One of our rituals on a visit to Nice is a wander down the winding, narrow streets of the Old Town in search of a plate of socca. Known as farinata across the Italian border, socca is a thick pancake made from chickpea flour and in Vieux Nice it’s great fun to see it being deftly cooked in the street in large, flat pans. Once it’s ready, this delicious street food is roughly cut and sprinkled generously with black pepper (essential).
As with all things culinary in this part of the world, there are endless arguments about the correct ratio of chickpea flour to water and many people believe it is not a recipe to be cooked at home but one to be brought back to the house as a takeaway. I tend to agree as it’s not easy to produce something as good as what’s on offer in Vieux Nice so maybe it’s one of those local specialities that should only be enjoyed in situ.
Socca chips however are an entirely different matter and my family go mad for them. These little chickpea flour fries are called panisse in Nice and panizzie in Western Liguria where they are also made. Simply make a thick chickpea flour paste, leave it to cool, slice the mixture into batons and fry these batons in olive oil. I like to add a little grated cheese and some cumin to the batter, ideas pinched from Hilary Davis’ recently published book ‘Cuisine Niçoise’. Serve the chips on their own as a snack or a hearty canapé with the obligatory twist of the black pepper mill and a pinch of sea salt.
175g chickpea flour
1 ½ tsps ground cumin
1 ½ tbsps extra virgin olive oil plus extra for frying
25g gruyere cheese
Pinch sea salt
Whisk the above ingredients together in a large bowl, then transfer to a heavy-based saucepan and heat until thick, stirring constantly. This should take about five minutes.
Pour the thickened mixture into a greased baking tray and leave to cool. I use a 22cm square tin which gives quite thin chips. Cut the mixture into slices and fry in olive oil until crisp and browned on the outside.
Serve the chips straight away with salt and pepper sprinkled over them as desired.