Socca (Chickpea Pancake) with Tomato & Aubergine
Socca is a wonderful thing. So easy to make, and very delicious. Using chickpea flour it is also gluten free. This recipe whisks me back to Nice, to a summer there when I was 19. It was only my second summer away from Ireland, my first trip abroad ever I had spent on a farm outside an idyllic looking English village outside Canterbury picking apples. I say summer, it was 3 weeks and a brief trip to London after, but it allowed me to peek at the possibilities available to me and dream of a travel filled future. The following year, after 1 year in university, I headed to Nice for the summer.
Nice was a whole different thing. I lived in a small studio apartment not far off the Promenade des Anglais (a boulevard bridging the city and the bright blue sea). I worked in a market in the evening, wandering during the days, loitering in bookshops and anywhere I found interesting. I read biology texts in French to try and develop my language skills (I was studying for my degree in Biology at the time). I read and I walked and I swam in the salty Mediterranean Sea. I burned my feet on the stones on the beach and I jumped from one stone to another to reach the sea before discovering that I would be spectacularly out of my depth after a couple of feet. I worked from 5 until midnight every day, every week, and then I went for pizza most days with friends that I had made there after we finished. I discovered jugs of rosé, pizza with thin gorgeous ham and bottles of chilli oil hiding sprigs of rosemary and dried chillies.
A Coming of Age Summer in Nice
In many ways this was my summer of coming of age. I discovered lots about the world and about myself. I met people from everywhere. Nice was hot, searing, and when the storms came they were intense and flushed everything out. I had a salamander in my kitchen behind my fridge, and I was regularly startled by lizards going about their day (or night, as it usually was). I saved as much as I could so that I could explore the area in my free time. I went to Eze, Grasse, Toulon, St Tropez, Monaco, and popped over to Italy, from where I was swiftly deported (as this was before Shengen and I had forgot my passport). We thought it was hilarious. We were very naive.
For lunch, I loved to indulge in toasted chicken curry baguettes from a little kiosk down the road (I know, but trust me, they were delicious). I discovered Vietnamese food. I popped over to Corsica for a few days with no plans or reservations. At the end of the summer I packed my bags and boarded a train to Florence and then to Rome, my first trip to Italy and one that made a deep impression on me. Rome more than Florence, I loved everything about the eternal city. The gelato, the potato pizza and the vino especially.
Socca, Pissaladière & Perfect Omelettes in Nice
I had many food discoveries in Nice too. That pizza, but also tubs of creme fraiche, rich, sharp and gorgeous. Pissaladière, perfect omelettes with more thin ham, and socca, the Niçois chickpea pancake. Served in slices, socca is perfect summer food and it is easy to recreate at home. Years later when I returned to Provence, this time for truffles in a hillside village overlooking Mont Ventoux. Before we left, we popped to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue to explore the market. There I discovered a chickpea farmer who was selling dried chickpeas and small transparent bags of his own chickpea flour, bright yellow and fragrant of the beans. Perfect for socca, in London sourcing French chickpea flour is trickier, but gram flour (an Indian chickpea flour) is readily available. My local supermarket has it, and any Asian shop will have it too.
Making the Perfect Socca
Socca is a perfect light meal. The flavour is lovely, all chickpeas and light, velveteen and fluffy. It is crisp outside, and even though it is not strictly traditional, it loves a topping. Socca is super easy to make, to get it right another thing. The right amount of extra virgin olive oil gives this pancake a lovely texture, and baking powder gives it a lift and makes it fluffy. My recipe is for a straightforward socca with flavours added on top, but you can flavour your socca too. I have put oregano through mine, chilli, even shredded ham, which works very well especially when served with a fried egg.
For on top, I cooked a very simple punchy tomato and aubergine sauce. I suppose I was thinking of ratatouille, which is something I ate in Nice too, but I was mainly thinking of using the gorgeous enormous tomato and lovely aubergine that I had bought at the farmers market. They were so good! In terms of size, the tomato equalled at least a normal tin, and the aubergine was a round violetta aubergine, a little on the small side. Use what you have, aiming to have twice the amount of tomato to aubergine, and plenty of garlic.
There are so many alternative toppings you could use here too, including my Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry (still one of the most popular recipes on the site after all these years). Keep it simple with some fresh chopped tomato, juicy and sweet right now while in season, some creme fraiche and some roughly chopped black olives, shredded spring onions and a few sprigs of parsley.
I know you will love this, and it will likely become a regular favourite for you too. Enjoy!
Note: this is gluten free, but do take care to source gluten free baking powder.
You should also try:
Where to Eat Socca in Nice
- per one 10 inch pancake
- 100g chickpea flour (aka gram flour)
- 50ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp baking powder (make sure it is fresh as it does lose its vroom)
- 125ml room temperature water
- sea salt to season (a good pinch!)
- extra oil for frying
- one 10 inch frying pan / skillet, for one large pancake (you can make smaller ones also, of course!)
- 3 cloves garlic (I li ke this punchy!)
- 1 tsp mild chilli (I like to use Korean chilli flakes or pul biber, but substitute your favourite)
- 400g fresh tomato, peeled and chopped (or 1 tin tomato)
- approx 200g aubergine, diced
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt and pepper to season
- fresh basil
- edible flowers (optional)
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