This may come as a shock to some but I am a huge crêpe/pancake/pizza person. And so, when I saw chickpea flour pancakes and crêpes featured in a number of different vegetarian cookbooks, I had to experiment.
Garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour is made from dried garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and is naturally gluten-free and remarkably high in protein. It's heavily used in parts of France (to make socca and panisses) and Italy (to make farinata). In a way, it's the perfect gluten-free flour because it requires no gums or other binding agents to create delicious flatbreads, fries, pancakes, and crêpes. Interestingly, it tastes nothing like chickpeas, which may or may not be a selling point? I don't know. I actually really like chickpeas. It has a definitive cheesy flavor, though, and, baked into a thick pancake, works really well as a tart or pizza base. Thin, delicate chickpea crêpes can be filled with various savory ingredients and rolled like any other type of crêpe.
I love its crispy texture, its savory notes, and its versatility. It's become something of a mainstay in my kitchen. Expect to see more of it in upcoming posts.
I created a thick baked pancake with a mushroom and rosemary batter and topped it off with pan-blistered cherry tomatoes. The end result is a savory pancake/flatbread hybrid with a soft crust, fragrant, slightly bitter rosemary, and earthy mushrooms. Because the "broiler" feature on my oven appears to be more decorative than anything else, the photos don't quite reflect the beautiful charred top of a traditional socca but I am told that the broiler is the best way to achieve it. For a creamy element, I added some homemade pine nut cheese but cashew cheese, goat cheese, yoghurt, harissa, ajvar, romesco, and salsa are all welcome. But my absolute favorite way to eat it is plain -- it's excellent served warm out of the oven accompanied only by a glass of crisp, white wine.
Mushroom Socca with Rosemary and Blistered Tomatoes (v/gf)
Makes 1 10-inch pancake
1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup water
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp finely minced rosemary
2-3 portobello mushrooms
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
3 cups cherry tomatoes
avocado oil (or other high-heat cooking oil)
extra sea salt and black pepper
Combine the water, 2 tbsp olive oil, and 1 tsp sea salt in a medium bowl. Sift in 1 cup of chickpea flour and whisk the ingredients together, making sure no clumps remain. Cover and let the batter rest at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours or in the fridge overnight.
In the meantime, prepare the portobellos: wipe the caps clean with a damp paper towel, remove the stems, and, with a small spoon, scrape out the black gills from the underside of the mushrooms. Discard the gills. (Purists would argue that throwing out the gills removes a lot of flavor but it also prevents the gills from discoloring the batter). Chop the mushroom caps into 1/2-inch cubes or smaller.
Heat 1 tbsp avocado oil in a large pan over medium sized heat. Add the chopped mushrooms and saute on medium-high heat for a few minutes until the mushrooms release their moisture. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to saute until the mushrooms are cooked through. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Add the balsamic vinegar and increase the heat to medium-high. Continue to cook for another minute or two, stirring often, until most of the liquid in the pan has reduced. Remove from heat.
Preheat the oven to 450 F and place a cast-iron skillet into the oven for a few minutes. Carefully add 1 tbsp of avocado oil (or other cooking oil) into the hot skillet and swirl it around to evenly coat the bottom. Add the batter to the pan and swirl it around to make sure the batter and the mushrooms are evenly distributed. Bake for about 15 minutes and then slide the pan under the broiler for another 3 to 5 minutes.
Top the hot socca with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Allow the socca to cool for about 5 to 10 minutes in the pan. With a heat-proof spatula, gently loosen the edges. Slide the spatula under the pancake to make sure the bottom is completely loose from the pan and then slide it out onto a plate or a baking sheet.
In the same pan you used for the mushrooms, heat a tablespoon of avocado oil (or other cooking oil) over high heat. Add the cherry tomatoes (either halved or whole) and cook them on high heat for a few minutes until they're blistered and lightly charred, shaking the pan often. Season them lightly with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper and remove from heat.
Cut the socca into triangles and top with the blistered cherry tomatoes and whatever other condiments you like. Serve immediately.
Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a day or two but it's best to reheat before serving.
Note: Leftover chickpea flour should be stored in the fridge or freezer. You can substitute any other type of mushroom or even other vegetables (thinly sliced onions are traditional) but add no more than 1 cup of cooked or raw veg. Because the baking time is so short, I like to add already cooked vegetables but delicate ingredients such as tomatoes, spinach, zucchini, and onions can probably go into the batter raw.