Crispy, Chewy, Gluten-Free: Socca (Chickpea Pancake)

Recipe Reviews

Socca is a classic street food from the South of France. In Nice you'll see street vendors with big smoking grills cooking wafer-thin socca pancakes. They chop them up, piping hot, and give them to you with flurries of salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. When consumed with the ice-cold rosé of the region, it's the taste of Nice.

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We gave you several good things for appetizers and hors d'ouevres today: stuffed figs, hot brandade, and a delicious cheese. Well, here's one more. This is our favorite evening appetizer; we've made it countless times over the last couple months. It's hot, chewy, crispy, nutty delicious and, for a bonus, gluten-free too. Let us tell you why you absolutely must make this — and soon.

I ate socca when in Nice last year and loved the slightly bitter taste of the chickpea flour and the way it shows off the rich olive oils of the area. It's salty, peppery, silky, chewy, crunchy around the burnt edges. You can always eat more socca.

I didn't expect to make socca at home; it seems to belong exclusively to the south of France. But then David Lebovitz posted his own recipe for it, and it looked so remarkably easy that I gave it a try. I was hosting a gluten-free friend for lunch and wanted to serve her something new.

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The recipe was simple enough: you mix up a batter of chickpea flour, water, a little olive oil, a touch of cumin and salt. You let this stand for a couple hours. Then you heat up a cast iron skillet or pan in the oven and pour in more olive oil.

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Spread the batter in a thin layer, broil it for 5-10 minutes, depending on how thick the batter is, and then take it out when the top looks charred. Drizzle on more olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and chop into pieces.

Well, it was quite a success! This stuff is ridiculously easy, and if you broil it long enough you even get that charred, smoky taste. Chop it into little pieces and it's not only a great bread substitute for gluten-free folks — it's the perfect finger food for pre-dinner appetizers. It doesn't fill you up, and that smoky chewiness with a hint of bitter just makes you hungry for dinner.

I've served this now both cold and hot, plain with salt and oil, and festooned with roasted tomatoes. I've served platters of it with cheese and beer, and small plates with summer vegetables and good wine. It's my favorite appetizer and I don't think I'll ever get tired of it.

Get the recipe: Socca at David Lebovitz's blog

A few notes:

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• If you want to be absolutely sure your chickpea flour is gluten-free, buy it from a GF brand or in GF-certified packaging, like from Bob's Red Mill. Otherwise, you can find chickpea flour at many health food groceries, and in Indian and Mediterranean groceries. In Indian groceries it will probably be labeled besan.

• Do add the touch of cumin David recommends; it gives just the right hint of smokiness.

• I have some occasional troubles with this sticking to the pan. It's never in between; either it sticks like murder, or it slides right out. I think that it sticks when the pan is too hot and when I haven't put in enough oil.

Serve with an extra drizzle of olive oil and lots of salt and pepper. Delicious!

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More from Nice, France:
Market Tour: The Famous Cours Saleya
On Traveling, Cooking, France, and the Bread Basket
Panisse, Pumpkin, and Duck Magret: French Cooking with Rosa Jackson and Les Petits Farcis
Oliviera: The Best Olive Oil We Know

(Images: Faith Durand)

Originally published October 14, 2009.

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