As you probably know Italians have a long tradition of eating vegan food. You didn’t know it? Well, think about it: spaghetti with aglio, olio and peperoncino is vegan. Minestrone is also vegan. Eating fruit at the end of a meal instead of a dessert is the norm here. And, in addition we have a variety of dairy and egg-free sweets made with olive oil and wine or with fruits and nuts, like panforte or rocciata.
For centuries beans have been the only source of protein for rural Italians. Until the 1950s most Italians only consumed 40 g (a little over one once) of meat per day. Meat was a rare luxury then and not the controversial evil it has become.
The farinata, also named fainà or cecina, is a (gluten-free vegan) chickpea pancake similar to French Socca and Moroccan Kalinté. Typical of the Ligurian and Tuscan coast, it’s baked in a copper pan inside a wood fire oven and sold on the streets as a substantial snack.
In Livorno, it is served in a sandwich, layered with grilled eggplants and pesto but fancier versions exist, for example slathered with soft cheese or even truffle butter or, very un-veganly, rolled around a slice or 2 of prosciutto.
- 500 g (4 cups plus 2 tablespoons) chickpea (garbanzo) flour, preferably organic and stone ground
- 1 and 1/2 liter (6 cups) water
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- leaves from 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, very finely chopped
- 1 large onion, diced
- extra virgin olive oil
- black pepper
- 2 tablespoon grated Parmesan (optional)
- a 30×50 cm (12×20 inch) pizza pan or shallow baking dish
The recipe is incredibly simple because it is based on a ratio of water to chickpea flour of 3 to 1 by weight, which yields a very thin and watery batter.
To make the batter, mix the flour, salt and water until smooth in a bowl, then cover.
You do soak beans before cooking them, right? The farinata works on a similar principle, so to make it digestible, it’s very important to let the batter rest for several hours or, even better, overnight. Should a foam form on the surface, remove it with a spoon and discard it.
When you’re ready to bake the farinata, preheat the oven to maximum temperature to get as close as possible to wood-burning oven temperatures. Meanwhile, place a small pan on low heat and sauté the onion, covered, with one tablespoon olive oil until golden and caramelized, about 10 minutes.
With the oven fully preheated, take a large pizza pan and line it with parchment paper. The farinata is famously sticky, so don’t omit the paper! Because the batter is so liquid, it is easier to put the pan in the oven and then fill it with the batter and condiments. At the beginning it’s like baking a broth, it looks quite worrisome but it does work in the end!
Pour olive oil in the pan so that the parchment paper is covered by a thin film of oil. Brush also the sides of the pan with oil. Place the pan in the oven leaving the door open and the rack half-way out.
Stir the batter and pour it into the pan. It should be no more than 1 cm (1/2 inch) deep. If your pan is not large enough, bake it in 2 or more batches rather than making it too thick.
Scatter the onion and rosemary leaves in the batter, then carefully slide the rack inside the oven and close the oven door. Bake 15 to 30 minutes, or until the pancake is firm and the edges are golden. The variable cooking time is due to the thickness of the pancake. The farinata should be moist like a thick custard inside and crispy outside.
Serve hot, with freshly ground pepper and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan if using.
It’s not orthodox, but I like to dab it with a spicy sauce like harissa or salsa or green tabasco, whatever I have in the house. Don’t tell the Ligurians!
If you have leftovers, cover and refrigerate. Heat slowly in a non stick pan with a few drops of olive oil until fragrant and crispy again.
This dish is a great appetizer or a healthy snack. If you can’t find the chickpea flour or need more healthy snacking ideas check out this page at nuts.com.