Socca Vegetable Flatbread & Memories of Nice
This particular recipe is inspired by a certain golden-hued city in the South of France very near and dear to my heart. As an au-pair in the postage stamp sized town of Gonfaron, I spent my days off wandering and exploring the neighboring Provence & Côte d’Azur cities and tiny towns. One such day involved taking a train to Nice, getting absolutely and wonderfully lost in Nice, climbing hundreds of stairs to look at sweeping views of Nice, and eating everything and anything I could find among the crumbling, red tiled buildings of Nice.
Much to my delight, I found Nice to be a city unique in its culinary fare. Unlike the classic white wine and butter drenched dishes found elsewhere in France, Nice is composed of Provençal flavors, fresh seafood, just picked herbs, olives, local vegetables, and plenty of Rosé wine. Wandering through old streets you’ll smell everything from blistered vegetables charring on a fire, to fresh fish just caught from the shore, baked bread wafting through boulangeries, and fresh herbs hanging in terra cotta pots outside of windows.
As traveling and food and incredibly interconnected, there was no way that I was making a trip to Nice without sampling one of its most known and loved staples: socca. Socca is a crispy and savory flatbread/pancake made of chickpea flour and typically cooked street-side over a bed of steaming hot coals or in giant ovens. Getting lost among the curving streets of Nice found me passing stands selling socca every turn I took. This obviously allowed me to sample the city’s specialty numerous times. Certain vendors rolled up the socca and studded it with olives or onions, others served it plain, while most garnished the piping hot pancake with a sprinkle of fresh black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
As much I adore socca plain and on its own, this has been my favorite way to recreate the flatbread stateside. With a cast-iron skillet, or other metal pan, making socca is a piece of cake and you’ll love how easy and delicious this meal is. As an unabashed vegetable lover, I like turning my socca into a flatbread topped with sautéed vegetables, salty olives, and a handful of fresh baby spinach. If you are a cheese lover, a sprinkle of feta or goat’s cheese would make a great addition too. Because this dish is also naturally gluten-free and vegan, it’s suitable for all diets, and makes a fabulous appetizer for parties on summer nights – served Nice style with a glass of chilled Rosé wine.
Of course, you’ll love how fresh and simple this recipe is, and you’ll only need a few ingredients to create something worthy of the South of France. The star ingredient of this dish is chickpea flour, or also known as gram or besan flour. Chickpea flour is made from ground, dried chickpeas and is a gluten free flour packed with all sorts of other benefits to boot. Compared to wheat-based flours, chickpea flour is much higher in protein, offering up 10 grams of protein in half a cup. It’s also naturally packed with folate, iron, magnesium, potassium and Vitamin B-6 – and offers way more nutritional bang than enriched bleached white flour. In socca, chickpea flour is essential for its nutty taste and texture, and you’ll be a total chickpea flour addict once you start experimenting with it in the kitchen.
A hint of Nice + crispy, yet soft socca + sautéed vegetables + salty olives + tender baby spinach + an optional, but very recommended glass of Rosé = delicious, simple Socca Vegetable Flatbread.
Socca Vegetable Flatbread
Serves 2 as a main, or 4-6 as an appetizer
1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup water
1 ½ tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
½ tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup mushrooms, sliced
½ white onion, diced
1 zucchini, thinly sliced (use a mandolin if possible)
¼ cup pitted olives, quartered
Handful organic baby spinach
Additional fresh thyme or oregano to garnish
Prepare your socca batter first. In a small bowl add all socca ingredients and whisk to thoroughly combine. Let batter sit to thicken, for about 30-40 minutes, or until the batter has substantially thickened to the texture of pancake batter or yogurt.
While the socca is thickening, preheat oven to 450° F. As the oven preheats, place a cast iron skillet, or another metal pan, inside to heat.
After socca has rested for about 20 minutes, begin the vegetable topping. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add in garlic and cook until fragrant – about 3 minutes. Add in onions and mushrooms and lightly sauté for 4-5 minutes.
Once oven has preheated, carefully remove the hot cast iron skillet from the oven. Swirl the hot pan with a tablespoon of olive oil to coat. Pour the entire socca batter into the pan, making sure it reaches to all sides of the pan. Place cast iron skillet back in the oven and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges begin to lightly brown. Remove skillet from oven and set oven broiler to high. Place skillet 6 inches below broiler, and let broil on high for 2-3 minutes, or until center is slightly blackened Remove from oven.
As socca is cooking in the oven, add zucchini to the skillet with the mushrooms and onions and season with salt and pepper. Let zucchini lightly sauté for 5 minutes or so. Once socca is broiling, throw in quartered olives to allow them to heat up.
Using a spatula, gently lift socca from cast iron skillet and slide out onto a cutting board. Load up the socca with the vegetable mixture and sprinkle with fresh spinach. Drizzle with additional olive oil if desired and sprinkle with fresh thyme or oregano. Cut socca into small squares and serve immediately – it’s best hot. Enjoy!