I’ll take it one word at a time.
Ottolenghi: Yotam Ottolenghi is a British chef that writes The New Vegetarian column in The Guardian. He pushes the concept of traditional cooking, incorporating his Middle Eastern background to today’s best dishes. He has two popular cookbooks: Ottolenghi and Plenty.
Socca: A thick, heavier French chickpea flour crepe. A rustic dish that is supposed to be eaten with your hands.
Pissaladière: A French pizza-like appetizer without tomato sauce or cheese. Instead your dough is typically topped with sautéed onions, garlic, olives and anchovies.
Putting this all together, with Ottolenghi’s twist on the two traditional recipes, we have a light meal with a thick chickpea pancake as the base for lovely caramelized onions and oven-roasted tomatoes. I first spotted this recipe in his cookbook, Plenty, but a slight variation is also posted through The Guardian. In the cookbook, there is more chickpea flour and 2 whipped egg whites are added to the batter. I didn’t feel like fiddling with extra egg whites, so I stuck to the recipe online. David Lebovitz also has a socca recipe and a key point he makes is to rest the batter over 2 hours before you start to bake it. I have added that to the recipe as well.
The result of this is a thick, hearty yet still kind of light, nutty pancake that is smothered with silky caramelized onions with a hint of thyme and topped with oven-roasted cherry tomatoes. I liked how the flavours complemented each other so well. My gripe, though, now that I am making all my weekday meals on the weekend is that the leftovers are subprime. Definitely not bring to work kind of leftovers. I can manage some semblance of the original deliciousness if I pop it back in my oven for a few minutes to perk up. But that only works at home.
As well, I had a bit of difficulties making the pancakes. I usually use a non-stick frypan but this recipe calls for a smaller pancake, made in a smaller frypan. My smallest frypan isn’t nonstick, so my socca stuck a few times. Still tasted great, though. Next time, I may default back to my non-stick frypan even if that means the pancakes/crepes will be bigger.
200g chickpea flour (aka gram flour)
450 ml water
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (I used 1.5 pints)
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
800g yellow onions (around 5 medium), peeled and cut into rings
2 tbsp picked thyme leaves (or 2 tsp dried)
1/2 tsp white-wine vinegar
Crème fraîche to serve (omitted)
1. In a bowl, use a hand whisk to mix together the chickpea flour, water, one and a half tablespoons of olive oil, half a teaspoon of salt and some pepper. The batter should be totally smooth. Cover and let sit for 2 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 250F. Spread the tomatoes, cut side up, over a small baking tray, sprinkle over some salt and pepper and a drizzle of oil, and bake for 25 minutes – they are not supposed to dry out completely, just semi-cook.
3. Next, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan, add the onion and thyme, season and sauté, stirring all the while, over a high heat for about a minute. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking the onions for another 20 minutes, stirring them occasionally. You want them soft, sweet and golden brown, but not very dark. At the end, stir in the vinegar, taste and adjust the seasoning.
4. Increase the oven temperature to 325F. Line two oven trays with greaseproof paper (or a silpat), brush this with a little oil and set aside. Take a small nonstick frying pan, roughly 14cm in diameter at its base, and brush very lightly with oil. Place the pan over a high heat for a couple of minutes, then reduce to medium-high and pour in a quarter of the socca batter (I used more than 1/2 cup each time and got 5 pancakes) – it should be about 0.5 cm thick. After two minutes or so, air bubbles will appear as it sets. Use a palette knife to release the pancake’s edges from the pan, then carefully lift and turn over. Cook for two more minutes, then transfer to the lined oven tray. Repeat with the rest of the batter. Put the pancakes in the warm oven for eight minutes, then remove and set aside until ready to serve.
5. Spread the pancakes with plenty of onion – they need to be covered all over – then top with tomato halves and return to the oven to heat up, for about seven minutes or so. Serve warm with crème fraîche on the side.