Italy, land of the refined carbohydrate, has a dirty gluten free secret.
Behold, the ‘La Farinata’, an unleavened pancake with a soft centre and crispy shell, made from chickpea flour, water, olive oil and salt. Served as a snack, it is readily found in Pizzerias and Focaccerias across much of Northern Italy, though other regions have their own variations.
In Liguria, it’s best known as ‘farinata’ or ‘faina’ but in Tuscany it’s more commonly known as ‘Cecina’ or ‘Torte di Ceci’ (literally chickpea tart), sometimes served between two slices of focaccia. You may have come across something similar in Nice, where this sort of chickpea crepe is known as ‘Socca’.
This rather substantial snack has a long, illustrious history, shrouded in legends of soldiers and hungry prisoners. One popular history dates the origins of the Farinata back to Ancient Rome, and tells that soldiers would prepare the simple batter and cook it on their round, metal shields in the hot sun, as a quick and economical snack before battle.
More widely told is the story that, after the Battle of the Melodia in 1284, between the (then) two great powers Genoa and Pisa, Genoa took hundreds of Pisan prisoners. After a particular violent storm at sea, the chickpeas on board mixed with the olive oil and salt water and, being notoriously thrifty, the Genoese decided to feed this to the prisoners. Pride stopped the prisoners from eating this sloppy paste and the batter was left outside in the sun for a day, forming something that looked far more appealing and much more like their beloved focaccia.
Farinata needs to be cooked at an extremely high heat, which is why it’s best to get to a pizzeria or focacceria, where the batter is baked in a high heat pizza oven, traditionally in a big round copper pan (‘testo’) and cut into triangular slices.
La Pia Centanaria, in La Spezia, is renowned for its Farinata. (12-14 Via Magenta, La Spezia, Liguria)