Socca is a traditional dish from the south of France; Nice, to be specific. Made from chickpea flour with just a touch of cumin and brushed with olive oil, it has a deeply nutty and roasted flavor. It’s cooked in large pans and doused with olive oil at the daily market, where it’s sold as the local snack. Once it’s sold out, the socca sellers are done for the day and the hungry customers have to wait for the next market the following day. Even though I was in Nice just a few months ago, I visited the Old Town center on a Monday, the one day that the food market is not set up, and the antiques market takes place.
The marketplace itself is lovely, flanked by cafes and shops and bookended by yellow brick buildings. The one in the above picture contains the apartment where Henri Matisse spent most of his professional life.
After returning back to the States socca-less, I decided to try my hand at it in my own kitchen. I don’t have pictures of my first try, which is a good thing because it was a huge flop. First of all, despite what all the traditional recipes said, I skipped the two hour resting period in exchange for a short 20 minute rest while I caramelized onions. I had visions of a layered gallette of thin socca cakes, filled with a roasted yellow tomato pesto and topped with a mound of caramelized onions. Well, it turns out that the two hour rest exists for a reason to allow the chickpea flour to become fully hydrated and thicken, which takes some time in the absence of gluten. The large, twelve inch socca cakes refused to set up and did not survive even a single flip, much less assembly.
About three weeks later, I attempted socca for the second time, with a few adjustments. I let the batter rest for more than two hours, and cooked the socca in small, appetizer sized disks that are resilient enough to be transferred to a serving platter, then topped them with a dollop of the pesto and a few caramelized onions, then broiled the assembled soccas for a few minutes until hot and golden brown. I also made sure to treat them with more tender loving care than most of my belongings (I have a bad track record with sunglasses), carefully transferring them to a parchment lined baking sheet with two spatulas.
The result is an addicting appetizer that will liven up any potluck table or add a little variety to nightly dinners.
Oh, and if your kitchen is overflowing with all kinds of summer tomatoes and the two hour wait for socca batter is unbelievably long—which it kind of is for a weeknight dinner, make the pesto and serve it on grilled bread brushed with garlic and olive oil, or toss it with hot pasta. Then, save some of the pesto in the freezer for when you’re ready to make some socca.
Socca with Roasted Tomato Pesto and Caramelized Onions
Serves 4 as a side dish or 8 as an appetizer
1 cup garbanzo bean flour
1/8 teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon olive oil, plus extra for brushing the pan
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, room temperature
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon table salt
½ cup roasted tomato pesto (recipe follows)
- In a large bowl, whisk together the garbanzo bean flour, cumin, salt, 1 teaspoon olive oil, and the water. Let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours.
- While the socca batter rests, prepare the caramelized onions and pesto if you have not done so already: heat the 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat, then add the sliced onions and table salt and cook on medium-high for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium low and let cook for another 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally until deep golden brown and very tender. Remove the onions from the skillet, set aside, and wash the skillet (you’ll need it again soon).
- Once the batter has rested, whisk it to recombine and set a 12 inch non-stick skillet on medium heat, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Once the skillet is hot, brush it with olive oil and using a ladle, portion out 2-3 tablespoons of batter for each socca, as if you were making very thin pancakes. You will be able to fit about 4 soccas in the pan per batch. Cook the soccas for 2-3 minutes until set on one side, then transfer them carefully to the parchment lined baking sheets with a thin spatula. Repeat the process to cook the socca with the remaining batter, brushing the skillet with olive oil before each batch.
- Divide the pesto evenly between the socca, spreading it into a thin layer. Then divide the caramelized onions evenly on top of the pesto. Broil the soccas for 2-3 minutes until hot and has developed some color along the top. Serve immediately.
Roasted Yellow Tomato Pesto
Makes about 2 cups, enough to sauce 2 pounds of pasta or make 4 batches of socca
2 ½ lbs yellow tomatoes (cherry or heirloom), cut into 1 inch pieces if large
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
½ cup fresh basil leaves
¾ teaspoon table salt
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup toasted almonds
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 400F and line a rimmed baking sheet with either foil or parchment paper. Toss the tomatoes with 1 teaspoon olive oil and sprinkle with a little kosher salt. Roast the tomatoes for 40-50 minutes until decreased in volume and are a deep golden brown.
- Transfer the tomatoes to the bowl of a food processor along with the basil, 2 tablespoons olive oil, table salt, red pepper flakes, almonds, and vinegar or lemon juice. Process until a smooth pesto forms, 1-2 minutes. Taste to adjust seasonings as desired, then use in your favorite application.
Note: This pesto keeps well in the fridge for 2-3 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.