I love socca, the hot spicy, nutty snack served in Nice and surrounding villages in restaurants, cafés and at local festivals. Accompanied by a glass of fresh cold rosé wine it epitomises the local lifestyle and gastronomy. After all, what could be more Niçois than socca?
Local legend claims that the dish was created during the the Turkish siege in 1543 when the Niçois mixed their chick pea soup with olive oil and through their hot dinner over the castle walls onto the Turks heads!
Intrigued by this dish that is claimed so uniquely by the city of Nice, I decided to investigate, and was surprised to find that socca actually has an extended family around the western Mediterranean – and very possibly even further afield, reflecting the history of migration and trade of the area – but more on this later!
The stony, arid soil along the coastal strip around the western Mediterranean meant that every piece of cultivable land was intensely used. Descriptions by travellers on the Grand Tour noted how the vines around Nice were trained high on trellises with the land in-between planted spring vegetables, beans and pulses. Amongst the pulses were probably chickpeas. High in protein, they were a useful addition to the diet, often added to a pottage style stew. Chickpeas could also be dried and ground into a flour which could be used in cooking, much as wheat flour could be used.
This was a poor man’s food and it was traditionally sold from mobile ovens to factory and port workers. It was also sold at cafés in vieux Nice accompanied by a glass of local or Algerian wine. This was not a refined delicacy, but hearty and flavoursome and the wine was full-bodied to go with it.
Socca is still sold at restaurants and from mobile socca ovens at fairs and markets. Ludovic Kennel is one of the modern day itinerant socca makers, and this is his recipe:
Socca Niçoise recipe from Ludovic Kennel
For 6 people
- 250g chick pea flour
- 50cl water
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
In a bowl, sprinkle the chick pea flour slowly (or sieve) into the water – whisking to avoid lumps. Add the salt and the olive oil and continue to mix until a smooth batter is formed. (Some recommend leaving the batter to sit for a while.) Ladle the batter onto a hot, oiled baking tray. It must not exceed 3mm in thickness. Traditionally socca was made in wood fire pizza-style ovens. To cook at home, pre-heat the oven to maximum temperature for 10 minutes. Turn the oven to grill and place the socca tray high under the grill. Cook for around 7 minutes until a golden colour. The proportion of flour to water will alter the thickness of the batter and the thickness of the final socca as well as the size of the pan.
Today the hot snack is popular with a glass of cold rosé, the peppery nutty taste of the chickpeas contrasting well with the freshness of the rosé – just make sure the rose is not on the sweeter end of the spectrum.