O Farinata, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… I love your crispy, flaky crust, your soft, golden interior, your simple flavors mingling to create heaven on a plate.
I almost made it through the whole photo shoot without eating some.
I’ve been meaning to post about farinata earlier, but every time I made it I ate it right away.
Farinata is a specialty from Liguria and Piemonte that I discovered late, after already having been in Piemonte for some time. But meglio tardi che mai (better late than never) as the Italians say.
What is it exactly? Farinata is a simple flat baked dish made from chickpea flour, water, extra virgin olive oil, and salt. It belongs to the category of cibo povero (peasant food), simple dishes made from inexpensive and common ingredients that are nutritious and filling.
Farinata has ancient origins; Greek and Roman soldiers used to prepare a sloppy mixture of chickpea flour and water, which they cooked in the hot sun on their metal shields, eating it in order to fill up quickly and cheaply.
In the Middle Ages farinata made its way to Genoa, and a legend tells a story of how it arrived there. According to the story, farinata was born accidentally in 1284 when Genoa defeated Pisa in the Battle of Meloria. When the Genoan ships, full of rowers and prisoners, were returning from battle, a big storm rose up and caused several barrels of oil and sacks of chickpeas to fall over, where they mixed together and got soaked with salt water.
Since those were the provisions for the trip and could not be wasted, they gathered up the mixture and the sailors ate bowls of the salty chickpea and water paste. Some bowls were left out in the sun, and the sun dried their contents into a type of pancake which wasn’t bad. Back on land, the Genoans perfected the casual discovery and cooked the batter in the oven, and it also became known as L’oro di Pisa (Pisan gold) in mockery of those defeated in the battle.
Here in Torino farinata is served as an appetizer in pizzerias, so it is cooked at very high heat in a pizza oven, usually in a big round pan, and then cut into large triangular slices.
It’s so simple to make at home, though, that it seems silly to spend money to buy it.
There are a still a few things that are necessary to make good farinata: high temperature is one. If the oven is not hot enough the results will be rubbery and uniform and completely lacking the crisp melt-in-your mouth consistency. Trust me on this.
It’s also important to let the batter rest for an hour before baking. It’s tempting to skip this part, but it makes a huge difference in the taste. Some say to let it rest for four or five hours or even overnight and that’s even better, but the standard one hour rest makes really good farinata.
And don’t forget the oil and salt! Once I forgot to add both to the batter after it had rested and before baking it. Of course, after making perfect farinata time and time again, this happened on the night there were guests over. As soon as my fork entered my mouth, my face dropped a mile. The result is tasteless and uninspiring, and adding oil and salt after it is already cooked just doesn’t do it.
So, on to the recipe.
The batter ready to go into the oven
250 g (2.72 cups) chickpea flour
700 ml (3 cups) water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1. Put the chickpea flour in a bowl and add the water very slowly, stirring continuously with a fork in order to avoid clumps. (Be patient. I used to dump all the water in at once and spend ten minutes smashing all the clumps with a fork.)
2. Let the batter rest for one hour.
3. Add oil and salt and mix well.
4. Pour into one or two pans (depending on the size of the pans) which have been greased with oil. The batter should be around two-thirds of a centimeter high.
5. Bake between 220-300°C (428-572°F), depending on how hot your oven gets, for around twenty minutes but the time varies. Check it frequently. When the top is golden and the edges start to brown and come away from the sides of the pan, but the inside is still soft (not too soft and raw but not too solid and cooked either- check with a fork), then it is done.
6. Eat it right away with ground black pepper on top.
Farinata goes well with rosemary, so feel free to add a sprig of fresh rosemary to the batter while it’s resting and then take it out, or add fresh or dried rosemary to the batter and leave it there while baking. There are also many versions of farinata, with “toppings” added to the batter a bit like pizza. You can experiment (zucchini goes very well), but I’ve never felt much need since the traditional recipe is so good.
It’s not as good leftover, but if made right I doubt you’ll have much trouble finishing it.