When I'm not eating wheat for whatever reason, the thing I miss most is pizza. Even pizza restaurants can't seem to manage a wheat-free pizza, it's always something a bit soggy and disappointing. My current food hero is Jack Monroe, so when she posted a recipe for socca pizza, made with gram flour (chickpea flour) I leapt to it. It was brilliant! ...ish. Almost there. Not quite... crispy. So I started experimenting. And refining. And tweaking. And obsessively measuring every detail. Happily, Will's fallen in love with it too, so me repeatedly making us pizzas with tiny variations on a theme (science tip: you can't change two variables at once), is fine. And when I burn my hand again, he's very happy to take over, while I sing Aranjuez with my hand under the tap. So: after extensive, tasty research, here's how to make perfect, crispy gluten-free pizza. After the recipe I'll go into all the ins and outs, because not everything has to be perfect all the time, but it can be if you want it to be, and then toppings ideas.
You will need...
Gram flour. Buy a big bag. You'll want it.
I got mine from Tahmid stores (my spice shop); Sainsbury's also sells it.
Also: olive oil, fresh or dried herbs, tomato sauce or puree, some cheese to grate over, plus whatever toppings you want. Most of this stuff is fridge staples / randomly flexible additions, which is part of the brilliance of this.
And in an ideal world...
at least one 28cm frying pan / round container that can go in the oven
two pizza pans (£3 at Sainsbury's or Tescos)
Two large pizzas(Serves 2 with a couple pieces left over for Breakfast Pizza)
125g of gram flour (1 flat teacup)
250ml of water (1 mug, in my house - check your own mug's measurements)
1/2 teaspoon salt (a pinch)
1/2 teaspoon dried herbs (a pinch) OR 1 tablespoon fresh (roughly)
2 tablespoons oil
NB: This is the basic cooking method. You can get an even crispier pizza by cooking the bases in advance (have a look in the Research Findings) but that's unreasonably demanding for daily use and this makes a plenty crispy pizza.
Preheat the oven to 200°C fan oven (220°C conventional oven) with the frying pans in the oven. When it's hot, pour another 2 Tablespoons of oil in each pan, and put them back in the oven for the oil to heat (or use the stove top for that). Pour 200ml of batter in each pan - tilt the pan around to spread it evenly, but DO NOT GRAB THE HANDLE WITH YOUR BARE HAND.
Put them in the oven for 14 minutes. (If you only have one 28cm pan, do the first one, then put it on a cooling rack while you do the second one.) While it's cooking, you can assemble and chop your toppings. (Scroll further down for assorted topping inspiration.)
After 14 minutes, use a soft spatula to loosen the pizza base and slide each base onto a pizza pan. Smear 2 Tablespoons of tomato sauce or puree all over each - a soft dish-scraper thing, the kind you use to scrape batter out a bowl, is ideal for smearing.
Smearing puree. I was trialling a flan pan this time round. DO NOT USE A FLAN PAN.
Grate cheese thinly across it (about 50g, but do it by eye):
By this point we'd advanced to the pizza pans. They rock.
Add your toppings - thinly, you don't want to overload it and you need less than you think of everything. Put it back in the oven for 12 minutes.
Take it out, serve, and if you're feeling really fancy, serve it on a plank!
All socca pizza is awesomeEven if you can't do every detail or it's not quite crunchy, it is still awesome. Leftover batter fried in a pan on the stove top, then decorated pizza-style and popped under the grill, makes an awesome lunch. EVERYTHING IS AWESOME. Except, possibly, making it too thick. But then maybe that's just awesome in a different way. All socca pizza is awesome - but some are more awesome than others.
Look at this thing. It's not even a pizza. It's a couple of random rectangular things I made with leftover batter in a bread tin. But the important thing is: it's socca, and it's been pizza-ed. So it is awesome.
Mix with a spoon or blend it?It doesn't matter. If you don't have a blender, you'll need to sieve the flour and mix it gently to avoid lumps, but if you have a blender, that'll sort it for you. Normally you'd never use a blender for batter, because that breaks up the gluten, creating a tougher texture. BUT gram flour has no gluten. That's the whole point. Stick in that stick-blender.
Does it really need to rest?Ideally, yes. Resting a batter allows every little grain of the flour to absorb the liquid better. That said, if the resting time is going to mean the difference between having a socca pizza and not having one, screw the resting time and have a socca pizza. All socca pizza is awesome.
Can you make the bases in advance?
- Cook each one 10 minutes, not 14, and put it on a metal rack to cool. When the next one comes out the oven, the first one will be cool enough to move onto a plate.
- When you come to cook them, recrisp them first: 5 minutes in the 200°C oven without any tomato puree or toppings, just loose on the oven shelf.
- Then add the tomato puree, cheese, and toppings, and cook it for a further 10 minutes.
Fresh herbs or dried?It doesn't matter. The fresh herbs meant the batter smelt marvellous while it was resting, but by the time it was cooked, it didn't make much difference. (My willing guineapig couldn't tell the difference.) Any herbs on a Mediterranean theme will do - basil, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, or Herbes Provencale or your own mix. Be free.
Tomato sauce or tomato puree?Opinion is divided. The first time, I painstakingly and lovingly prepared a beautiful tomato sauce from scratch, using specially-bought passata even, instead of standard box-tomatoes, and it was lovely. The next time, I smeared on tomato puree, because that's what we had, and it was lovely. Will thinks it's worth making the tomato sauce. I don't. If you want to, I used this recipe but with passata instead of plum tomatoes, and cooked it on very low for an hour and a half, until it was the consistency of ketchup.
Can you fry it and then grill it?Yes, but it won't be crispy all the way across, just at the edges. It's a great solution for a quick lunch, but you'll need a fork to eat it. (Or no-one watching you scrape bits up with your fingers.)
Hasty lunch-pizza - leftover socca fried up, pizzaed-up, and served on its own prep board. This too is awesome.
Do you need a pizza pan?No, but it does help a bit with the crispiness. If you don't have one, just loosen the base when it's cooked, add the toppings, and put it back in the oven in its frying pan. By the seventh time I was making it, we decided to risk the £3 expenditure to buy one pizza pan to trial. It was crispier, so we bought a second one. The pizza pan has little holes which let moisture escape. A fine wire mesh would also do. You might be able to get away with just using the oven racks, but it's a tad hazardous, as the base doesn't quite support itself so completely at that point. Pizza pans are also great if you only have one big frying pan but want to make pizzas for multiple people.
Should it be served on a plank?How hipster are you feeling? If you're feeling full-bearded carrying-a-typewriter drinking-from-a-jar hipster, absolutely go with the plank. If you think all hipsters should be sent backwards in time, ideally to a time when savage dinosaurs roamed the earth, go with a chopping board or even (shudder) a plate. Though I'm not sure what kind of monster serves pizza on a plate. If you spend a lot of money on an expensive branded plank, you're an idiot. Go to the hardware store and buy a plank. You can even buy smooth ones if you don't want to sand it yourself. If you're feeling fancy, you can use a blowtorch to make gorgeous patterns, like my mum did on ours. Alternately, just serve it on its own prep board, because this too is hipster. Hipster is just a giant cool excuse for not having much money / enough plates / real glasses / razor blades. If you're spending actual literal money on being hipster, you're DOIN IT RONG.
DON'T BURN YOURSELF!If you're not used to putting your frying pans in the oven, it is just so, so easy to grab the handle by accident, even when you've just used a cloth to remove the damn thing from a volcano-hot oven. (Obviously I mean me, not you.) And 200°C is so hot that it feels cold and you see stars and you yell things that would deeply disappoint your mother. After the first couple of times, Will taught me a trick: once the pan's out the oven, drape a cloth over the handle to remind yourself that the handle is now an emissary of death, not the usual familar handle that you, um, handle with such ease.
If you burn yourself, swear freely (the aggression stimulates an adrenaline rush, which helps ease the pain; this works even better if you don't habitually swear, which is why we all need to go up a swear-level when pain hits) and put it under cold running water immediately, and keep it there as long as you can or until the pain subsides. The first time, after I firmly grasped the handle, it took an hour. If you feel guilty about the running water, you can sit with your hand in a bowl of water and regularly add ice to the bowl as your steaming hand starts to evaporate the water. Get someone else to finish the cooking.
Burn 1. This one took an hour to soothe. The camera's blurred because I was shaking with shock.
Oh, look, I burnt myself again. Back under the tap.
And... again. Spending the next hour with my hand in a bowl.
When you burn yourself, someone else has to finish the cooking.
If someone else is cooking, you can advise, but not criticise. You particularly can't criticise the irrational and bastardised ways that they chop peppers. This is especially important to remember if they have professional-kitchen experience and you don't. So just keep your hand under that tap and your opinions to yourself. Or so I'm told.
I'm pretty traditional with pizza toppings, so don't expect toasted cauliflower florets or whatnot; these are mostly variations on a theme of things I like in general, and things I like on pizza specifically. You can use whatever you like, which is the wonder of it; if you want ideas, here are some. The most important thing is not to overload the pizza. It needs less than you think. Which also means it's a lovely chance to splurge on pricier ingredients, like tiny rolls of goats' cheese, because you only need a little. All the pizzas get a tomato base and a grating of cheese (cheddar, in my house), then their toppings.
Toppings for two pizzas, with a lovingly homemade tomato sauce. On the right: finely chopped red onion, red peppers, and gorgonzola. On the left: baby spinach, feta, olives, and spring onion.
Bastardised lunch pizza. Baby tomatoes, feta, and olives.
Basics stilton, red onion, baby tomatoes, and black olives. I think blue cheese is in love with both tomatoes and sharp onion flavours, so I usually pair it with at least one of those.
Two pizzas again. On the left, green peppers, feta, olives, and spring onion. On the right, baby spinach, finely chopped red onion, baby tomatoes, and stilton.
Here's the right-hand one all dressed up.
Red onion, baby tomatoes, mozzarella, chorizo, and jack-by-the-hedge pesto
Two pizzas. Left: red onion, tomatoes, blue cheese (can you tell I like that one?!); right: baby spinach, feta, chorizo, spring onion.
Baby spinach, parma ham, goats cheese, olives, capers, and spring onion
Chorizo, baby tomatoes, blue cheese, and green chilli
Two pizzas. Left: fancy stilton, chorizo, baby tomatoes, and red onion. Right: goat's cheese, baby spinach, spring onion, and black olives.