Friday, September 4, 2009


Several years ago I had my first taste of farinata, an Italian appetizer that falls somewhere between a pancake and pizza. I didn't encounter it in Italy (alas), but in a New York City trattoria with a wood-fired brick oven. I was introduced to it by a lovely Italian gentleman named Mario who worked in the restaurant and decided I should learn how to make farinata.

Farinata starts with a batter made of chickpea flour, salt and water. It gets poured into a pizza-style pan that has a bunch of olive oil in it. Then it bakes in a super-hot oven until it's firm enough and crisp enough to cut. I have experimented over and over with this at home, desperately trying to replicate Mario's farinata, but the truth is that the home oven ain't no brick oven.

That said, it's still tasty and fun—and easy—to make. It's also a perfect appetizer to serve if you have anyone in your crowd who has trouble digesting gluten. You can make it plain (as in the recipe below) or you can doll it up with pizza-type toppings (which you would have to add toward the end of the baking).

You can find chickpea (ceci in Italian) flour in Italian neighborhoods or in Indian markets, where it will be sold as besan. You will also find it in natural foods stores (where it may be labeled garbanzo bean flour) or at Bob's Red Mill website.

I added rosemary and black pepper to the standard batter, but the plain version is very flavorful on its own. I've made it with and without the Parmesan topping; it's great both ways.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 cups chickpea flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups water
1 teaspoon rosemary, minced
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 500°F (or highest temperature available).
2. Pour the oil into a 10 x 15-inch rimmed baking sheet and tilt it to evenly cover.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the chickpea flour and salt. Stir in the water and whisk to blend. If any foam gathers on the surface, skim it off. (By the way, I don't know why the foam makes any difference, but Mario insisted on this step.) Stir in the rosemary and pepper.
4. Place the pan on a pulled-out oven rack. Carefully pour the batter into the pan and bake for 25 minutes. While still hot, sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan.
5. Cut into small squares and serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 12 servings

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