France's Versatile Pancake

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Photo by chez pim/Flickr CC

One of the best snacks in the world is to be found at Chez Marie's stand in the market in Nice. It is socca, a huge, thin chickpea-flour pancake that is served hot on pieces of paper. You eat socca with your fingers, pulling off the chewy edges and the soft, crêpe-like interior.

When I was roaming around Nice 20 years ago, the just-made socca would be transported to Marie's stand with great drama, on a specially-designed bicycle rigged with a hot brazier on which the wide, flat pan of socca balanced. This sublime creation is nothing more than a thin batter of chickpea flour, olive oil, water, and salt that is poured into a hot, oiled pan and cooked over a wood fired oven.

Socca (without the subtle, wood-smoked flavor) is easy to make in a skillet on top of the stove. The batter, which has no egg or leavening, will keep for days covered in the refrigerator, and can morph into a variety of useful preparations. I often make socca as an instant snack, standing by the stove and eating it as it comes out of the pan (it is a good way to eat beans).

Socca also makes a marvelous hors d'oeuvres. I put the large skillet with the finished socca right on the table and let guests help themselves, tearing pieces off with their fingers. It's also a great crêpe-like base in which to wrap warmed leftover shredded long-cooked meats and stews.

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Though it's probably something of a heresy, socca batter makes great silver-dollar pancakes for a grownup breakfast; their slightly eggy flavor marries perfectly with maple syrup or jam.

Bob's Red Mill sells chickpea-flour as Garbanzo Bean Flour. It also has a delicious Garbanzo and Fava Flour that can be used the same way. They are available by mail order and at Whole Foods.

Recipe: Chickpea-Flour Pancakes (Socca)

Socca batter can be made up to four days ahead: cover and refrigerate. It will get thicker as it sits; thin with water as necessary.

4 Servings

    • 1 cup chickpea flour
    • 1 1/4 cups water, more if necessary to thin the batter
    • 1 1/2 to tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil plus more for oiling the pan and drizzling
    • Scant ½ teaspoon coarse (Kosher) salt
    • Freshly ground pepper to taste (optional)

In a medium bowl, sift the chickpea flour. Slowly whisk in the water, adding more by the teaspoonfuls to make a batter the consistency of heavy cream. Whisk in 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, the salt and pepper. Transfer the batter to a pitcher or measuring cup with a spout to make for easy pouring.

To cook single socca, heat a large heavy nonstick skillet, or a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, over moderate-high heat. Pour in a little olive oil and swirl or use a silicone brush to coat the pan. Pour about 1/4 cup of the batter into the pan and tilt the pan to coat the bottom evenly with the batter and make a pancake between 1/16-inch and 1/8-inch thick.

Cook until small holes pock the top and the bottom is browned, about 1 minute. Flip the pancake and cook another minute until the bottom side is golden. Eat hot, drizzled with olive oil if desired. Repeat with the remaining batter.

To make silver dollar size pancakes, pour 2-inch circles around the edge of the pan, spaced 1/2-inch apart. Do not swirl. Cook until small holes pock the top and the bottom is browned, about 1 minute. Flip the pancake and cook another minute until the bottom side is golden. Eat with maple syrup, honey or jam.

Like all pancakes, make one or two small "test" pancakes to get the variables right:

    • If the pancake is too thick (thinner--around 1/16th to 1/8th inch thick--is always better with socca), thin the batter with a little water.

    • Adjust the salt level to your taste.

    • If cooking too slowly, turn up the heat; if the fat starts to smoke, decrease the heat.

    • To flavor savory socca, add a good dose of black pepper, or frizzle a few leaves of fresh rosemary in the hot oil before pouring the batter into the pan.