Thursday, January 2, 2014

Making Socca: What the Recipe Doesn't Tell You

There are certain recipes that just can't be replicated properly by simply following the printed directions.

I'm thinking about recipes like my Mary B. Rinehart's cheesestraws. It's taken me years to get them just right. I use my grandmother's baking sheets and cookie press; I add just a bit more cayenne pepper than the recipe calls for to give them some extra zip; I let the ingredients come to room temperature and then mix them for a long time in my Kitchenaid mixer, using the flat beater attachment. I squiggle them out of the cookie press with a certain twist of my left wrist and a certain pressure of my right hand turning the crank, while standing on one foot. None of these tips show up on the recipe card, which simply lists the ingredients and the order in which to mix them. That's it.

My niece Amy has a January birthday and I want to give her a cast iron skillet, a package of chickpea flour, and a bottle of olive oil so she can make socca, a gluten-free, vegan flatbread that hails from France (also sometimes referred to as farinata or cecina). I've made it dozens of times and realize that I've tweaked the basic recipe in a handful of ways that don't show up on a recipe card.

Here's what the recipe card would say:

1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup of warm water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a well seasoned or non-stick pan in oven. Sift chickpea flour into a bowl; add salt and pepper; then slowly add 1 cup lukewarm water, whisking to eliminate lumps. Stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cover, and let sit while oven heats, or as long as 12 hours.

Pour 2 tablespoons oil into heated pan, and swirl to cover pan evenly. Pour in batter, and bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until pancake is firm and edges set.

Cut it into wedges, and serve hot.

Here's what the card doesn't say:

The best only pan to use is a cast iron skillet. You want to get it really hot (in the oven) before putting the olive oil in the pan. I slide it out of the oven and coat the bottom with olive oil. I put the pan back in the oven for a minute so the oil gets really hot. Then I pour all the batter into the pan all at once, quickly swirling it so that the batter is evenly spread.

I sometimes add minced rosemary to the batter. Or maybe other herbs and spices, like smoked paprika, or cumin, or thyme. I sometimes add a bit of sea salt to the top of flatbread, right when it comes out of the oven.

Seems like it takes more like 18 minutes to get it as crispy as I like. I pop it out of the skillet by inserting a spatula and working my way around the edges. I usually bake it a few minutes before guests arrive and then just turn the oven off, leaving it in the skillet in the warm oven until I'm ready to serve it. I put it on one of my wood cutting boards and slice into "pizza" slices, or sometimes squares.

It is wonderful with homemade hummus, or feta cheese, or olives, or benedictine, or pimento cheese. You can use it as a pizza crust or wrap it up like a burrito. It can be pita-like to fold around grilled vegetables or naan-like to scoop up curries. It is also delicious just by itself. It is great the next day, at room temperature, or popped in the microwave for 10 seconds.

Mostly, I'd like Amy to know that you get better at it every time you make it. It is the perfect appetizer, because most always all the ingredients are in my pantry.

I hope she likes her gift and I hope she likes making socca as much as I do. Happy Birthday, Amy. 

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