Monday, March 05, 2018

Farinata, A Dream Come True

Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food has traveled extensively to find small, family-owned producers of exquisite oils, grains, salt and herbs, so his travel advice is worth heeding. As are his recipes, as the one for farinata, below.

I ate farinata for the first time in the Ligurian village of Levanto, just up the coast from the Cinque Terra, more than 10 years ago. Judith and I had spent a wet October day hiking the trail connecting the five towns, and the Cinque Terra rail pass lets you travel between La Spezia and Levanto, the hamlets just beyond the north and south ends of the five towns. So we rode the train to the sleepy seaside resort hoping to dry out a little.

As we wandered around, I'd ask the shopkeepers where they ate, my standard practice for finding good local food instead of the stuff meant for tourists. We ended up at a pizzeria away from the beach, back up the hill toward the train station.

We planned to grab a quick bite before riding the train back to La Spezia to pick up the car and drive "home" to the Tuscan village of Chianni. But I saw something that clearly wasn't pizza come out of the wood-burning oven; nothing on top, just a plain-looking golden pie in a darkly patinated copper pan. I asked what it was, the pizzaiolo said "farinata," and handed me a slice. I thought about the slightly crispy edges and soft, custard-like interior for years, dreaming about finding it somewhere closer to home.


Farinata is a simple flatbread made from chickpea flour, water, salt, and olive oil. The humble ingredients belie the rich flavor; it's hard to believe that there's no cheese. And it's fairly easy to make, enough that I can't believe I waited so long to try.

Mix chickpea (aka garbanzo) flour with about twice as much water; for a 12 inch farinata I use a cup of flour and 2 cups of water. It's important to let the flour hydrate completely, so let the batter sit for at least 30 minutes or even overnight (longer is better). Add a teaspoon of salt and a generous pour of good extra virgin olive oil (about 3 tablespoons). I like the traditional addition of fresh rosemary, so I'll stir in a tablespoon or more of it, lightly chopped.

Set your oven hot to 400°, move the rack to the top slot, and put a 12 inch cast iron skillet inside until it gets nice and hot, about 20 minutes. When you're ready to bake, add enough extra virgin to the hot skillet to completely cover the bottom; swirl it around to get up the sides a bit, too. Pour in the batter, slide the skillet into the oven, and cook for about 20 minutes. It's done when the top is lightly browned and the edges are pulling away from the pan. It's best hot, but it's not bad the next day.

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