La Farinata: A Favorite Ligurian Snack

Portofino red boat

Easter Sunday in Portofino

It occurs to me that I’ve talked a lot about the flavors of Genova and Liguria, but I haven’t really given you a taste. So before we leave this beautiful region of cliffs and cool breezes, of ports and seaside villages, I’d like to share this recipe for farinata, a classic Ligurian street food.

farinata new 3 Farinata is a flatbread of sorts, composed of chick pea flour and water, olive oil and salt (and a few optional embellishments). It’s traditionally baked in a wide, shallow, well-seasoned copper pan and enjoyed hot out of the oven, sliced into squares or wedges. The result is a bit like a savory pancake, soft in the middle but with a delicate lace-like crust. Chickpea flour gives it a golden color and an appealing vegetal flavor. It is sold hot out of the oven in focaccerie and other shops.

The recipe may date back to medieval times, and possibly to Roman times, depending on which of two legends you believe. One claims that Roman troops occupying Genova, in need of quick and cheap nourishment, “baked” the pancakes in the sun right on their shields. The other holds that the Genovese fleet, returning from battle against Pisa in 1284, encountered stormy seas. Bags of chickpea flour and barrels of oil tipped over and mixed with the salty water of the sea, resulting in a slurry, which the hungry soldiers dried and “baked” on deck. (I’m not sure I believe either.)

Camogli boats

Boats docked at the port of Camogli

In his book Recipes From Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera, Fred Plotkin notes that the basic recipe varies depending on where you are in Liguria. Some versions call for fresh rosemary and others for stirring in sliced onion right before baking. Some are generously seasoned with black pepper. Beyond Liguria, you will also find variations in Piedmont, Sardegna, Tuscany, and across the French border in Nice.

Plotkin cautions against adding too many ingredients, which could overwhelm the delicate flavor of the tart, and I agree. He also warns that farinata “is delicious when piping hot. When cool or cold it is very unappetizing.” On this point we part ways. It’s true that the texture is not as fine once it has cooled ~ it loses that light crispiness and turns kind of floppy. But I love it at room temperature, especially the rosemary version. You really taste the chickpeas. (I had some for breakfast this morning.)

farinata new 2 Since I don’t have one of those traditional copper pans, I used a battered 14-inch pizza pan that I got years ago at a mercato. To maximize the heat potential of my oven, I cranked it up to 500 degrees F and preheated my baking steel, then set the pan on top of that. A pizza stone would also work. Otherwise, just preheat your oven to as high as it goes. You can always run the farinata under the broiler at the end to brown it a bit. Take care not to overfill the pan; the pancake should not be more than 1/3-inch thick. (I had leftover batter, so I saved it and baked a smaller farinata the next day.) Also, be careful as you are transferring the pan to the oven, as the batter is thin and sloshes around.

Farinata may be classified as street food, but it makes a great side dish. I served it the other night with grilled sausages and fried peppers and onions. Other pairing ideas: roast chicken, a bowl of hearty minestrone, or mussel stew.

Buon appetito!

Makes 8 servings

Farinata

This typical Ligurian street food is sold by the slice fresh out of the oven. It requires only a few basic ingredients--chickpea flour, olive oil, salt, and rosemary--and can be enjoyed piping hot or at room temperature. Serve it with roast chicken, grilled sausages or chops, or mussel stew. Adapted from several sources, including "L'Antica Cuciniera Genovese," and "Recipes from Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera," by Fred Plotkin.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups chickpea flour (available at most supermarkets and Italian grocery stores)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for coating a baking pan
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Instructions

Combine the chickpea flour and salt in a mixing bowl with a spout. Gradually whisk in the water. You will end up with a thin crepe-like batter. Keep whisking to dissolve any little lumps of flour. Cover the bowl and let the batter rest for at least 1 hour. I mixed mine in the morning and let it sit on the countertop all day. This step is important because it allows the flour to absorb the liquid. (If you like, mix the batter and refrigerate it. Bring it to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.)

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven. If using a baking stone or a baking steel, place it on the rack. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Coat a large shallow pan, such as a pizza pan or large rimmed baking sheet, with a generous amount of olive oil. (I used a 14-inch round pizza pan.)

With a spoon or skimmer, skim off any foam that might have formed on the surface of the batter. Whisk the batter thoroughly to mix in any sediment at the bottom of the bowl. Whisk in the rosemary and 1/4 cup olive oil. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Do not overfill the pan. If you have leftover batter, use it to bake a second farinata (the batter can be stored overnight in the refrigerator).

Carefully transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how hot your oven is. Start checking after 10 minutes. When finished, the farinata will be set, with a lovely golden top and crispy browned edges. If it needs a little more browning, turn on the broiler and broil for a minute or two, just until a few browned spots appear on top. Remove from the oven and let cool briefly. Grind a little black pepper over the top, if you like. Slice the farinata into wedges and serve.

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27 Responses to La Farinata: A Favorite Ligurian Snack

  1. Rosa Jeanne Mayland April 23, 2015 at 7:34 am #

    This is a speciality I love and make on a regular basis. So scrumptious! Your farina looks really mouthwatering!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    • Domenica Marchetti April 24, 2015 at 6:34 am #

      Thank you Rosa. I’m curious to know if your version is similar?

  2. katia4italia April 23, 2015 at 9:36 am #

    Grazie mille, Domenica! I love this treat! Have a recipe from my friend Alessandra in Finale Ligure, but will also try this one soon! Keep working on the Panera recipe! 🙂

    • Domenica Marchetti April 24, 2015 at 6:35 am #

      I had hoped to make it over to Finale Ligure while we were over there but we ran out of time. And yes, I promise I will get to that panera recipe!

  3. Paul G. April 23, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    Thanks, Domenica! My wife and I, and all our friends, love your recipes! The “pumpkin” pie is excellent and we’re enjoying our way through “Big Night In” and “Glorious Pasta”. We also had the pleasure of sitting with you for dinner at our hotel in Rome last October. Your recipes keep the trip fresh in our mind!

    In this recipe, did you mean to list salt twice or is that a typo?

    Thanks, Paul

    • Domenica Marchetti April 23, 2015 at 2:42 pm #

      Paul, it is lovely to hear from you. Thanks for your kind words. It makes me happy to know you all are enjoying the books. You have a good eye; that is indeed a typo. I love salt, but 2 teaspoons in the farinata recipe is too much even for me. It’s fixed now. Cheers, and thanks for your comment.

  4. ciaochowlinda April 23, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

    I love both stories about the origin of the dish, whether they’re true or not.
    This brings back memories of the first time I tried it – in Portovenere.
    I tried making it at home but it didn’t turn out as lovely as yours.
    I’ll try your recipe when I get back.

    • Domenica Marchetti April 24, 2015 at 6:49 am #

      Linda, try baking it on a pizza steel or stone. I think it really helps to transfer the heat. BTW, it looks like you are having a wonderful time ~ it’s the best time of year to be in Rome. I’m envious!

  5. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way April 23, 2015 at 3:16 pm #

    Your recipe looks wonderful! I’m anxious to get started and try it out. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Gian Banchero April 23, 2015 at 6:17 pm #

    I get my chick pea flour from a local East Indian store where it’s called besan and is inexpensive, be sure to get the fine flour, not the course. Thanks for sharing the recipe. A year ago I bought both your cookbooks, I use them often, they’re great and wouldn’t do without them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Domenica Marchetti April 24, 2015 at 6:51 am #

      We have some good Indian groceries around here. Thanks for the tip, Gian. And thank you for your kind words. Makes me happy to know my books are getting a good workout in your kitchen!

  7. sippitysup April 23, 2015 at 9:39 pm #

    I love coming here and learning about something I’ve never even heard of before. GREG

    • Domenica Marchetti April 24, 2015 at 6:51 am #

      Aw, thanks Greg. I’ll trade you some farinata for some of that gorgeous sweet & sour brittle!

  8. Maureen April 24, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

    Thanks for this recipe Domenica. I didn’t find this in Genoa til the end of our trip and was so full from other good food that I had to pass. I think it was sold in a pizza place in Turin but as it was a whole ‘ farina pizza’ I knew I couldn’t eat it all. Again, I finally found it on our last night! 🙁

    • Domenica Marchetti April 24, 2015 at 5:55 pm #

      I know exactly what you mean, Maureen. There are lots of things I didn’t get to try when we were there, simply because I was too full. What a dilemma to have, right? I guess you’ll have to go back. 🙂

  9. Denise April 24, 2015 at 2:30 pm #

    Can’t wait to try this! While staying in Lerici our host made a special trip one evening to procure his favorite farinata for us to try. It was delicious! If my attempt even comes close, I’ll be thrilled!

    • Domenica Marchetti April 24, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

      There are so many versions of farinata all over the region and beyond. It’s amazing what you can do with flour (of any kind) and water.

  10. Pamela (@MyMansBelly) April 24, 2015 at 4:19 pm #

    I love farinata. I discovered a recipe for it a few years ago and have been hooked ever since. Heading to Italy next month, but I won’t be in the Ligurian region to try the “real” thing. Guess I’ll have to “make do” with the food of the region I’ll be in. LOL

    • Domenica Marchetti April 24, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

      Whereabouts are you headed Pamela? The good news is that wherever you go in the country, you will enjoy great local food.

  11. Frank Fariello April 25, 2015 at 10:02 am #

    Love farinata, and this post reminds me that I haven’t made it in ages. And I can attest to the fact that the soak is essential. In my experience at least, anything less than overnight results in an unappealing ‘grainy’ texture. But then maybe it’s the flour I’ve been using?

    • Gian Banchero April 26, 2015 at 1:47 am #

      Hello Frank, be sure when you buy the flour that the grind is fine, last year I made farinata with a courser grind by accident and it came out grainy also… East Indian stores are your best bet and the cost is less….

    • Domenica Marchetti April 26, 2015 at 8:11 am #

      Good question Frank. I haven’t experienced any graininess, but I have let the mixture sit all day. I get chick pea flour at the Italian Store. It’s very finely ground.

  12. Susan And Wade April 27, 2015 at 1:10 pm #

    I always bring farina di ceci back to the US in my suitcase to make this tasty treat. So simple, yet so tasty!

  13. duespaghetti April 27, 2015 at 9:15 pm #

    This reminds us of pannelle, a very similar street food we enjoyed in Palermo this past summer. We will have to try this!

  14. Katy July 1, 2015 at 8:23 pm #

    I love finding new ways of using chickpea flour (my current favorite is in Indian dumplings) and the addition of rosemary sounds particularly appetizing. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to try this dish in Liguria; here’s to dreaming!

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