For years I’ve looked for recipes that foment community. Yes, foment. Community. I like serving food that prompts–propels?– the people around the table to laugh, talk, and touch each other. Fondue would fit the bill, but some of my regulars aren’t big on cheese, although I could do more with chocolate so long as the dip options aren’t all fruit. (D0 you sense a degree of fussiness here? After all, something fussy must have been in the DNA of one of my children who is famous for saying I never eat something I haven’t had before. And that fussy gene isn’t from me. At least food fussiness, that is.)
Make-your-own-sandwich night works. There’s lots of passing and observing and marveling at the combinations of food one person favors versus another.
I recently bumped into–in a virtual bump that is–brother and sister Food Network chefs Joey and Melissa Maggiore. They have five tips for getting community around the table: go grocery shopping together, make the kitchen a hangout area, let the kids cook, create a family holiday as in gather-round-the-table for more than just Thanksgiving (Joey is going to have this be an actual campaign of his in 2011.), and, lastly, let everyone be themselves. (http://www.babble.com/best-recipes/dinner/family-dinner-italian-traditions-recipes-food-network-show/; Follow Joey & Melissa Maggiore on Facebook )
So, I muse about what foods I can add to my repertoire. I find a bread recipe that seems promising, but I can’t pronounce it. Not being able to say the name of a dish daunts me and for a while always puts the brakes on my trying it out. I ask my now all-grown-up-and-good cooks-at-that-children about this bread in the hopes that they would be able to shed some light on it. I hit the jackpot with Doug.
He says, Mom, that’s socca, and I made it for you and Dad this Fall!
This is such a great thing: having family members who serve as external memory preservers, sort of like those removable data thingummies I stick in the back of my computer and carry around, lest my computer devour the latest draft of my book? Sure enough, Doug made socca for us, and I’d forgotten. It’s essentially a Street Food, made in wood-fired ovens, sold to passers-by and eaten piping hot. (I got this tidbit from David Lebovits–http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0767928881/davidleboviswebs)
Doug explained that he made ours with a blend of whole wheat and spelt because we didn’t have any chickpea flour.
And sure enough it’s a perfect food for throwing another tie that binds around that table full of people. It’s a food that fits with Joey and Melissa’s five tips too.
The batter consists of chickpea flour, water, coarse salt, pepper, and olive oil. It comes together quickly–kids and adults can do the mix it up as they make themselves at home in the kitchen. It does well if it gets some “rest” before the cook part, so it fits into the “foods to make partially ahead” category too. Cooking it is simple: hot broiler. Oiled pan with an edge. Get the pan hot, pour batter in, swirl it, and pop it back into the oven. Broil until the socca firms up and begins to blister, maybe even burn a tiny tiny bit. I stress tiny, because some people–me-won’t eat burn. Slide it out on some kind of serving board. Salt, pepper and olive oil it and put it in the middle of the table.
In order to get a piece, the people around the table need to pull, tug, rip, and stretch the socca. But! And here’s the community part: in order not to put my hands all over it while I try to keep it on the table as I tug for a piece, someone else, or maybe two someone elses, needs to keep ahold of the section of the circumfrence that’s near to them. It’s a hoot. Lots of laughing and yikes-ing because it’s piping hot; lots of finger-licking the seasoned oil off the fingers. Lots of ahhing and ooo-ing once we all start chewing. Be prepared for people to say it’s the best thing they’ve ever tasted.
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Not to end this piece with a note of uncertainty, but, here goes: I myself have NOT YET made perfectly wonderful socca. I’ve dreamed of socca; I’ve read about socca; for gosh sakes, I’ve written about socca! I’ve assembled the ingredients for socca, and tonight I made a stab at making this easy to love, community-building bread. It was good–very tasty–but it wasn’t the right consistency. I mean, it just came apart without the need for any cooperative pulling and tugging. And I want to foment.
So, back to the drawing board, er, kitchen. Maybe if I had a different pan? Hadn’t combined two recipes because I liked the salt amount in one and the oil amount in the other? Hadn’t eliminated the optional onion? Or let it cook until some–some!–browning started amidst the blistering?
Stay tuned community members! I’ll be back with Search for the Perfect Socca Part 2 as soon as I figure out the secret to the pull and tug.