Socca – How can something so ridiculously simple taste so outrageously good?!

In Spain we can easily buy chick pea flour as it’s used to make Tortillitas de Camarones, little deep fried “pancakes” made with the tiniest prawns imaginable. They are so very, very good. My previous experience of cooking with chick pea flour (or gram flour, garbanzo flour or besan) was in Indian cookery to make bhajis.

In my search for other uses, I kept coming across recipes for Socca, a chickpea flour pancake, usually cooked at high heat in the oven in a small cake tin or tray. I also found a version in my wonderful River Cottage Bread Handbook which was cooked in a frying pan. Perfect for summer when you want food you can cook quickly without using the oven. We ate this with Chargrilled Aubergines in Tomato Sauce – tearing up pieces of the pancake and dipping. Fantastic if you enjoy sharing dishes and are not too proud to slurp and lick your fingers!

Socca (1)

Ingredients (per pancake)

  • 100ml chick pea flour
  • 100ml water
  • A good pinch of salt
  • Olive oil for frying

Mix the flour, water and salt together and leave to stand for a few minutes. Put a couple of tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and heat until it sizzles (this pancake is meant to be oily, so go on, be heavy handed with the oil!)

Pour the mix in, it should be thick in the pan and cook until it starts to char on the edges. Flip it over and cook the other side. Serve immediately and imagine you are eating it sitting in a bustling bar in the South of France sipping an ice cold beer and watching the world go by from under the brim of your slightly battered panama hat….

On Thursday morning we’ll be heading off down the mountain and driving north across Spain. Hopefully we’ll get our heads down for the night near Bordeaux and onwards Friday morning towards Calais and an early evening crossing to Dover.  Then we go west to our little home in Bexhill. Just for a few weeks you understand, we have a Golden Wedding Anniversary to celebrate with my parents and walks along the beach with the pups. We will enjoy the last of the beautiful English summer before we head back to our mountain home for the September fiestas. I’ll still be checking in here, but perhaps not as often as usual. See you when we get there!

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Chargrilled Aubergines in Tomato Sauce

Our little veggie garden is reduced this year, we planted only peppers, aubergines and tomatoes as we were too late back from England to plant much more and we will head off to the cooler shores of the English South Coast again before all the vegetables have been harvested.

Chargrilled Aubergines in Tomato (7)

Never mind, we are still trading with neighbours and this year we have an impressive crop of aubergines (eggplants). Interesting for me as a cook as Big Man has never been a huge fan, but he knows I love them. It makes me think about different ways of serving them to see if I can convert him. I don’t think he’ll be signing up for Aubergine Weekly yet (if such a magazine existed), but he’s eaten everything I’ve made so far without that look on his face. You know, the one children do when they are about to put a sprout/piece of liver/most hated food into their mouth!

Today’s dish was a quick one as it was so hot. We ate it with Socca, but more of that another day.

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a main dish)

  • One large aubergine thickly sliced and cooked on the griddle or barbecue on both sides until lightly charred (no need to salt and don’t brush with oil if doing on the bbq as you’ll only end up setting fire to them)
  • About two cups of tomato sauce (this was prepared in advance) Soften 3 crushed cloves of garlic in olive oil, then add 1 kilo of crushed peeled tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of tomato purée, half a teaspoon of salt, a few good grinds of black pepper, half a teaspoon of sugar (if required), a glass of red wine and a few stalks of basil leaves. Simmer for about an hour, remove the basil and it’s ready. This will give you about 6-8 cups of sauce

Chargrilled Aubergines in Tomato (4)

Cut the grilled aubergines into bite sized pieces and simmer in the sauce for about 10 minutes and you’re done! This is also wonderful cold and great over pasta.

Roast Chicken with Saffron, Hazelnuts and Honey

I’m not an expert on poetry, I can’t even claim to get immense pleasure from reading it regularly, but there are some poems that stick in my head. One such poem is “If” by Rudyard Kipling. Different lines from it seem appropriate at different times.

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

That seems to be the part that resonates right now, and I wanted to say a heartfelt thank you to you all for your kind words of support and encouragement while Big Man and I deal with the highs of a wonderful year of hard work behind us, and the lows of the ill health of loved ones in the here and now.

However, life really does go on. We live, we laugh, we cry and of course, we cook and eat. Cooking soothes the soul, eating does too. Well, we all knew that didn’t we?!  Today I have another beautiful Ottolenghi recipe that is stunningly simple and simply stunning. I followed the recipe almost exactly, which is rare, and I wouldn’t change a thing. When we ate this dish, I found myself thinking what beautiful Arab flavours it contained. As I looked up the recipe again to pull this post together, Yotam Ottolenghi says that he was influenced by a recipe from Claudia Roden’s book, Tamarind and Saffron. Aha, now I need to buy that one too!

Chicken with Saffron Hazelnuts & Honey (8)

Serves 4

  • 1 large (organic, free range if possible) chicken cut into portions
  • 2 onions roughly chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp each of ground ginger and ground cinnamon
  • A generous pinch of saffron strands (but use turmeric if you don’t have saffron)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 tbsp cold water
  • 2 tsp coarse sea salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 100g hazelnuts (actually, I did change this, he says unskinned, mine were skinned!)
  • 70g honey
  • 2 tbsp rosewater

In a large bowl mix the chicken pieces with the onions, olive oil, spices, saffron, lemon juice, water, salt and pepper and leave to marinate (from 1 hour to overnight in the fridge)

Heat the oven to 190 degrees (Gas 5). Brown the hazelnuts on an oven tray for 10 mins (I dry fried mine in a pan), cool slightly, roughly chop the nuts and set aside.

Transfer the chicken and marinade to a large tray or oven dish (you want to spread it all out) and bake for about 35 minutes.

Meanwhile mix the honey, nuts and rose water to make a rough paste and spread it over the almost cooked chicken. Return the meat to the oven for about 10 minutes (or until cooked) and it is all golden brown.

This dish looks so beautiful (well, less so in my photo!) and is good even when cold.