May 7, 2014

Springtime Socca

Socca, farinita, torta di ceci, cecina.  I've never been to Nice and I didn't run across this treat in the few days I was in Liguria this past summer, but let me tell you; my recent discovery of these savory chickpea crepes is the perfect base for whipping up a simple spring dinner. A quick search tells me there are a million different variations on socca - paper thin and lacy, pancake-like, chopped soft herbs mixed into the batter, baked or broiled - and there are probably strong opinions from all sides on the proper way to make socca, but I'll take them in any form.  With a slight nutty and bean-y flavor, the savory possibilities for enjoyment are practically endless. [Note: I tried them topped with a bit of nut butter and honey one morning and wasn't totally sold on them in their sweet iteration.]

I've been terrible these past few weeks in shopping the farmer's market with a clear dinner plan for the upcoming days.  Instead I've been scooping all the new spring produce into my arms and cobbling together meal plans on the fly.  Even though it's just San Francisco and the winter "season" isn't all that much to write about, months still pass where all you see are dark leafy greens, piles of citrus and the earth tones of root vegetables, it's hard not to get giddy about spring's new crop of offerings. Pea tendrils! Strawberries! Fava beans! Snap and shelling peas! Radishes! Baby carrots!

Armed with a fridge newly full of vegetables and a bag of Bob's Red Mill chickpea flour, I figured I'd give socca for dinner a go.  The pea shoots were roughly torn, the favas slipped out of their pods, quickly blanched and then popped out of their jackets, avocado was sliced and a handful of pine nuts was toasted.  I made a quick dressing of some very nice balsamic vinegar and walnut oil and the salad was done.  I went with a thicker, more pancake-like version of socca so I could slice it into triangles and put the salad over the top and not need to worry about the sog factor, but stuffing the salad into a thinner crepe would be just as nice.  The only advance planning needed here is to let the socca batter sit for about an hour to let the bean flour absorb the water and make it a nice pourable consistency.  Do this before you shell the favas, toast the pine nuts, and assemble the salad and the timing should work out to where there isn't too much waiting around.

Springtime Socca
There is so much you could do with this recipe - add in a handful of chopped herbs like basil, mint, tarragon or parsley to the socca batter, thinly sliced radishes would be a pretty addition to the salad portion, use shelling peas instead of favas, arugula instead of pea tendrils, and I think some fresh goat cheese dolloped over the top or crumbled feta would really take this to the next level.  Play around.  Try the socca as thicker, sliced pancakes or tuck the salad into a folded over thin crepe

4 servings (either 2 thick socca divided or 4 thinner crepes)

1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for cooking

8 oz pea tendrils, roughly torn
1 pound fava beans, shelled, blanched and slipped out of their skins
1 avocado, sliced
1/4 cup pinenuts, toasted
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon walnut oil
salt & pepper
2 soft boiled eggs (optional)

In a bowl, mix the chickpea flour, water, salt and olive oil with a whisk until smooth. Set aside for about an hour. If you are adding a handful of chopped herbs, add that in too before whisking.

Wash, dry and gently tear the pea tendrils into manageable salad pieces and put into a bowl.  Remove the favas from their pod and set a small pot of salted water to boil on the stove. [To make the shelling easier, run a Y-shaped vegetable peeler down one of the seam sides of the pod, they should now open easily as you run your finger down and pop the beans out.] Once the water is boiling, blanch the favas for about 2 minutes, or until they all rise to the surface of the water and you can hear a slight hissing sound.  Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking, then pop the beans out of their jackets and into your bowl of pea tendrils.  Toast your pine nuts in a small skillet over medium heat until  golden and slice your avocado.

Heat a small skillet (mine is 8" across) over medium high heat and coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil.  If making a thicker socca, pour half the batter into the pan and cook until the bottom begins to brown, about 3-4 minutes.  Carefully flip it over and cook the other side for another 2-3 minutes until the edges are crispy and both sides are a deep golden in spots.  Remove from pan onto a cutting board and repeat for second half of batter.  Use the same technique for the thinner crepes, using just 1/4 of the batter each time and reduce the cooking time by about a minute per side.  Cut thicker socca into 4 pieces each (2 triangles per plate) or place one of the thinner crepes flat on each plate.

Dress the pea tendrils and fava beans with the balsamic vinegar and walnut oil and season with salt and pepper.  Divide between the 4 plates and top each with some sliced avocado, toasted pine nuts and sliced soft boiled egg if using.  For the thinner crepes, place the salad on one half of socca and fold the other half over after topping the salad.