Last week I discovered Paper Chef. What’s that you ask? If you don’t already know (Congratulations! You were under the same rock as me apparently…), the idea is simple – you’re given a list of ingredients – make something out of them, blog about it and let it be judged against everyone else’s entries. I discovered it via Hunter Angler Gardener Cook (the June winner) via Simply Recipes. How have I not come across this before? It’s only been going on for almost 4 years at this point. The idea caught my eye and so did the list of ingredients for the month: Fresh oregano, chickpeas / chickpea flour, walnuts and a fish steak. “Hmm…” you say.
That’s what I said too.
Before I get any further with my recipe, I’ll note that I misread the rules until just now as I was putting this post together– my dish is really two dishes, but the rules are pretty clear (ahem, reading them now, at least) that it needs to be one dish. However – all the of the ingredients are in one of the dishes, so I guess my effort needs to be judged solely on the braised tuna alone, and not the socca. Oh well. If I had served the braise on top of the socca would it have counted? Eh, it doesn’t matter. Except that the socca is damn tasty – so although it can’t be judged, it should definitely be eaten.
** UPDATE (7/8, 10:00 AM) ** I heard back from Paper Chef World Headquarters this morning, and it turns out the two dishes are to be considered as one, as they are served together and not really two full blown entrees. Woot! (Thanks Ilva)
So...what’s socca? Well, that’s one of the reasons the contest caught my eye – it’s a flatbread made from chickpea flour (besan). There are French and Italian (farinata) versions of it and It’s been sitting on the top of my list of dishes to try for awhile after reading Bittman’s recipe. The lightbulb above my head lit up again a few weeks ago when there was both a follow up column on his blog and I had stumbled on some chickpea flour at the store. Now with the contest, the stars now seem to be aligning. Is it lame that my stars align in terms of unusual flours? Speaking of which, I swapped out some of the chickpea flour for toasted and ground walnuts. The effect was awesome, and the dark, rich, nuttiness came right through. The socca experiments will definitely continue.
For the main dish, I had to fight every grill-loving, smoky-charcoal-dreaming bone in my body not to grill the fish steak. It was almost painful not to and in fact, I probably should have, instead of having both the oven and the stove cranking away when it’s 85 outside. Anyhow, I had never tried braising fish, so this seemed like the time to do it. It was also lovely having an excuse for buying a fish steak. We usually end up having fillet cuts of your standard white fishies (trout, tilapia, snapper, etc), so this was a treat. The braise is based on tomatoes and chickpeas, and finished off with a nice dose of oregano, lemon zest, and walnuts. It was very quick and I think the flavors and textures came together really well: The soft tomatoes, slightly firmer chickpeas and the crunch of the toasted walnuts. While not served with its typically delicious raw-red interior, the cooked to faintly-pink tuna in the braise was tender and still moist.
So, thanks for the contest, the inspiring ingredients, and an excuse to cook a few new things.
And finally, thanks for reading! What would you have made??
I can’t wait to see what others turn in…
Tuna Braised with Chickpeas & Tomatoes
1 tuna steak (about 3/4 lb)
14 oz can chickpeas, rinsed & drained
28 oz can diced tomatoes (if you’ve got honest-to-god, in-season reds, use them by all means!)
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Chili flakes (I used aleppo – not too hot)
Dry white wine
1/4 C heavy cream
1 TB roughly minced fresh oregano
Zest of one lemon
1 C chopped walnuts
- Toast the chopped walnuts either in a toaster oven (or regular oven on a sheet pan) until they start to get a little crunchy and firm up. Careful – it’s a quick step from here to burnt bits. Set aside.
- Get a heavy, medium sized pan with a lid over medium heat (I used a 3.5 qt dutch oven).
- Add swirl of oil, onions, a big pinch of salt, small pinch of chili flakes. Saute until golden and soft.
- Add garlic and stir for a minute.
- Add a big splash of white wine, bring to boil and cook for a couple minutes.
- Add the chickpeas and a little more than half the tomatoes. At this point, mine was a little dense and needed some liquid. I was debating more of the tomatoes, but instead added about 1/3 C of water and that worked. If you want it more tomatoey, go for it.
- Bring to boil, turn to medium-low and place the tuna on top, nestling it in about half way. Cover the pot almost all the way and cook at a steady, low simmer until the tuna is gray up the sides, but still pink on top (took me 10 minutes roughly). Flip tuna over and go until tuna is as desired (I did about 5 minutes more).
- Remove tuna and set aside, covered. Add the cream, oregano, lemon zest and a big handful of the toasted walnuts. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper as needed. Serve along with the socca.
Walnut & Oregano Socca
3/4 C chickpea flour
1/4 C walnut flour (see steps below)
1 C warm water
E.V. Olive Oil
2 big pinches salt
Several big grinds of pepper
1 TB or more minced oregano
- Place a 12 inch cast iron skillet in a oven at 450
- Take half of the toasted walnuts, and pulse them in the food processor until very small (couscous sized?).
- Sift the the chickpea flour into the walnut flour, add the salt and pepper
- Whisk in the water, a couple glugs of olive oil and the oregano.
- Take the hot skillet out, pour a couple more glugs of oil into it, swirl, add the batter, and swirl again.
- Bake for about 15 minutes, until the edges brown and start to curl up. Turn on the broiler to get the top browned if necessary (it was for me both times I’ve made it)
- Remove and cut into wedges.