Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Chickpea farinata, socca or cecina (depending on which region you are from) is a savoury dish made with water, olive oil and chickpea flour, and cooked in a hot oven to form a sort of a thin, savoury pancake with a tasty golden crust. The first time we tried this we were blown away by the delicious, almost cheesy flavour and dumbfounded when we were told how few ingredients go into making it.
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Chickpea farinata is a Ligurian specialty, typical of Genoa.
The legend of its origins dates back to 1284, when Genoa defeated Pisa in the battle of Meloria. On their return voyage from the battle, the Genoese ships found themselves caught in a storm, during which some barrels of oil and chickpea flour overturned, resulting in everything being bathed in salt water. Due to the shortage of supplies, everything that was possible to recover was recovered, and the sailors were served that sea-salty mixture of chickpea flour and oil which, in an attempt to make it less unpleasant, had been put to dry in the sun until a sort of pancake was obtained. It was surprisingly good and, on land, the Genoese tweaked and perfected the recipe, making it the specialty enjoyed in Italy today (and which, to mock the defeated, the Genoese dubbed "the gold of Pisa").
Of course, with its very simple ingredients, the chickpea farinata or cecina, became a traditional recipe of the poor and widely diffused. It's a common street food in parts of Italy and can sometimes be found served in pizzerias, with the dish taking on a different name depending on the area of the country you are in.
In Pisa and in our part of Tuscany it's known as cecina; in Livorno it is referred to as '5 and 5', and Piedmonte it's know as socca or farinata. Despite the variations in its name, the recipe is almost identical wherever you go, and has a taste that will leave you incredulous at its simplicity.
INGREDIENTS (serves 2-4):
450ml of water
150 grams of chickpea (gram) flour
25 grams of extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of salt
35 grams of oil to grease the pan (don't scrimp on this otherwise you will be scraping the farinata off your pan!)
freshly ground black pepper to serve
Traditionally, you would sieve the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl, then slowly add the water, whisking as you go to avoid lumps, then add the oil. We use a slight "cheat", but it works brilliantly: we simply put the flour, the salt, the water and the oil into a large recycled glass jar with a screw top lid and shake it like we're making a cocktail. Job done.
At this point the mixture should be left to rest, ideally for 4-5 hours, although it's usually fine after just 2 hours.
When the resting time is up, preheat your oven to 250C (230C in a fan oven; 450-500F) and generously grease a shallow baking tin (we use a non-stick baking tin 12.5" x 9.5" x 2").
Give the mixture a quick mix again (either whisk in the bowl or shake if you are using our jar method) before pouring it into the pan. The advantage of the jar means its lid keeps it covered for the resting period and all that's needed is a quick shake before pouring - and there's less to wash up!
Don't be alarmed by the wetness of the mixture when you pour it into the tin - it's a very thin, runny batter, but have faith that the magic will happen! You want to aim for a thickness of around a centimetre (no more), so the size of your pan is important here.
Cook in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until the top is turning golden.
Add a generous grind of black pepper before turning it out to serve.
Traditionally, farinata or cecina is cut up into small squares and served as a snack or as nibbles to eat with a pre-dinner drink. However, it also makes a nutritious and delicious (and very inexpensive) light lunch if served with a salad. It can be eaten hot (straight from the oven) or cold, and will keep for a couple of days in the fridge (if you can resist eating it, that is).
In some recipes a few leaves of rosemary are added to the batter prior to cooking, but other than that it is eaten plain. Now, it's really not the done-thing to alter, tweak or pimp traditional Italian recipes - we might have our Italian residency revoked if we admitted to doing so. But you might like to experiment with adding other flavours to the batter, such as a teaspoon of garam masala and a handful of nigella seeds, or even a dash of chilli oil.