We used to do our main shopping on a Saturday as this is how things naturally fell, and it coincides with market day. And I do love a market. This meant that, come Friday, the fridge was a little bare and, often, my partner would be away on Friday. He is really good at conjuring something out of nothing in the kitchen, a skill my mother also has but not one that I’ve inherited.
I’m not bad at cooking but I need to a) be in my own kitchen b) have ingredients c) have a plan. Thus it was that, often, on a Friday, I would want and need to pull together a dinner for me and the children made out of not very much. And this is where I invented the Tray of Treats.
This is basically a fun and slightly misleading name for leftovers and bits dragged out of the depths of the fridge and cupboards. Although, these days, it’s become such an institution that we do tend to shop specially for Tray of Treats, back in the day it was crudites, bits of cheese, ham, bread sticks and whatever else could be cut up and look small and canape sized.
This is where these farinata come in. (Farinata literally means a ‘flouring’.) They are great as last minute bread, easy to make, gluten free and need almost no prepping. The slathering of extra virgin oil and salt makes them, so don’t skimp on this bit, because that would be to miss the point of them.
I use a 26cm skillet and it makes two big ones, which you slice up into wedges. Chickpea, or gram flour, is high in protein so these are gut-bustingly filling. These are also great little snacks to serve with a drink of an early evening.
150g chickpea flour
Two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil plus extra for drizzling and cooking – use the best you have
half a teaspoon of baking powder
One teaspoon of salt, plus sea salt for sprinkling
Fresh rosemary sprigs, chopped
Pour the flour, the two tablespoons of olive oil, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl and, using a balloon whisk, whisk through 300ml of cold water. I use filtered water. If you use normal water be aware you might get a bit of scum on top of your batter after resting, if so, just skim it off. I never get it, and you may not.
Whisk this up until you get a batter. Now if you want to make the farinata now, rest the batter for ten minutes and heat up the oven to 240C, if not, put it in the fridge for later and just remember to heat up the oven before you start. The batter keeps for a day or so so you can also make one pancake today and one tomorrow (they are delicious with curries).
When ready to cook, put some extra virgin olive oil – about a tablespoon – in a frying pan that can go in the oven. I know it seems wrong to use extra virgin to fry with, and I don’t normally, but it works here trust me. Spread the olive oil around so it coats all of the pan, let it heat up and then pour half the batter in. When the mixture starts to bubble, scatter over the snipped up rosemary leaves and cook until the sides are golden, then transfer to the oven for ten minutes.
You know it’s ready when it’s crisp at the edge and has a soft centre. Flip it out of the pan (it should come out easily) sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle, generously, with the extra virgin olive oil. And marvel, at how few ingredients can make something so delicious.
My lovely Italian friend Sonia, who is a very talented chef, and from Livorno (where farinata originates, although it’s called torta di ceci there and they sometimes have it in between two slices of bread!), contacted me to tell me that the way I make it isn’t authentic: you shouldn’t use rosemary or extra virgin olive oil as it ‘overpowers the delicate taste of the chick peas’. This is apparently how you do it properly (it’s in Italian, sorry). But I love my way so will continue to do it like that, but, you know, authenticity is important so it’s good to know what one is mucking about with…
My mother in law (not Italian) has owned a flat in Fosdinovo, near Sarzana, Liguria, for over 30 years. We eat farinata there all the time but have been to neighbouring towns where they don’t have it and appear not to have heard of it. I was under the impression that it came from Genoa. I imagine, like cacciatore, that there are many local variations with everyone claiming theirs is the authentic one. We have tried several times to make it at home but whether it’s the lack of pizza oven or the method we use, we have never quite managed to achieve the same consistency as the cafe in Sarzana where it is more pancake than bread. It does need a lot of black pepper over the top for sure.
You’re absolutely right Kate, there is so much variation! My friend Sonia, hers is very much less pancake and more bready cake (she has just sent me a picture of the batter she is making, right now, for lunch). I like the pancakey version. My parents, one from Parma, one from Avellino, had never heard of farinata but have a different version.
Of course, to an Italian, their version is always the best. And it’s usually, if you dig, the version they were first introduced to by their Mamma. I love mine, because it’s just how I expected it/wanted it to be, a bit pancakey, a bit bready, crispy bits, soft bits. And I love the olive oil and salt and the rosemary. Sonia also uses black pepper. I don’t like it on this.
All beautifully diverse!
I don’t know that mine would satisfy you, but I don’t have a pizza oven, and I think it comes out beautifully. You’ll have to visit..
We love farinata here. When we were gluten free for a while, it was our bread of choice and the kids would even happily eat it with peanut butter, for school lunches! Have not made it in a while, thanks for the reminder. We have a similar meal to your tray of treats but it is called bits and bobs and is also well loved – often a weekend lunch.