A Ligurian Summer Repast

By Francine Spiering | Photography by Raymond Franssen

 

 

My first crisp slice of farinata came flaming hot straight from a wood oven. The baker slathered it rapidly with a seductively aromatic Genovese pesto and handed it over. This was on the Ligurian coast in northwestern Italy many moons ago, and as is often the case with the first encounter of anything we love, I have never forgotten that first taste of this dish, nor have I been able to replicate it exactly at home, perhaps for lack of the same sun rays, sea breeze, wood smoke, and Ligurian market aromas. However, with determination—and a pizza stone placed in the center of my home oven—I’ve made irresistible farinata many times since.

Farinata literally means “made of flour.” It’s the Ligurian name for a flat thin chickpea tart that’s popular along a large stretch of the Mediterranean coast. On the French Côte d’Azur it’s called socca; in Tuscany, it’s known as torta di ceci; and on the island of Sardinia, fainè is the common name. But whatever this simple flatbread is called, there’s magic in the way the runny batter bubbles and bakes, becoming crisp on the edges, almost custardy to the tooth, and memorably savory with a nutty leguminous depth.

If you’re ready to try, here are my tips and techniques for baking farinata in a home oven.

Making Farinata at Home

If you are so lucky as to have a pizza oven (wood fired or not) use it now, but that hot pizza stone in the middle of your home oven will help replicate the nature of those Ligurian forni a legna. For the pan, you can use any seasoned cast-iron skillet or nonstick round, rectangular, or square baking pan with a rim of at least 1 inch. I like to use a pizza pan (non-perforated, of course). Preheating the pan is essential: The hot baking pan sizzles the oil and immediately crisps up the batter, which helps to prevent sticking. An extra measure to prevent sticking is to point a wooden spoon at an angle at the center of the pan and pour the batter over it. This helps the batter spread and not push away the oil right in the middle where the batter can stick to the pan.

Makes 1 large (12–14 inch) or 4 individual farinata

  • 2 cups chickpea flour
  • 2½–3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

To make the batter: Put the flour in a bowl and gradually whisk in water to achieve a smooth, lump-free batter the thickness of heavy cream. Skim off any foam. Cover with a cloth and leave on the kitchen counter for 4 to 8 hours, stirring occasionally. If not using immediately, store, covered, in the fridge for up to 2 days. When ready to bake, add the salt and thoroughly stir the batter.

Optional add-ins: Farinata is good plain, but in its homelands, sliced onion and fresh rosemary leaves are sometimes added to the batter. I like adding thin slices of fennel for flavor and visual appeal. These add-ins can be stirred into the batter or arranged over the top just before the pan goes in the oven. When baked for the full time at the same high temperature, the toppings may char.

To bake: Preheat oven to 500°F. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the center of the oven. When full temperature is reached, heat the farinata pan on the hot stone for 5 minutes, then take it out, pour in the olive oil, and pour in enough farinata batter to spread to a thickness of ⅜ to ½ inch. The thickness of the batter is important: If the batter is too thick, the farinata will come out a little stodgy rather than crisp. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown and firm on top.

Stovetop method: To cook the same runny farinata batter like pancakes, heat a 6-inch frying pan on medium-high and add enough oil to create a film across the bottom. When the oil is hot, add enough batter to spread out to a thickness of ⅜ to ½ inch. Cook until the top is no longer liquid. Flip and cook for 1 or 2 more minutes.

Farinata with Walnut Herb Raita, Red Cabbage Fennel Salad, and Blueberry Vinaigrette

 

For a light lunch dish, I like serving fresh-baked farinata with this walnut herb raita and a summery red cabbage slaw dressed with blueberry vinaigrette.

Serves 4

  • Juice of 1 small lemon
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1 cup shredded fennel (about ½ large bulb)
  • 2 cups shredded red cabbage (about ½ head)
  • 1 spring onion, chopped (white and green)
  • ¼ cup mint leaves, shredded
  • ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted and coarsely ground (optional)
  • Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
  • Blueberry Vinaigrette (recipe below)
  • 4 individual farinata or 4 portions (recipe below)
  • 1 cup Walnut Herb Raita (recipe below)

Place lemon juice, olive oil, and sea salt in a mixing bowl. Add fennel and toss. Let sit for 10 minutes to soften. Mix in cabbage, onion, mint, fennel seeds, salt, and cayenne pepper. Toss with the vinaigrette right before serving.

To assemble: Bake (or reheat) farinata. Place 1 portion on each plate. Spread a layer of raita on the farinata and mound the salad on top. Drizzle with additional vinaigrette as desired.

Walnut Herb Raita

This cooling and flavorful yogurt-based sauce boosts the pleasure of hot, crunchy farinata.

Makes about 1 cup

  • ¾ cup plain organic yogurt
  • ⅓ cup chopped walnuts
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • Handful mint, chopped
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1 spring onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and finely diced
  • Ground cumin to taste
  • Ground cayenne to taste
  • Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients and let flavors meld before serving.

 

Blueberry Vinaigrette

Makes about ½ cup

  • ¼ cup blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground smoked paprika
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine blueberries, vinegar, and smoked paprika in a bowl. Blend coarsely with an immersion blender. Whisk in olive oil and season to taste.

Farinata & Grilled Veggie Sandwich

 

 

Farinata is at its crunchy best straight from the oven, but don’t knock day-old farinata. What it loses in crispness is gained in creaminess, even at room temperature.

I like to stuff leftover farinata into a sandwich with layers of grilled veggies on a crusty roll slathered with the Blueberry Plum Barbecue Sauce (recipe at right). There’s also precedent for using leftover farinata itself as a sandwich bread.

Makes 1 sandwich

  • Fresh crusty bread like ciabatta or baguette
  • Blueberry Plum Barbecue Sauce (recipe at right)
  • 1 or 2 slices grilled eggplant
  • 1 or 2 slices grilled fennel
  • 2 or 3 strips roasted bell pepper
  • 1 or 2 pieces of farinata (room temperature or reheated), cut to fit inside the bread
  • Green leaves, herbs, and/or microgreens of choice

Cut bread lengthwise and spread cut sides with Blueberry Plum Barbecue Sauce. Stack the grilled veggies with the farinata and greens—alternating colors—between the bread halves and enjoy. Serve extra sauce on the side for those who can’t resist.

Blueberry Plum Barbecue Sauce

This mild and fruity barbecue sauce goes well with all your summer grills. Spread it on a sandwich, serve it like ketchup with fries, or set it out with a charcuterie platter.

Makes 2 (8-ounce) jars

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 2–3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
  • 1 or 2 chipotles (from a jar of chipotle in adobo), chopped
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 2 plums, pitted and chopped
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • ¼ cup local honey
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika powder
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • Salt to taste

Heat oil in a saucepan and add onion. Turn heat to low and cook onion slowly until soft and caramelized, 7 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, and chipotles and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Increase heat to medium, add vinegar, and stir well, scraping the bottom. When bubbling, add blueberries, plums, tomatoes, honey, mustard, and smoked paprika. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the sauce doesn’t stick to the pot. Season with black pepper and salt to taste.

Note: You can keep this sauce chunky or process until smooth with a blender.

Poured into a clean mason jar, covered, and stored in the fridge, this sauce will keep for months.

Dressed Up for Company

When I make farinata for guests, I’ll serve the hot, crisp slices alongside a tempting array of condiments and cheeses, or I might cut it into bite-size squares or triangles and top them with some chèvre and a drizzle of Blueberry Plum Barbecue Sauce

 

 

Francine Spiering is a food writer, editor, and recipe developer who has worked with several Edible Communities magazines. She has a passion for travel and a kitchen diploma from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Follow her on Instagram @lifeinthefoodlane.

Raymond Franssen is a world-traveling geologist and amateur photographer. Follow him on Instagram @barolo_raymond.