For many vegans, chickpeas and chickpea flour are saving graces. Full of good fats, protein, and fiber, these delicious legumes hit the nutritional jackpot. Most people, vegans or otherwise, know chickpeas for their role in Middle Eastern cuisine; the ever-popular hummus being the classic example of a chickpea-based dish. One of the last places one might expect to encounter a flatbread composed of chickpea flour is Nice, in the southeast of France.
Yet that’s where socca, a pancake-like unleavened flatbread made almost exclusively of chickpea flour, water, salt, and olive oil, originates. Socca is a staple street food in the city of Nice and in the surrounding region. It is generally made quickly, using large cast-iron skillets in an open oven and is served in roughly chopped pieces, dripping with olive oil, with nothing but a generous dash of black pepper as accompaniment.
Such a plain, unglamorous dish may seem unappealing to some, but socca’s modesty intrigued me. What could it be about a simple preparation of flour and water that would purportedly make people devour entire pans of the stuff within minutes? I intended to find out.
Though I wanted to capture the simplicity of socca, I also wanted to round out my meal. I opted for a smaller, thicker Socca pancake with fresh basil cooked inside, topped with fresh roasted mushrooms, tomatoes, eggplant, and garlic.
In making my socca pizza, I obviously had a different cooking set up than the street vendors of France, and had to make some adjustments in its preparation. A hot, open oven was exchanged for my tiny oven’s broiler, and a large cast-iron skillet traded for a 9-inch metal roasting pan.
Despite the high heat of the broiler, my socca took a good 10 minutes to achieve its finished look: browned, almost burned around the edges, blistered on top, yet still flexible in the center. My decision to make my socca thicker than the traditional version allowed it to act as a sturdy base for mounds of roasted vegetables, and spiking the socca pancake with fresh basil gave it a fragrant and delightful twist.
Even after devouring my socca pizza whole, I can’t wait to try a new variation on this Nice street food specialty.
Roasted Vegetable Socca Pizza
- ¾ cup chickpea flour
- ¼ cup whole-wheat flour
- 1 cup water
- 1 plus 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoon chopped basil
- 6 crimini mushrooms, halved
- 1/2 cup sliced eggplant
- 2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- Extra olive oil and salt, for greasing and drizzling.
In a large bowl, whisk together chickpea flour, whole-wheat flour, water, salt, and olive oil. Allow batter to sit at least half an hour.
Grease a baking sheet or roasting pan with olive oil. Add mushrooms, eggplant, tomatoes, and garlic. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil and salt as desired. Roast at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, flip, and roast for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Increase the oven temperature to broil. Place a 9-inch pie dish or cast-iron skillet in the oven for 3-5 minutes to warm it. Carefully remove wearing oven mitts and pour a small amount of olive oil in the dish, tilting the dish until it coats the bottom completely. After a quick whisk, add socca batter. Sprinkle chopped basil evenly on top.
Broil socca for 10 minutes or until the edges and top begin to bubble and brown. The finished socca should have charred edges and a more flexible center.
Using a spatula, ease the pancake out of the dish and onto a plate. Top with roasted vegetables.
Serves 1 as a meal, 2 to 3 as an appetizer.