Farinata is one of those lovely Italian recipes that so many regions claim to have invented. She is like a sailor with a boy in every port. In Liguria, she is known as Farinata. In Livorno, she is Torta di Ceci, while in my native Tuscany, she goes by the name, Cecina. And as far off as Nice and the Cote d’Azur, she is called Socca.
Each of these regions believe they are her birthplace, which is understandable because she changes ever so slightly from port to port. A hint of rosemary here, a handful of chilli there, the addition of tiny local fish called gianchetti or elsewhere, served with nothing more than a scattering of cheese.
My recipe was passed down to me from a family friend. She was from Genoa, a beautiful city that stretches languidly across the Italian Riviera, famous for its bright palazzos and magnificent churches. I visited her recently and she served her farinata on a sun-dappled terrace with an incredible array of Italian antipasti, sliced hams, cheeses, olives and plump capers. With a glass of white wine, it was the perfect summer aperitivo and I couldn’t resist begging her for the recipe.
Farinata literally means ‘made with flour’, which can be a little misleading. It is a sort of pancake made with chickpea flour. Traditionally, the recipe calls for nothing more than water and a little salt. In decades past, white flour was far too expensive for most and flours made from chickpeas and other legumes readily available. Farinata was a filling, yet satisfying dish that could be prepared in the early morning before the heat set in the kitchen and enjoyed in the fields for lunch or in the early evening as a light supper.
As the years past, the locals enriched the dough, so to speak, so what began with humble roots, blossomed into a national dish to be proud of.
My farinata recipe is the traditional Genoese version, which incorporates artichokes and sautéed red onions into the batter for texture and flavour. Usually you would add a squeeze of lemon juice, but I’ve used preserved lemons instead because they have a saltiness to them that give this dish a Middle Eastern twist. Genoa was once one of Italy’s most famous ports and its local cuisine definitely has elements of the far-flung east.
There really is nothing to this recipe. Simply prepare the batter the night before and leave to rest. This helps the flavours develop and will give you a better textured pancake.
When you’re making the batter, you want a consistency similar to thick cream. That way, when you pour into the baking dish or frying pan to bake you get a really thin layer. The thinner the better – that’s the secret to a crispy farinata! Just don’t forget to grease your pan really well. My first two attempts at this were incredible failures because my farinata stuck to the bottom and ended up more of a granola than a pancake.
When serving your farinata, think of it as a quick and easy flatbread pizza. You can top the crisp pancake with whatever you like. I’m using feta and rocket with a hint of chilli and basil leaves.
Since it’s not made with plain flour, it’s also a great gluten free alternative to pizza that’s packed with flavour and really good for you.
So invite some friends over, chill a bottle of white wine and make this farinata the centre of your next antipasto platter!
Farinata (Italian Chickpea Pancake) with Summer Artichokes and Preserved Lemons
1 cup chickpea flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
230ml warm water
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 artichokes, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
zest of 1 preserved lemon, finely diced
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
50g feta, crumbed
to serve: rocket and basil leaves
Place the flour, salt, chilli, oil and water in a bowl. Mix to combine. The batter should remind you of thick cream. Refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat your oven to 220°C
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large oven-safe frying over medium heat. When it starts to smoke, add the onions and the artichokes and cook until browned and soft (8-10 minutes).
Remove from the heat and stir into the chilled batter along with the preserved lemons and parsley.
Add another 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan you used to cook the artichokes. Make sure the bottom is coated well or your farinata will stick. Pour over the batter and bake until the edges are golden and the middle is cooked through (20-25 minutes).
Remove from the oven, sprinkle over the parmesan cheese and grill until melted (2 minutes).
Leave your farinata to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes. That will make it easier to get it out of the pan. Once removed, serve warm with the rocket and basil leaves and crumbled feta.
Farinata is best served as part of an antipasto platter with sliced ham, olives, cheese and marinated vegetables. Serves 8.