I absolutely love love love socca, or farinata as it's known in Italy, or faina in Uruguay. My pop calls it socca, which is the French word. The fried flatbread hails from Nice, but the concept is found in various Southern climes. Whatever you call it, it's a simple delight. Socca is especially helpful in the contemporary cook's repertoire because it has nothing your allergic-to-everything friends can object to (unless they're allergic to olive oil, in which case, tant pis). Hard to mess up and cheap to make, socca is a tasty weapon in your supper arsenal.
Chickpeas have a smooth, creamy-crumble mouth feel that translates well into flour, and the nutty taste makes a great foundation for bread or a batter for frying. Most of us are familiar with the flavor of deep-fried Indian pakoras — the batter is earthy, savory and full of umami. It's a delicious foil for piquant spices, since it has no fancy additions; it's just the chickpea batter, fried in typical Mediterranean fashion in lots of olive oil, so the aroma at the table is mouthwateringly rich, with echoes of sizzle on the crackling edges.
The global variations are subtle but interesting. Algerians eat their karantita with cumin and harissa, and Italians like black pepper and rosemary. I'm sure both those ways are delicious. Socca should be eaten hot, with your fingers, although we have also served it at room temp as a handle for gravlax and sour cream (floppily successful). It's not sturdy like bread, although you could make it thicker, in which case it might resemble poora, the Indian fried bread. But then it wouldn't be socca. It's meant to be thin, crispy-edged, hot and simple. In this recipe from Pa's Cookbook, by my father, Darius Brotman, the flavor of hot, oily, peppery chickpea is the star. Truly the combination of olive oil, pan-fried chickpea flour, and (crucial) lots of fresh ground black pepper is greater than the sum of its parts. Every time I eat it I remember how much I overlook poor black pepper and why thousands died to bring it to the New World. Make sure to honor their suffering with every creamy, pepper-brightened bite.
Makes two 12-inch soccas (serves 4-6)
Ingredients and method:
1 cup garbanzo flour
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Additional olive oil
Mix the flour, water, salt and oil well and let it rest for at least an hour and as long as overnight.
Heat the broiler and remix the batter. Use a 12-inch cast-iron pan. If you only have a smaller one, fine; the main thing is that the batter should be poured in to create a depth of no more than 1/8 inch. Heat your pan well over a medium flame and add about a tablespoon of olive oil. Pour in the batter to cover the pan 1/8 inch deep (half the batter if you're using a 12-inch pan). Leave pan to cook until the socca is dry and set, about 2 minutes.
Remove whole pan to the broiler. Keeping a close eye, broil it until the top is golden-brown and the edges are crisp. The underside will be well browned by then. Remove the pan from the oven. Sprinkle the top with lots of freshly ground pepper and sprinkles of olive oil. Remove the socca to a cutting board and slice it like a pizza. Serve and eat immediately.