Monday, April 23, 2012

The Grainless Wonder: Socca Pizza with Swiss Chard, Asparagus and Smoked Gouda

Socca Pizza with Swiss Chard, Asparagus & Smoked Gouda

I call it socca, you call it farinata,—tomato,  tom–ah-to.  French or Italian. It’s still flat “bread” or pizza made from chickpea flour, and I’d have never made it today if I had a better organized pantry closet in the kitchen. Lucky me, and you! Normal socca, considered casual street food in France, is a little thinner and crispy, but my version is a tad thicker, garlicky, with a bit of chew to it and sturdy enough to hold toppings.
The whole pantry in the kitchen is stuffed, sometimes so stuffed that things jump out when you open the door. I opened the door to get some tea and out hopped my bag of chickpea flour. Made me hungry for socca, although my original plan was to use what I had picked from the garden this morning in some sort of omelet or egg thing. Plans change.  And for the better, as this is absolutely one of the most flavorful ways to enjoy the first gleanings from the garden or farm market in the spring. From the garden I'd already picked some Swiss chard, asparagus, chives and parsley and already had some sliced smoked Gouda from the deli. Almost any combination of lightly cooked spring vegetables topped up with some good quality sliced cheese will give you a savory, satisfying snack or meal. So, so, so good! While this is delicious in its own right, it’s also gluten free. This recipe is also vegetarian, and could probably be made vegan if you use a vegan cheese substitute, but I haven't and won't eat fake cheese. Ever.

Chickpea flour is fairly easy to find, especially now that there is such a big push on gluten-free products in most supermarkets. I use one from Bob’s Red Mill, but if you have an Indian market near you, it’ll be called besan there. It’s a good idea to mix your chickpea batter a few hours ahead and let it stand. It takes a while for the bean flour to hydrate properly, and tastes better after standing. I let mine stand at normal room temperature for about 4 hours; longer I pop it in the fridge. Pureeing the garlic right into the socca batter gives it plenty of oomph! I like to use a pizza screen to finish the baking to help crisp the bottom. Mine came from here.

Socca with Chard, Asparagus and Smoked Gouda

Note: The cooking part of this recipe goes quickly, so have everything ready—you’ll be sitting down to eat in no time. This serves 2, but doubles easily, just use two cake pans and a big cookie sheet.

½ cup chickpea flour (besan)
½ cup, plus 1T water
1 T extra virgin Olive Oil
1 large peeled garlic clove
¼ tsp. sea salt
2-3 grinds of black pepper

3-4 ounces of Swiss chard leaves
7-8 stalks of asparagus; woody stems broken off
1 T olive oil
Minced fresh herbs of choice: chives and /or parsley
4 oz. sliced smoked Gouda (or smoked Provolone, Emmentaler Swiss, or aged Cheddar)

Equipment: Parchment or foil and cooking spray for the pan. A 9” cake pan, and a (preferably) pizza screen or cookie sheet.

Puree everything through the black pepper in your blender and blend until smooth, or use your stick blender. Let the batter stand covered at room temperature for up to 4 hours or refrigerate up to 10 hours. It should be about as thick as heavy cream.

When you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400°F. Place a round of parchment paper or foil in a 9” cake pan, and spray the parchment and the sides very heavily with cooking oil spray. In another sauté pan, cook about 4 ounces of chard leaves or spinach in the olive oil until just wilted and tender, remove and set aside. Place the asparagus in the same sauté pan, cover with water, bring to a boil and cook for about 3 minutes. Drain and refresh the asparagus in cool water and set aside.

Use the same pan, why do extra dishes?

Pour the chickpea flour batter into the pan, and swirl or spread it evenly. Place the pan in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 375°F. Bake for about 15 minutes until the socca is set, and starting to brown on the edges. Remove from the oven, and carefully, with two spatulas or turners, remove it, still on the parchment or foil to the pizza screen or cookie sheet. It’ll be fairly flexible.
Right out of the oven, you can see the layers of goodness!

Turn the oven heat back up to 400°F. Spread the cooked chard over the top as evenly as possible, and scatter over the herbs. Top with all but 3 slices of the cheese, and then carefully nestle the asparagus spears into the cheese in a nice pattern. Arrange the last three slices of cheese on top of the asparagus. Place the socca on the screen or cookie sheet back into the oven for 4-6 minutes until the cheese melts.
Serve immediately. Just don’t eat the parchment!

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