Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The bread from Genoa

I think we need a bigger oven.

Because no matter how much of this stuff I make it never is enough.

This stuff is called farinata, a baked good made of chickpea flour. Depending on who is baking it, farinata could resemble a flatbread (dry and crisp) or a focaccia (puffed out and moist) or even a pancake (more dense).

Unless you travel to places such as Italy or France, it is unlikely you have come across farinata. And depending on where you travel, it goes by different names. If you are in Sicily, for instance, and you happen upon a street vendor in Palermo selling slices of panelle from his cart, you have found yourself a fritter made of chickpeas. In Tuscany, look for cecina, and in France, socca.

It is in Italy's Liguria region where farinata is enjoyed. And, believe me, it is enjoyed quite a lot. The first time I tasted farinata ("made of flour" is basically all it means) was in Genoa, on the Ligurian Sea, credited as the place where the bread first appeared. Strolling by myself one afternoon (killing time while a certain companion was having a lie down, no doubt) I noticed a line of people outside a bakeshop and joined them without even knowing what I was waiting for. Fifteen minutes later and I was at the counter, feeling brilliant for having secured a place in line.

The Ligurians use two ingredients in their chickpea flatbread that you will not much find elsewhere: onion and rosemary. They add them into the batter, but I've come up with a slightly different method: I put a layer of onion in the pan, then pour in the batter and sprinkle the rosemary on top. This may not sound like such a big deal, but if you did a side-by-side comparison you'd see that there is a difference, largely because the sizzling-onion layer at the bottom introduces a somewhat sharper flavor.

The traditional method of making  farinata is in a wood-burning oven. As luck would have it, I happen to have one of those on the brick patio out back.

The full recipe is below, but here's the entry into the Inferno. I use a 14-inch, well-seasoned black iron pan, which does a swell job with this dish.

After about ten minutes, at 650 F or so, this one was done.

Slice it up like a pizza and you're ready to roll.

Perhaps you see now why I might require a larger oven?

The recipe

2 cups chickpea flour (garbanzos and chickpeas are the same)
2 tsp salt 
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper 
2 cups lukewarm water
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, sliced thin 
Fresh rosemary
Plenty of olive oil for the pan

Sift the flour and add in the salt, pepper and water
Whisk until smooth, then add the 4 tablespoons of olive oil (consistency should be thin, like heavy cream or half and half, no thicker; when in doubt err on the thinner side)
Cover and set aside (I let it sit a few hours at room temperature, but it's not necessary)
Preheat oven at 500 F (higher if you can; I do it at 600 or better in the wood oven), then preheat the pan long enough for it to come up to oven temperature

When the pan is hot pour in plenty of olive oil (enough to coat the bottom entirely and then some) and the onion and return to the oven
After a minute or so pour in the batter and sprinkle rosemary on top, then return to the oven
Cook until completely firm, then let cool a couple minutes before slicing
Serve warm


Ciao Chow Linda said...

what - a wood burning stove on your premises? when is the next firing for farina? Or pizza? I remember so well the place in Portovenere where I first had farinata. Yours looks even better.

Unknown said...

che bouno!

Claudia said...

I have been staring at farinata recipes all week. But I am stymied - do I need to build a stove? (There's a lot of snow out there) So this will be made in my Minnesota-on-the Mediterranean oven. Unless you care to fed-ex me some?

And yes, I like it. I really like it.

Thomas Henry Strenk said...

When I tried the farinata recipe at home, it didn't turn out nearly as nice as yours. Maybe because my oven only goes up to a paltry 500 degrees. Or, maybe as you pointed out, I didn't use enough oil. I'll have to try again.

Mister Meatball said...

Thanks all.

One thing I should have mentioned, however, is that 3 friends, fine cooks all, have tried this recipe and had disappointing results so far.

I might say that the wood oven is the X factor, but one of the 3 has the same wood oven as mine, and so I don't know how to explain. I have made the farinata the exact way I've described here several times now, and every time it's been, well, excellent.

Oh, apologies to THS. The photo of the pan going into the oven is his, and should have been credited as such. (Happy now, Tommy?)

Jeannie said...

Can't say I've tasted it but it looks like a focaccia to me...a really good looking one at that!

Thomas Henry Strenk said...

Tried and failed at farinata again. I'm giving up (run out of chickpea flour anyway). They are all dense and soggy. I'm thinking it has to be that magic oven that's needed for success, Mr. M.

Mister Meatball said...

Sorry to hear, Tommy.

I don't think it's the oven, as Dante has the same one and his didn't turn out well either.

I am stumped.

Stacey Snacks said...

This is a beautiful thing.
I am drooling, and will attempt this.
Wish me luck!

Mister Meatball said...

Stacy: Evidently, you will need luck. Lots of it. Since this was posted several other attempts have been made, all by people whose cooking I admire.

For some inexplicable reason, all attempts have failed.

Let me know how you do, and thanks for stopping by. MM

Anonymous said...

I made this awhile ago and it turned out just like the picture! I used a cast iron skillet, so perhaps it was able get hotter. Delicious, thank you.

Mister Meatball said...

Very glad to hear that!