Ask Wren: Culinary advice in the Vail Valley
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – It all started with chickpea flour, a cookbook and a craving.
Sitting on the couch, having a morning cuppa or three, I was reading through Mark Bittman’s “How to Make Everything Vegetarian.” It’s one of those enormous cookbooks with no photographs and tons of recipes squashed together – “everything vegetarian” covers a lot.
I’d been spending a lot of time in the Legumes chapter, having been on a bean kick that didn’t include chili. I came across a recipe for a chickpea pancake, called socca, served primarily as a street snack in France and Italy. Made with chickpea flour, water, olive oil and salt and pepper, the recipe seemed slightly more complicated than pouring a bowl of cereal.
I don’t know why I moved the untouched bag of chickpea flour from California with the rest of my kitchen stuff a few years ago, but I did. So I happened to have all the ingredients on hand. I made the socca, which I cooked in a big cast iron skillet in my oven. It didn’t look like much, tan and flattish. But looks aren’t everything. Served with an abundance of freshly ground pepper and parmesan cheese (yeah, the vegan approach isn’t for me), I wanted it the way I usually want pasta: all the time. Unlike pasta, it made me feel virtuous, slightly holier than thou. And I wanted to make it even better while maintaining its simplicity.
I tried several things, and finally called for reinforcements. David Walford, chef-owner of Splendido at the Chateau, is a topnotch chef and host. He’s also a zealous researcher and gets all hot and bothered about authenticity. For instance, he and his chef de cuisine, Brian Ackerman, spent months researching the best and most authentic pans for paella. The pans! Then they moved on to the rice.
I was right to contact him; below you’ll find our exchange. But more importantly he had an idea. Why not start a culinary advice column? People can write in with their own questions or recipe needs, and I can call up one of the hundreds of chefs who live here and are passionate about cooking in the Rockies. It snowballed from there. What if you have a kitchen tool you’re not certain how to use? What if you can’t find the proper cornmeal or tomato or cheese? What if your muffins are tough, or your roasts dry? Ask Wren. I love to talk shop with chefs, and we’d be crazy not to take advantage of our many chefs’ collective expertise.
So write in with your questions. Answers will be published every Wednesday in the Vail Daily. We start today with my own question, sent to David Walford and Brian Ackerman:
Hi David and Brian,
I’m wondering if you can weigh in on socca, that Italian chickpea pancake. Are you familiar with it? If so, can we talk about it? I’m trying to perfect my recipe but am stumped after getting it to “amazing, but still needs something.”
Socca are actually a Niçoise specialty, but it’s close to Italy and it may have been part of Italy at one time.
We have used them (small ones) as a side to other dishes, such as lamb or as an hors d’oeuvre from time to time.
In Nice they sell them as a snack on the street in the old part of the city. They cook them on a very large griddle in or over a wood fire and then cut them up and serve them with black pepper. Very simple. Some people call them crepes but they have no relation to the Brittany crepes.
Do you know what Panisse are? That is another South of France specialty, basically a chick pea polenta, let it get firm, cut it into little French fry shapes and fry it. Really yummy!
As far as yours go, you might be expecting too much from a socca … they are very plain and simple. Cook it very hot so it gets good and crispy and almost burnt as if it were cooked in a wood oven. Usually they are served with a little black pepper and that’s all. I suppose you could come up with all kinds of toppings, but that wouldn’t be authentic. Try drinking more wine with the socca.
See the recipes below.
Good luck and call or write again anytime!
1 1/4 cups chickpea flour, sifted
1 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp. salt
Pinch black pepper
1. Place the flour in a mixing bowl and add the water while whisking constantly.
2. Add the olive oil and salt.
3. Cook like a crêpe or on a griddle. Can be cooked until completely crisp. Sprinkle with black pepper.
4. The batter is best if made at least an hour in advance.
David Walford has been in the culinary world for more than 30 years. Known for his respect for ingredients and his deft handling of the same, he’s been the executive chef at Splendido at the Chateau since 1994. Brian Ackerman has worked with Walford since 2001. For more information on the restaurant, visit http://www.splendidobeavercreek.com or call 970-845-8808.
Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
She’ll pass it on to one of the Vail Valley’s multitude of passionate, talented chefs and get an answer for you.
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