges and serve.
For toppings: Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray.Using a mandoline, slice the potato in 1/8-inch thick rounds (you can also try this, carefully, by hand). Arrange in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. If you have more potatoes than can fit in 1 layer, you can discard or use for something else--you need enough potatoes to cover the socca, overlapping slightly. Coat potatoes with cooking spray and season with salt, pepper and rosemary. Roast in the center of the oven until lightly browned and tender, flipping halfway through, 15 to 20 minutes.
Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium-low heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until very soft and deep golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.