Thursday, February 7, 2008
Socca and sundried tomato hummus
Like most people who make a sort of living from writing, I rarely spring into action until I sense a deadline looming. With just two days left to take part in Susan's Legume Love Affair, I started thinking seriously about my own passions: lentils, especially the small, flinty-green ones from the volcanic land around Puy in central France; white beans, particularly the pearly coco de Paimpol from Brittany and the coveted crop from the town of Albenga in Liguria; and chickpeas, which make up for in versatility what they lack in glamor.
Everyone loves hummus and chana dal (don't they?), but not so many people know what to do with chickpea flour. It has become a staple in my kitchen since I settled in Nice, where a curious chickpea pancake called socca is sold at stalls throughout the Old Town. Consisting of nothing more than chickpea flour, water, olive oil and salt, it probably once served as a sort of plate. These days, rough slices of it are wrapped in paper, sprinkled with pepper and eaten as a snack at any time of day or night. Socca made its way across the border from Liguria, where it's called farinata, and may have African origins.
Wherever it comes from, socca doesn't always inspire love at first sight. Bread guru Dan Lepard describes spitting out his first bite of socca in Nice before growing to appreciate this unleavened bread. I don't want to point fingers, but it may be that the socca he tried had been kept warm for too long or even (gasp!) reheated. Socca must be very, very fresh and very, very hot to be good.
The Niçois believe that only a wood-fired oven produces true socca. Don't listen to them. If your oven will heat to around 240 C (500 F or so), there is no excuse not to make socca. I love my copper socca tin, which doubles as a pizza pan, but again it's not a necessity - before investing in this, I used ordinary cake tins with great success.
I often depart from tradition slightly by adding some chopped rosemary to the socca batter; half a teaspoon of chili paste is just as welcome. With chickpeas on the brain, I was intrigued to see Mark Bittman's recipe in the New York Times this week for hummus with sundried tomato. For Susan's event, I decided to put together a double shot of chickpea by serving this with socca. I pretty much stuck to the recipe, though I felt compelled to add 1/4 cup of tahini and replaced the pimenton with Espelette pepper from the Basque region.
My little experiment had surprising results. On its own, the sun-dried tomato hummus didn't completely win me over - I think it's hard to improve on classic hummus and found the dried tomato taste a little overbearing. But with the socca the tomato hummus suddenly seemed right, its acidity and sweetness balancing the natural heaviness of the chickpeas. Plain socca will seem naked from now on.
Enough for 2 cake tins or 1 large socca or pizza pan
125 g chickpea flour (about 1 cup)
250 ml cold water (about 1 cup)
45 ml olive oil (3 tbsp)
1/2 tsp salt
1 sprig rosemary
Freshly ground pepper
In a mixing bowl, combine the water and chickpea flour. Add 15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil, the salt and chopped rosemary leaves. Mix well until smooth. The batter should have the consistency of light cream – add water if necessary. Set aside at room temperature for at least 2 hours or, better yet, let the batter rest overnight, covered, in the refrigerator.
Heat the oven on maximum heat for at least 20 mins, with the cake tins or socca pan inside. Pour 1 tbsp olive oil into each of the 2 tins, or 2 tbsp oil into the large pan, and place in the oven to heat for 5 mins. Pour the socca batter into the tin(s). Place in the upper part of the oven.
After 5 mins, turn on the oven’s broiler (grill). Cook for 3-4 mins, until the socca starts to brown and even burn a little in spots.
To serve, cut into rough pieces and sprinkle with plenty of freshly ground pepper.