It's great when you discover something you really, really love, and find out later that it just so happens to be gluten-free, even vegan. This is not because I have any food intolerances (in fact, one could accuse me of being intolerant of intolerances), but I do have a growing number of friends who do. Socca is not any new-fangled food made with faux flour or dairy substitutes. It's something that's been around for generations in the south of France and further afield in the Mediterranean. I must have had it when I was a 16 year old exchange student going to high school in Cannes, but my food memories of that time are mainly of pain au chocolat and cheese, which I'm sure is all I subsisted on at that time. My more recent memory of socca is of eating it at bloodwood, a restaurant that opened in my old neighbourhood just before I moved away. It's the sort of place that you wish was walking distance from your house and now that it's not, I'm forced to recreate their dishes all the way over the other side of town. Luckily, it's not that hard. All you need is chickpea flour, water, oil and a cast-iron skillet.
Socca, or farinata, or torta de ceci, is basically a savoury chickpea pancake - a crispy at the edges, nutty in the centre, burnished golden base on which to pile all manner of good things. My favourite toppings are labneh or goat's cheese with mushrooms (sautéd with garlic, thyme and rosemary) but really, you could do anything you like. Roast pumpkin would be lovely, blue cheese too, but if you're vegan, by all means skip the dairy.
There's a bit of advance thought required for this, in that you have to make the batter two hours ahead of time but really, when it's just a matter of putting ingredients in the one bowl and whisking them together (do it at breakfast time for lunch or dinner that day), it couldn't get any easier. It's the real definition of fast food, on the table in less time than it would take to pick up takeaway or wait for it to be delivered.
Adapted from a recipe by David Leibowitz, from his book The Sweet Life in Paris
You can use the quantity below to make one thick pancake or two or three thinner ones. I tend to favour the one big one, so that you can pile on your toppings, then slice it up at the table, family-style. You can find chickpea flour at health food shops, good delis or Indian grocery stores.
1 cup (130g) chickpea flour (besan)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (280ml) water
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
freshly-ground black pepper, plus additional sea salt and olive oil for serving
Mix together the flour, water, salt, cumin, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Let batter rest at least 2 hours, covered, at room temperature.
To cook, heat the grill in your oven. Oil a 9- or 10-inch (23cm) cast-iron skillet with the remaining olive oil and heat the pan in the oven.
Once the pan and the oven are blazing-hot, pour batter into the pan, swirl it around, then pop it back in the oven.
Bake until the socca is firm and beginning to blister and burn. The exact time will depend on your grill (but it should be somewhere around the 5 minute mark).
Slide the socca out of the pan and onto a cutting board, then shower it with coarse salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.