Farinata may be an acquired taste for some people, but to my husband and I, it was an immediate addiction. My family has a home in Rapallo, a bustling, colorful city on the Ligurian Sea, so every year we would spend a week there, enjoying the food and relaxing and visiting nearby towns. One of the foods we discovered in our early twenties was farinata, something my parents never seemed to buy at any of the local bakeries when I was little. This thin chickpea flour pancake has been baked since time immemorial on hot stones, a primitive sort of bread that is hearty, nutritious, and delicious; dock workers in Genova made a simple meal of farinata until the 1950s, when the Italian economy improved, as it is quite filling and rich in protein. The Provencal bake a similar dish, called Socca, likely developed in the centuries Provence was inhabited by Ligurians.
To be truly authentic, farinata should be baked in a very hot oven, quickly, and preferably in a heavy tin pan with a copper base, as copper transfers the heat to the batter faster and prevents it from drying out in the oven. The copper pan is heated for a few minutes on a hot stone in the oven, then olive oil is drizzled on the hot pan, and the batter is poured on: the hot pan quickly heats the olive oil and the olive oil in turn seizes the batter from the bottom, so the farinata emerges from the oven slightly crusty on the outside and still creamy within. The batter needs to rest for 12 hours before baking so the chickpea flour has a chance to fully bloom and slightly ferment. And speaking of chickpea flour: do not buy Indian or Asian chickpea flour, which has a very different flavor and is often toasted; head to an Italian market to buy imported Italian chickpea flour (farina di ceci) for best flavor.
A search of where one can buy a copper-lined farinata pan in the United States left me stumped; I could not find any source at all! So unless you are planning a trip to Italy, where you can easily buy a copper-lined pan, use a cast iron skillet instead, as that will retain and transfer heat nicely.
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer
- 9 ounces untoasted chickpea flour
- ½ teaspoon salt, plus extra for serving
- 3 and ½ cups room-temperature water
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- freshly ground black pepper
Place the chickpea flour and salt in a large bowl. Mix well with a whisk. Slowly pour in the water, beating all the while with a whisk to avoid lumps. If needed, strain the batter through a fine sieve to eliminate lumps. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside 12 hours at room temperature. The batter should be as thin as heavy cream and will look slightly foamy.
When you are ready to serve the farinata, preheat the oven with a baking stone in it to 550 degrees. Place a 16-inch farinata pan or cast iron skillet (see introductory notes) on the stone in the preheated oven for 5 minutes. Immediately remove from the oven and pour in the olive oil. Swirl to coat the bottom of the pan with the olive oil.
Whisk the batter vigorously to ensure that it is of the same viscosity throughout; the flour often settles on the bottom. Immediately pour the batter into the hot farinata pan. The batter should be quite thin as it covers the pan, less than 1/4-inch thick. If there seems to be too much batter for the pan, hold some back and make a second pancake with it: if the pancake is thicker than 1/4-inch, it will bake up soggy throughout rather than crispy outside and creamy within.
Place the pan directly on the stone and bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until set on the bottom and golden and starting to crack on top. If you like a thick, burnished crust on your farinata, place under a preheated broiler for 1 minute. Serve piping hot, seasoned with salt and pepper.