It’s rainy out there. Rainy, dark and windy. When it gets cold outside, I want to be warm inside. Queue an increased tea consumption and comfort food. Comfort food, to me, is starchy and walks a fine line between soothingly bland and heartily savoury.
Looking through The Silver Spoon, I came across a dish called “Ligurian pancake”. It appealed to me for three reasons: it was made with gram flour, which I had rather a lot of at the time; it looked like an “oven pancake”, a deeply comforting dish I ate as a child; and it was entirely milk- and egg-free.
Getting it just right turned out to be a bit of an adventure.
The Ligurian pancake is called farinata in Liguria and has other names in other areas of the Mediterranean where it is eaten. Some of the recipes I’ve seen describes it as a pancake or flat bread. I’d be interesting to have farinata in one of the areas where they’re common because the version that’s in The Silver Spoon, and the version I make, has nothing in common with bread, other than that it contains flour. Instead, it is a thick, dense and set, with the colour of a Yorkshire pudding. It is very tasty, though, and a perfect canvas for culinary artistry.
The thing that really attracted me about the recipe was that it has three ingredients: gram flour, olive oil and water. They are mixed together into a thin batter which is left to stand for 30 minutes before being cooked at a high temperature in the oven. The recipe said 15 minutes. It took 45 before it set properly. Saying that, I liked the flavour and the texture, so I continued with my experiments.
Take two saw me changing the ratio of water to flour and make two pancakes instead of one. This time, it did cook in 15 minutes. It set at the bottom and fluffed up at the top, all golden and shiny. I served it with a tomato sauce (olive oil, onions, garlic tomatoes, tomato paste and black pepper) and a green salad. It was lovely and it’s now rather a favourite. Plain, it is great for lunch with a liberal application of my favourite hot sauce; filled, for example with shallots, peppers and mushrooms it’s great for dinner. So, here goes.
Farinata, my way
You can mix the farinata up by adding flavourings to it: vegetables and chickpeas, for example. It cooks slower when you add things, so add 15-20 minutes to the cooking time. Thyme and pancetta works well too: that combinations is really comforting.
Update: In some areas it’s traditional to sprinkle rosemary and salt over farinata before cooking it. I wanted to try that so cooked this in an oven tray, lined with baking paper, high heat, 15 minutes to get a thinner, but still very nice, pancake. Sprinkle with rosemary and salt, and serve with a salad. Lovely.
- 0.7 litre gram flour (about 420 grams)
- 1 litre water
- 0.1 litre olive oil
- 1 red pepper
- 2 shallots (the long ones)
- 6 large chestnut mushrooms
- 1 tin chickpeas
- Mix flour and water, whisking to make sure there are no lumps.
- Add the olive oil and whisk.
- Let stand for at least 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the over to 240° Celsius.
- Slice the vegetables (if using) and fry in a little olive oil until soft. Rinse the chickpeas.
- Pour the batter into one wide oven-proof dish, or divide over two smaller dishes.
- Sprinkle the filling (if using) over the farinata. I make two: one plain, one flavoured.
- Check after 15 minutes. It should be set and golden, and may rise a little in the middle. If the top is still wet, leave it for another 5 minutes before checking again.
- Serve with salad and a simple tomato sauce, or on its own, with plenty of hot sauce.