Whether you choose the toppings or let your guests join in on the fun, pizzas and flatbreads are great crowd pleasers. I'm especially fond of socca, a chewy, crispy, gluten-free flatbread made from chickpea flour. As an appetizer or main course socca can be served plain or topped, like this one for spring. It features an herby, lemony pesto and fresh salad — plus it should even satisfy the worst dinner guest ever!
I like to joke, or perhaps lament, that I myself have become one of those nightmare dinner party guests with a long list of allergies and intolerances ("My dietary preferences? Let me send you the PDF..."). I can't guarantee that this recipe will be safe for everyone, but it's certainly gluten-free, nut-free, and vegan.
But most importantly, this springtime socca doesn't taste like a sad imitation or compromise. Fresh and satisfying, it's the sort of dish I would love to be served, and will be making for my own guests this spring.
If you haven't had socca before, do give it a try, whether you follow my suggested toppings or not. It's a remarkably versatile food, and not too difficult or time-consuming to make when you have people over. Cut it into wedges and serve it as an appetizer with drinks, or give each person his or her own personal socca as a main dish (it's surprisingly filling).
Socca can accompany any number of toppings, dips, and spreads. (If you've had socca before, you'll notice that this version is on the thick side to better support the toppings.) Right now I'm really enjoying it with a vibrant pesto and a scattering of seasonal ingredients like tender greens, roasted asparagus, and peas. Use your own favorite pesto recipe or try mine, which includes fresh mint, preserved lemon, and hemp seeds. If you or your guests can eat cheese, you could incorporate ricotta salata or goat cheese into the topping. The possibilities really are endless.
Socca Flatbread with Spring Pesto and Salad
Makes 2 (10-inch) flatbreads
For the socca:
2 cups chickpea flour
2 cups water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
For the pesto:
1/2 cup pesto (see recipe below, or use your own favorite pesto)
For the salad:
3 cups tender salad greens (mâche, baby spinach, spring lettuces, etc.)
4 ounces asparagus, roasted and cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup fresh peas, blanched (or frozen peas, thawed)
6 kalamata olives, pitted and halved or quartered
1/2 shallot, thinly sliced
Lemon curls for garnish
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
Lemon juice, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Whisk together the chickpea flour, water, olive oil, garlic, thyme, and salt. Let stand for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
Set an oven rack six inches below your oven's broiler and turn on the broiler. Preheat a 10-inch cast iron skillet or equivalent baking dish for five minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven and add a teaspoon of oil to coat the bottom. Give the chickpea batter a whisk and pour half of it into the skillet.
Broil for 5-10 minutes until the top is browned and the socca is cooked in the middle (yet still tender) and crispy around the edges. Use a spatula to remove it from the pan.
Repeat to make the second flatbread.
→ For more detailed socca instructions, including oven and stovetop methods, see How to Make Socca.
Spread half of the pesto on each flatbread, leaving a border around the edges.
Top with the salad greens, asparagus, peas, olives, shallots, and lemon curls. Drizzle a little olive oil and lemon juice on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Cut into wedges and serve immediately.
Spring Pesto (Vegan and Nut-Free)Makes about 1 cup
6 cups gently packed spring greens (arugula, spinach, watercress, parsley, etc.)
1/2 cup gently packed mint leaves
1/2 cup hemp seeds (can substitute other nuts or seeds)
2 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon peel (rinse and remove pulp before chopping; see Recipe Notes for sources)
1 garlic clove
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
Place the greens, mint, seeds/nuts, preserved lemon, and garlic in a blender or food processor. Blend until finely chopped, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Blend until emulsified, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Taste and add salt or adjust other ingredients as desired.
- Make-ahead tips: The socca should be made just before eating, but the batter can be mixed up to two hours ahead. Pesto can be made up to a week ahead and refrigerated in an air-tight container with olive oil poured over the surface. Salad ingredients can be prepped up to a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator.
- Preserved lemon: If you don't have homemade preserved lemons, you can find them at Middle Eastern markets and specialty food stores like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table.
(Images: Emily Ho)