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Farinata

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm contributor

Friday, December 24, 2010

Farinata chef

Photo by Rick Gush

There's a high demand for farinata in restaurants here, and waiting for your order can be extensive.

My wife and I went out for lunch the other day to a restaurant that serves local Ligurian specialties. The key dish was farinata, which tastes like a cross between a pancake and crunchy hash-brown potatoes. The dough is a liquid that is poured into a big, shallow, steel pan and then cooked inside a large brick stove with a wood fire inside. (These big, brick stoves are also the way wood-fired pizza is cooked.) 

It was a cold and drizzly day, so sitting inside in front of the stove was really comfortable, and the farinata cook’s routine was interesting to watch. The pan had to be rotated a few times and the cook used long rods with flattened ends to stick under the pan and twirl it around. Once the mix was cooked and burned to just the right extent, the pan was removed from the stove and the farinata was cut up into squares and strips. 

Farinata

Photo by Rick Gush

Farinata are made simply with garbanzo-bean flour and water.

The whole process takes about 15 minutes, and usually a large group of people is waiting for their portions. Ordering farinata at a restaurant can require patience, as there may be so many people ahead of you in line that you need to wait a half hour until your turn arrives. Luckily, we ate lunch a bit early and the farinata rush hadn’t yet started — we got our servings from the first pan out of the oven.

Some people do make farinata at home, but it’s difficult to get the correct level of crunchiness in an oven. The recipe is really simple, basically just garbanzo-bean flour mixed with water.

Garbanzo beans, called cece (cheh-chee) are one of the old foods of the poor people here in Liguria, and a lot of simple peasant recipes, like panissa (fried farinata, served with onions), use them. I’ve never grown garbanzo beans, because I’m not generally crazy for them, and also because they have the reputation of not yielding well. Still, it is a crop that grows in relatively hostile conditions. Before Columbus brought back beans, garbanzo beans were the main legume crop in the Old World. Garbanzos are still prominent in Indian cooking, being a key ingredient of hummus and falafel.

I’m amused at the recipes for farinata that advise people to soak the flour overnight before making it. This advice is given because there are often a lot of insect parts and debris in garbanzo flour, so soaking overnight allows the insects and scum to be scooped off before the mix is put in the cooking pan. The cook in the restaurant was also scooping scum off the top of his big pot of dough … but then he plunged his hands elbow-deep into the mix in order to stir it up.   

Read more of Rick's Favorite Crops »

Give us your opinion on Farinata.
Submit Comment »
Sounds like an interesting recipe, I will need to give it a try.
Carl, Livermore, CA
Posted: 4/11/2012 10:47:47 AM
Ha! Yes, I toured a bit in southern Mexico and ate a lot of dishes with mysterious ingredients. I particularly remember the warm snacks wrapped in banana leaves that vendors would sell through the windows whenever the train would stop in some dinky whistle stop. Who knows what that stuff was, and you're right, we probably don't want to know.
Rick, Rapallo, YT
Posted: 12/24/2010 9:16:25 AM
Hi David,

Merry Christmas! Hope you are warm, happy and surrounded by family this season.

So, I ended up in Rapallo by accident. There was a computer game development company here that were fans of some of my computer games and for several years they offered me a job here. I finally accepted their offer to fly me over for an interview, thinking I was clever and would get a free week's vacation in Italy, never thinking I would ever accept the job. But, I fell in love with Italy instantly and a few days after arriving I actually got down on my knees and begged for the job.
Rick, Rapall, YT
Posted: 12/24/2010 9:12:38 AM
I do like to experience food from other countries. I've been throughout Central America and have eaten many mystery foods that I probably really don't want to know what's in them. Some were good and some were not, but the whole experience with the food, the eating establishment, and the people there has always been part of the experience for me. I've never eaten anything with garbanzo beans other than in salads. The farinata dish sounds fantastic as well as sitting by the warms stove on a cold rainy day.

Have a great farinata day.
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 12/24/2010 5:08:18 AM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has long been a staunch organic gardener. While a student at the University of California at Davis he worked at local tomato and sugar beet farms and continued in the agricultural and horticultural industries for many years. A career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games, but no matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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