Socca (Besan/Chickpea) Flatbread
Mentions of socca, the savory besan flour flatbread, are lovingly sprinkled about the pages of this blog. Each reference with a footnote from yours truly promising that a recipe post is on the horizon. It’s time I make good.
With chickpeas and besan flour common to Indian and Middle Eastern cookery, you may be surprised to learn that socca has its origins in the south of France. Travel to the northern coasts of Italy and you’ll encounter it as farinata. Further down the boot a similar recipe known as cecina or torta di ceci is served as street fare in Italy’s Tuscan region, often tucked into a small loaf of warm focaccia.
Whichever name it goes by, the recipe was most likely conceived by peasants as affordable yet substantial fare.
The flavor is wonderfully rustic, with a tender, chewy texture and a lightly crisp crust infused with pungent garlic and earthy thyme. Just a few deftly chosen toppings make for a well-rounded, filling meal.
The socca shown above, incorporating into its base fresh rosemary instead of thyme, plays host to shelled garden peas smushed together with lemon zest, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Homemade lemon-laced yogurt, a few whole peas, tender pea shoots and a final drizzling of evoo made it complete, and oh-so-memorable.
Socca is perfect as a main course for a summer supper or light lunch on the patio. If for a gathering, prepare in advance as one large or several small, and gently re-warm before serving. Top as you wish, or set out ingredients for family or guests to create their own flatbread adventure. Other times you may wish to offer it cut into small wedges as an appetizer before a larger meal, or include it as fodder for a rustic picnic spread with ripe summertime fruits and crudites, fresh salads, cheeses, and — why the heck not — a dish of tender chickpeas!
What’s so good about it?
A product of finely milling dried chickpeas, besan flour (aka garbanzo or gram flour) is inherently gluten-free. It is rich in both high-quality protein (roughly 6 grams per 1/4 cup) and dietary fiber to provide and sustain energy, with added benefits for the digestive, immune and circulatory systems. These proteins and carbohydrates, together with a small amount of naturally present monounsaturated fats, make besan a neat, balanced package of macronutrients.
Also provided are a variety of essential vitamins and minerals, including iron, phosphorous, and about one quarter of your daily folate needs — all of which make it a primo ingredient in the diets of planning and expectant mothers.
The final socca includes a bit more healthy fat from olive oil to satisfy and satiate, stabilize blood sugar levels, and stave off hunger later on. Garlic, aside from warding off vampires, is a rich source of selenium, and offers vitamin B6, manganese, and the antioxidant vitamin C. It is also being studied for its ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, improve circulation, and moderate blood glucose levels. Herbs, including fresh thyme, rosemary, oregano or whichever other you choose, are rich in nutrients as well as antioxidants that protect against disease and inflammation. Other herbal compounds have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
In addition to being gluten-free, socca (un-topped) is dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soy-free, sugar-free, vegetarian and vegan — a truly nice offering if food allergies or diet restrictions are a concern.
More nutrition details can be found in my Have You Met… Besan post.
With a list of healthy ingredients you can count on one hand, and a versatility to match its deliciousness, the humble socca may become your new go-to canvas for all the gorgeous, bold flavors summer has to offer!
Tell me… How would you top your socca?
- 2 cups besan flour (also labeled as chickpea, garbanzo bean or gram flour)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tsp kosher or flaky sea salt
- 2 cups room temperature water
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp regular olive or grapeseed oil, for coating skillet (4 tsp if making the smaller socca)
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, garlic, thyme and salt. Add water and olive oil, whisking again until smooth. Set the bowl aside at room temperature, covered if you like (not necessary), at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.
- Set an oven rack about 6 inches from the broiler. Set oven to highest broil temperature and preheat with a 10-inch (for 2 large; use a 5-inch if making the 4 small socca) cast iron skillet inside, 10 minutes. Carefully remove the skillet and add 1 tsp olive oil, using a silicon brush or small rubber scraper to ensure the bottom and sides are coated. Whisk the batter briefly, then pour 1/2 (if making 2 large; 1/4 for the 4 small) into the skillet. Place under the broiler and cook 5 to 10 minutes until the socca is set in the middle, crispy at the edges and browning in spots on the top. Remove from the skillet onto a cooling rack, and quickly proceed with the remaining batter, remembering to add another 1 tsp oil to the pan first. Cover with a towel to keep warm.
- Once all the socca are prepared, serve whole topped as desired with your favorite sauces, greens, cheese, etc., or cut into wedges. Can be prepared up to 1 day ahead of time and served room temperature or re-warmed. Will keep frozen in a zipper-top freezer bag for several months; thaw overnight in the refrigerator or during the re-warming process.
+ Use any fresh herb you like in place of the thyme. Swap in other woody herbs, like rosemary and sage, in equal amounts. For tender herbs, like basil, dill, tarragon and chives, stick with the equal amount or increase slightly.
+ No fresh herbs? Dried are great, too, but require less. The standard ratio of fresh to dried is 3 to 1, so here you would use 1/3 tsp dried herbs.
+ Add a spicy kick with a sprinkling of dried red chilli flakes or cayenne pepper, or a smoky background with smoked paprika or ancho chile powder.
+ Lemon and orange zest are nice for freshness as well!
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