Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Delicious Treat from the Mediterranean Coast

This is a pan of farinata (if you're on the Ligurian coast) or socca (if you're in Nice). It's basically a crepe made of chickpea flour, salt, water and a touch of olive oil. This was part of an Italian dinner that also included sauteed escarole and a few slices of salami and mortadella.

I was introduced to socca through Julia Child (one of her cookbooks of course: From Julia's Kitchen) and still use her basic proportions to make the batter. I baked mine in a very hot oven, but for a more authentic flavor you can make your farinata on a very hot grill or in your fireplace: in Liguria, we saw huge wood burning pizza ovens that were used to make farinata. There farinata is sold by weight, in huge slices scraped up from the enormous pans (30 inches across, at least) it's baked in.

I had the good fortune to dine at Rose Pistola restaurant in San Francisco several times. Rose Pistola specializes in Ligurian cuisine. The chef, Reed Hearon, prepares a traditional farinata and versions with additional flavors. I took inspiration from him for this batch and added torn oil-cured olives and chopped marjoram.

Farinata is insanely easy to make. The most challenging part of the process is finding the essential chickpea flour. Your local Italian market may have it and Indian markets definitely do. (In Indian markets it may be labeled besan flour).

Serves 2-4 (in our house this serves two as a main-course side dish)
  • 2/3 cup chickpea flour, sifted if lumpy
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the pan(s)
  • additional flavorings (optional): no more than two of: chopped herbs, cut or torn olives, anchovies, shredded radicchio, etc.
Make the batter: Place the flour in a bowl (be sure to sift it if it's really lumpy). Slowly whisk in the water, making sure to whisk out any lumps. If you add the water slowly, whisking well after each addition, you should end up with a smooth (very thin) batter. Whisk in the salt and olive oil. Set the batter aside until you're ready to cook the farinata. You can make the batter as far a day ahead - store it in the refrigerator if you're making it more than half an hour ahead of time.

About 30-45 minutes before baking the farinata, select your pan(s): This quantity of batter will make a thin 12" crepe or two 8" crepes, or a thicker 10" crepe. I prefer thinner crepes, but thicker seems to be more traditional. Cast iron or steel are best, do NOT use non-stick.

Now that you've made your pan selection, heat that sucker up: Put it in a 400-degree oven and let it heat for about 30 minutes.

Pull the hot pan out of the oven and drizzle a little olive oil into the pan. Pour the batter into the pan, if necessary, swirl the pan to cover the bottom with the batter. Scatter the flavorings over the top, if you're using them. Put the pan into the oven and bake until the farinata is set, about 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil until the farinata is golden brown in spots and a little burned in others, about 3 minutes (depending on your broiler).

Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the farniata with salt. Serve the farinata in rough slices: use a spatula or scraper to pull the slices off the pan (they shouldn't stick) - this will not be a graceful presenation.

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