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Green socca are based on the magnificent chickpea pancakes of Southern France

G Daniela Galarza

THE WASHINGTON POST – My last overseas trip was in 2019, when I went to Nice. On a cobblestone street lined with old wooden folding tables, accordion music twinkling up the block and the setting sun casting long shadows, I had socca for the first time.

The restaurant – really more of a hole-in-the-wall stall with tables outside – is called Lou Pilha Leva. Most of its offerings – doughy pizzas and sardine beignets, tuna sandwiches and stubby fries – were forgettable snacks, accompaniments for cheap but plentiful pitchers of drinks.

But the socca! Baked in blackened metal pans wide as a bear hug, thin discs of batter were slid into smoking hot deck ovens until the edges darkened and curled like sneering lips.

These were magnificent pancakes. As soon as each one was done, a cook would quickly cut it into large slices and pile them, messy as laundry fresh from the dryer, on plates which would get carried outside to hungry patrons.

To eat them, you’d pinch a still-steaming piece between your fingers and plop a bite into your mouth. Light but surprisingly filling, they needed nothing more than a sprinkle of flaky sea salt and a cold drink.

Green Socca with antipasti. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

There are many types of chickpea pancake, a versatile and nutritious food that’s found across the globe. It can be thick and pillowy or dense as a baked potato, thin and spongy or crepe-like and crisp. My favourite might be Niçoise socca.

The Niçoise are perhaps best known for their salad of tuna and vegetables in a garlicky dressing and a flatbread thick with caramelised onions and anchovies, pissaladière. But don’t sleep on their socca.

While making a green smoothie for myself one afternoon, I wondered what would happen if I added chickpea flour, poured the batter into puddles on a hot skillet and fried it into thin cakes. That’s how this green socca was born.

The batter takes minutes to make in a blender and can be pan-fried, baked or broiled. I like it fried in a generous pour of very hot olive oil. Cooked this way, its edges grow crisp and lacy and a few dark spots form on each side. Savoury and filling, you could top it with a salad or poached tuna or chicken, a smear of thick yoghurt or a splash of hot sauce.

Here, I’m suggesting it as an accompaniment to an antipasti platter.

GREEN SOCCA WITH ANTIPASTI

30 minutes
Two to four servings

Make Ahead: The batter can be made up to eight hours in advance.

Storage Notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated in covered containers for up to three days.

INGREDIENTS

For the socca
– Five ounces spinach, kale or a mixture of herbs and dark leafy greens, roughly chopped
– One cup water
– Two tablespoons olive oil, plus more for cooking socca
– Half teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
– Half teaspoon za’atar, ground cumin, sumac, paprika or other ground chili powder (optional)
– One and a half cups (five ounces) chickpea flour

For the accompaniments
– Six ounces salty cheese, such as Manchego cheese, pecorino Romano, Parmesan cheese, feta or goat cheese
– One can anchovies or other canned seafood, drained (optional)
– Four roasted red bell peppers from a jar, drained
– 10 to 12 small pickled peppers, any kind, drained
– Half cup brined olives drained

DIRECTIONS

Prepare the socca batter: In the pitcher of a blender, combine the greens, water, olive oil, salt and the za’atar or other spice, if using. Blend on high until smooth and very green, about one minute, stopping to scrape down the sides of the blender jar as needed. Add the chickpea flour and blend on high until incorporated, about two minutes. Set aside to rest while you prepare the antipasti. (The batter may be prepared and refrigerated up to eight hours in advance.)

When you’re ready to make the socca, prepare the accompaniments: Cut the cheese into wedges or break it into bite-size pieces. Rinse the outside of the can of anchovies and pry it open for serving. Halve the roasted bell peppers lengthwise and transfer to a small serving bowl. Place the small pickled peppers and olives in separate serving bowls or ramekins. Transfer all to a serving plate or platter, if desired.

Heat an eight- or 10-inch skillet, preferably nonstick or cast-iron, over high heat. Add about two teaspoons of olive oil. Once the oil shimmers, pour about half cup of socca batter into the pan and, using the back of a ladle or spoon, spread the batter across the bottom of the pan. Cook until the edges start to brown and crisp, about two minutes. Using a large spatula, flip the socca, and cook on the other side until lightly browned, another two minutes. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding more oil as needed, to make four soccas.

Serve soccas hot, family style, with the accompaniments on the side.

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