One of the iconic dishes of Ligurian cuisine, just as typical of the region as pesto, the chickpea flatbread known as la farina genovese deserves to be better known. It has a wonderful, mildly nutty flavor that marries well with just about anything you want to serve it with, but it is perfectly delicious on its own, as an antipasto or snack. And it is really easy and (not counting the initial ‘rest’ for the batter) quick to make. And once you’ve mastered the basic recipe, you can dress it up in myriad ways. What’s not to like?
Makes a cookie sheet’s worth
For the basic batter:
- 250g (1/2 lb) of chickpea flour (see Notes)
- 800ml (27 oz) water
- A good pour of olive oil
- Freshly ground pepper
- Fresh rosemary leaves
- Thinly sliced spring onions
Place the flour and salt in a large bowl, then slowly whisk in the water until you have perfectly smooth, rather thin batter, similar to a crepe batter. Let the batter rest for at least three hours or (better) overnight. When you are ready to make your farinata, mix in the oil.
Now pour the batter into a greased baking sheet. It should just cover the bottom by no more than 2 or 3 cm (1/2 inch) at most, thinner if you like. Sprinkle one of more of the optional flavorings, if you like.
Bake the batter in a hot oven (200C/400F) for about 15-2o minutes, or until golden brown on top. Cut into serving pieces and serve hot.
The only ‘tricky’ part of making chickpea flatbread is finding the main ingredient. Chickpea flour is not that easy to find in your average supermarket, but you can find it at Whole Foods, as well as better Italian delis. And you can always order in online.
The initial rest may seem like an unnecessary drag, but it really is quite important. The rest gives the chickpea flatbread a smoother texture and richer flavor. Recipes are all over the place on how long to let it rest, some calling for as little as 3 hours, others up to 18 hours. You can even let it rest longer than that: when I last made this dish, I made more batter than I needed, so I refrigerated the rest. I didn’t get around to making a second batch until a full week later—and the second farinata was even more delicious than the first.
Variations on this recipe can be found in different parts of Liguria. According to Le ricette regionali italiane (Solares), farinata is made with half chickpea flour, half wheat flour in Savona. The thickness of the farinata also varies from place to place, usually 2-3 cm but in San Remo it is made much thinner. Besides the flavorings mentioned here, in the old days the farinata was made with flakes of stoccafisso, a kind of dried codfish similar to baccalà, but not salted.
Farinata is best served hot, right out of the oven, but it will successfully reheat without much loss of flavor or texture. But don’t eat it cold, it loses most of its charm.
Traditionally, la farinata is baked in a round baking dish, but if you don’t have one, it will taste just as good made in a normal rectangular dish.
Those of you with Sicilian ancestry will immediately see the similarity to panelle, which uses a thicker batter (more of a wet dough, that is shaped into disks and fried. Chickpea flatbreads are made round the Mediterranean basin. with the best known one made just down the coast in Provence, where they made an almost identical dish they call socca. My fellow blogger Tasty Trix just blogged about her version of chickpea flatbread called the socca, so go check it out!