There are some things afoot in our new home in the cheaper part of the ‘hood.
London is a chequerboard. Step one block south, east, or west and it can very quickly become a different city. The trees loom taller, the shadows are longer. And the highjinks can be much more pronounced.
At 10.24 pm I heard them coming. I put down my book and quickly became that crazy woman, banging on the windows down to scold local youths. There were three of them, who for snorts and giggles were yelling running along the street, slashing the tires of every car they passed.
‘Probably best not to yell down at young people carrying large knives, babe’ was The Hungry One’s sensible response from his side of the bed.
Yet, for all its rumpled noise and slashed rubber, there are shining things about my new street. The store at the end of it being first among them.
I was only after some butter and eggs when I popped in last. Before I knew I was poking around. It’s cramped and brightly coloured, the walls stacked high with rice cookers, tins of callaloo and spice mixes in the colour of streaked sunsets. The sole newspaper for sale is The Sun and Milky Bars seem to always be on special.
In the back are the parcels of flour; tapioca, white, brown, rice- and gram.
Gram, or chickpea flour was a firm friend of mine when I first started to leave the shores of white starch behind. I used to buy mine for a nose wrinklingly high price from Simon Johnson gourmet food stores in Sydney.
And here it is , two kilos for just over a pound.
I may have been standing in the thick of South East London, but suddenly I was transported to the south of France.
The only obvious link to Marseilles was the nautical stripes on the jumper I was sporting, but all I could think about was socca.
Socca are sturdy chickpea flour pancakes made as street food in Nice. They’re burnished and have the rough texture of burlap bags. The taste is nutty and there’s a satisfying mix of crisp edges and pliant pockets of batter. They’re usually served with a bit of rosemary, olive oil and salt and scoffed while sipping pink wine and playing that game where you look out at super yachts and hypothesise about which one you’d buy.
They’d make a lovely starter with a pile of marinated olives and some goat curd and chunks of fennel on the side.
But on this cold day I was craving an excuse to turn on the oven and warm my kitchen. And so they became another tool in my quest to reduce the amount of white stodge we scoff. And while chickpea flour still contains some carbohydrates, unlike white flour, it has protein in it too. And if this is important to you, there’s no gluten.
So I took our socca on an Italian sojourn; wrapping them around spinach and ricotta and baked with a chunky tomato sauce with mozzarella. They were a little like cannelloni, crossed with the baked crepes that my Mum used to make.
Yes there’s a bit of faff in making the batter, letting it rest and then standing in the kitchen making the crepes. But there’s also something meditative about it. The first one probably won’t work, but after that it’s just s rhythm of pouring, scraping the edges, waiting for the appearance of bubbles, gently lifting, flipping, sealing, stuffing and rolling.
The end result was scoffed with a smattering of diced olives and rosemary leaves on the couch, churning through another episode of The Wire . And while we listened to a canon of growing rumpus outside we became increasingly grateful to be soundly nestled in.
Thank heavens for second floor flats.
Socca (Chickpea Flour Pancakes) with Spinach, Ricotta and Olives
Beyond being a slower carbohydrate crepe bake, this also makes a lovely Meatless Monday option. It’s best if the batter for the crepes has the chance to rest for an hour or so (30 minutes minimum) before you make them. Be sure to taste the batter before you start- if you’re using unroasted chickpea flour it can have a bitter taste. This can be mitigated by adding more salt. Also be sure to whisk the mix well before starting, as the flour sediment can sink to the bottom of the bowl. Nb, you could also bulk this out further by folding a tin of drained chickpeas into the spinach and ricotta mix.
Serves 4 with a green salad on the side (or two very hungry ones)
1 bowl. 1 non stick crepe pan/fry pan. 1 lasagne dish/ baking tray.
250 g of baby spinach leaves, wilted then chopped
250 g ricotta, drained
40 g parmesan, grated
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 x 180 g ball of mozzarella, drained and torn
Optional: 2 anchovies, finely chopped (these add a nice savoury note, that’s also reminiscent of the south of France)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
Optional- sugar, to balance the sauce
(Makes 8-10 crepes, depending on the size of your pan)
350 grams of chickpea flour/ besan
800 ml of luke warm water
125 ml of olive oil
2 tsp finely diced fresh rosemary
Salt, to balance any bitterness in the chickpea flour
Optional; teaspoon of ground cumin, to add a slightly smoky flavour
To serve: green or black olives
Here’s how we roll
1) At least 30 minutes prior to making the pancakes mix the batter. Combine the chickpea flour with the olive oil, whisking together. Whisk in the water and rosemary and leave to sit for half an hour, or a few hours.
2) Preheat the oven to 200C/ 392 F.
3) Make the sauce by sauteing the garlic and onion in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook until thickened slightly. Taste the sauce and add a tsp or two of sugar if it’s a little acrid (it will depend on the quality of your chopped tomatoes).
4) Combine the wilted spinach with the ricotta, egg, grated parmesan, chilli flakes and chopped anchovy (if using) until you have a smooth mix.
5) Place a non stick pan over a medium heat. Pour in just enough batter to coat the bottom and swirl around. When the edges start to crisp use a spatula to pull them down towards the centre to loosen. Cook until you can easily lift the crepe from the bottom of the pan. Gently flip and brown the other side. Slide the crepe onto a plate and repeat until all the mixture is finished.
6) Place three tablespoons of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the baking dish, to help prevent the crepes from sticking. Place two – three tablespoons of mixture down the centre of the crepes and roll up and nestle across the baking dish.
7) Repeat with the remaining crepes and mixture.
9) Serve with green or black olives and a sharply dressed green salad.