The simplest recipes are often the tastiest. As is for farinata, or cecina: a savoury oven-baked pancake made from chickpea flour that originates in Italy. The pancake has many different names, but preparation is always the same. Farinata has its origin in Genoa and spread to other regions, even all the way to the south of France.
The origin of Farinata
Like many recipes, loads of imaginative stories go around about this dish. There are many stories about farinata as well. Like the story about Roman soldiers who wanted something quick to eat and prepared farinata in the heat of the sun; or Medieval sailors who refused to eat porridge made from chickpea flour, and left it on the deck in the sun. Well, I do not believe any of them.
It is most likely that farinata has its origin in Genoa, which has a very rich trading history. For example, in the 12th century, they traded dried pasta from Sicily. Nevertheless, the chickpea pancake can be traced back to a big area around the Mediterranean Sea, in which Genoa is the centre. From the French city of Nice, where the pancake is known as socca, all the way to Tuscany where they call it cecina or torta di ceci. There are even similar versions of farinata in Marseille (called panisse), Sicily (panelle) and Sardinia (fainè).
Farinata, cecina, socca, fainè, panelle, panisse…
Farinata, cecina or torta di ceci, fainè and socca all have the same method of preparation. You make a batter of chickpea flour, oil and water and bake it in a hot oven until it is a big round pancake, which you then eat in slices. For panelle and panisse you first need to cook the batter into a thick paste. You spread this out, let it cool, cut it up in slices and then deep fry it.
The recipe for farinata is very simple, but there are a few tricks for a successful result. Let the batter rest for an hour before you use it. Bake it in a very hot oven. And bake it in a tin that conducts heat very well, like copper. After many tries, I can really assure you that these tricks work like magic.
Farinata is made from chickpea flour, water, oil and salt. I like to add some flavour by putting black pepper, rosemary or chilli flakes in there as well.
125 gram of chickpea flour
375 ml of cold water
3 tbsp high-quality olive oil
Pinch of salt
Big pinch of pepper
Optional: chopped rosemary, chilli flakes
Sift the chickpea flour into a bowl. Add the cold water and olive oil and stir using a whisk, until it becomes a smooth batter. Add the salt, pepper and other spices. Stir well. Let it rest for at least an hour (not in the fridge).
Preheat the oven as hot as possible. Grease a round oven dish and pour the batter in. Bake the farinata in a piping hot oven until it is golden brown and crispy. The baking time depends on the heat of the oven and the oven dish you use. It will take 20 – 40 minutes (250 °C in a copper dish versus 200°C porcelain dish).
During the Historical Cooking Week in Tuscany we are going to make farinata in the wood oven. Even better!