When it comes down to it, the impoverished have traditionally been the ones who really know how to eat. Their food, free of fussiness and pretension, devoid of extravagance, is food that is real: just basic, wholesome ingredients, prepared simply and humbly, prepared from necessity, crafted out of thrift. Food pared down to its very heart and soul. It is this sort of food that often happens to be the most satisfying, the most heart warming, the most nourishing sorts of food. The kinds of things you crave when you are truly hungry, when your spirit is hungry. Poor man’s food.
Farinata is just that – simple, wholesome, hearty – a sort of pancake or unleavened bread, made of chickpea flour, oil and water, started on the stove top in a large cast iron skillet, and then finished in the oven. It is a specialty of Genoa, where the fisherman eat it for breakfast in the wee hours of the morning, before heading out in their boats for the day.
Traditionally, farinata is cut into wedges and adorned with rosemary, sea salt and a liberal shake of black pepper – or sometimes with crumbled gorgonzola dolce and a drizzle of olive oil. I’ve tried it both ways and can vouch for them both. I also have been known to top a slice with a chunky tomato sauce and a few torn pieces of mozzarella, place it under the broiler for a minute, and eat it like this, which I also quite like. The other night, I took it a step further and buried it under butternut squash from Kingsbury Market Garden that I roasted, marinara and torn bits of fresh mozzarella. It was the sort of meal that I think I might dream of if I were lost in the desert, starving. It was divine.
When I eat it, I like to imagine a grizzly bearded fisherman crouched over a little fire, pipe hanging lopsidedly from the corner of his mouth, cooking farinata for his breakfast in the predawn darkness. I like to imagine that he wraps what is left in a little cloth, slips it in his pocket, and eats it later out at sea with the salt spray on his face and his boat rocking with the waves. I can’t say why, but it tastes even better when I think of such things.
Adapted from My Favourite Ingredients by Skye Gyngell. Serves 6.
- 1 cup (225g) chickpea flour
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped or 2 teaspoons dried
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- a few twists of freshly ground pepper
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + 1 tablespoon for cooking
- 1 cup (225ml) water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the chickpea flour into a bowl with the rosemary, salt and pepper and mix well. Make a well in the center and pour in the oil and water. Stir well until you have a smooth, thick batter. Let rest for 20 minutes.
Place a large cast iron skilled over medium heat. When heated, add the oil and distribute evenly over the pan. Spoon the batter into the pan and then use the back of the spoon to smooth it out into a circle about 8 inches in diameter. Let the pancake cook for a few minutes on the stove top, and then transfer to the middle shelf in your oven. Let bake for about 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
Slide the farinata onto a plate and cut into triangles, like a pizza. Drizzle with a little extra oil, sprinkle with salt and garnish with some extra chopped rosemary to serve.