Did the old man in front of the Menton market hall write the sign with “gluten free” and “rich in protein” on his own initiative? Or was it the idea of a daughter or a grandson to advertise traditional socca with these contemporary attributes? Socca, the flatbread made from chickpea flour, water, salt and a little oil on the Côte d'Azur actually fits in well with today's diet, in which some grain flours are branded as fattening foods and empty calories, and pasta made from legume flour even in supermarkets with average stocks is to be found. The handwritten sign on the market in France could, however, tell much more interesting things: For example, that the socca was a construction site meal that notoriously calorie-needy workers were supplied with by traveling traders,or that the Provencal chickpea flatbread has numerous relatives in nearby Italy (with an almost confusing variety of names). It is also likely to be of Arab origin - in Algeria, for example, the karantita is popular as a quick everyday meal.
The zone between Tuscany and Sicily is Europe's undisputed stronghold for snacks made from the fine, silky flour made from dried legumes.
If you head east in search of the socca siblings, you will first come across several specialties in Liguria that also consist of chickpea flour, in Savona the crispy, slightly thinner turtellassu.
"The Gold of Pisa"
In Genoa, the panissa is served, which resembles a creamy polenta, which when cold is usually cut into sticks and fried. And, also especially in Genoa, there is the oven-baked farinata (fainà in the Genoese dialect). The designation "Gold of Pisa", which is also known for the Farinata, contains Genoese ridicule rather than Pisan pride: When Genoa fought Pisa (then a maritime republic) in 1284, the supplies ran out because of a storm, according to legend Chickpea flour and oil mixed up and distributed together with seawater on board. The next day the mixture is said to have solidified and cooked by the heat of the sun. A delicious-tasting accident that, to the mockery of the underdogs, was called the “Gold of Pisa”.
A little further east you can try the Tuscan Cecina, in Sardinia the Fainà or Fainè.
In Sicily we find panels in markets, in front of churches and on street corners.
Fried pieces, square or triangles, made from a dough based on
farina di ceci
, as chickpeas are called in Sicily, served hot between light-colored bread slices and with lemon wedges.
Indian pakoras are also made from chickpea flour
All these regional specialties, which are inadequately translated as flat cakes, pancakes or omelettes, have in common that they consist of a rather liquid batter made of chickpea flour, water, often a little oil and salt. Exactly this mixture is also used on another continent: in India. Here the legume flour is called Besan, Chickpea Flour or Gram Flour (under these names it can also be found in German ethnic supermarkets). Bhajias and pakoras are the best-known Indian snacks made from chickpea flour: they usually consist of chopped vegetables that are mixed with thick, seasoned dough to form lumps that are then fried. A little baking powder in the dough helps pakoras to be incredibly crispy - ideally, like Japanese tempura, they are as light as a feather instead of dripping with oil.
The variety of preparations in India is great: even bread slices are fried in spiced chickpea batter to make pakoras, served with tamarind chutney. For a variety of onion bhajias, onion slices are kneaded with ground coriander and chopped green chillies until they release their juice. The chickpea flour combines with the onion juice by adding a little water to form a dough. Chickpea flour also masters the sweet trade: Besan Ladoo, for example, to be found in the state of Andhra Pradesh, consists of balls made of ghee,
and powdered sugar in roughly equal parts - the flour is roasted with ghee, kneaded with the sugar and some ground cardamom and made into balls shaped.
The spicy bhajias are also known in East Africa, especially in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, where they were introduced by Indian workers during the British Empire.
African bhajias are usually made from potato slices and dough, typically seasoned with coriander greens and a variety of other flavors.
Lavishly seasoned in India and East Africa, purist in Italy - chickpea flour has many faces.
This is how a farinata succeeds
Rachel Roddy, a British cookbook author living in Rome, has the following instructions ready for a Ligurian Farinata: Mix 150 grams of chickpea flour (available in ethnic markets or organic shops from Turkish cultivation) with 450 milliliters of water and a pinch of salt to form a smooth dough and leave it stand for two hours. Any foam is skimmed off the surface. Now you pour 100 milliliters of good olive oil into an ovenproof flat baking pan, swivel it to line it with oil, and then pour the dough into it. Use a fork to spread the oil in the dough. (“The surface with the rising oil stains now resembles a lava lamp.”) Bake in an oven preheated to 180 degrees for 20-30 minutes, cut into squares or triangles, sprinkle with plenty of freshly ground pepper and enjoy warm - “ideally with a beer”.