How to Make Farinata – The New York Times

Ruth Rogers, a founder of the famed River Cafe in London, brought cash to a parking lot in Pisa, Italy, to meet a vendor she connected with through a Ligurian acquaintance.

It wasn’t an illicit deal; she was merely seeking a replacement for the frying pans she’d been using to make farinata, a crisp-creamy pancake made from just chickpea flour, olive oil, water and salt. Nearly a decade later, that specialty pan made from dimpled copper and tin, and meant specifically for farinata, remains in rotation at the River Cafe, where it is used to turn out the savory chickpea dish almost daily.

Farinata has a long history as a street food in a corner of the Mediterranean coast stretching from Liguria to the French Riviera, and its preparation varies little despite the different names by which it goes: belecauda, or “nice and hot,” as it should be served, in Piedmont; socca in Nice; cade in Toulon; cecina; fainá; and fainè.

Fausto Marino, a third-generation Ligurian miller at Mulino Marino, which supplies the River Cafe with fresh chickpea flour, said that local legend attributes farinata’s origins to a storm that raged in the summer of 1284. As a marine battle roared between the Genovese and Pisan republics, waves supposedly encompassed a Genovese ship, rupturing containers of chickpea flour and olive oil. The tumult was said to have mixed these ingredients with saltwater and produced an accidental batter that baked in the sun — and gave the Genovese a new recipe to complement their military victory. Another unverifiable legend goes that Roman soldiers cooked the first farinate on their shields. Dubious as those origins may be, it speaks to the region’s longstanding appreciation for farinata.

The dish has caught on elsewhere in recent decades. French Louie in Brooklyn has kept socca on its menu since opening in 2014, and the dish has appeared on American menus from Dallas to Nashville to San Francisco. It has also become a popular pizza topping in Argentina, and at the River Cafe, it has been on the menu for nearly three decades. (Ms. Rogers said she’d noticed an increase in demand for the dish over the past eight years, and Mr. Marino, the chickpea flour it employs.)

Gluten-free and vegan friendly, farinata accommodates a wide range of eaters with protein-rich flavor. Diners, especially those avoiding gluten, “get very upset if we don’t have it,” Ms. Rogers said.

Its main ingredients have monthslong shelf lives, so the chickpea pancake can be made year-round without compromise. And it is a versatile base, making it an ideal plant-based alternative to frittata. In Liguria, it is often about a quarter-inch thick, cooked with a sprinkling of sliced onions or served with a side of cured meats, but it can just as easily be made thicker and embellished with a hearty serving of vegetables or cheese.

And conveniently, when freshly milled Italian chickpea flour and a parking-lot pan purchase are not options, a bag of Bob’s Red Mill and a cast-iron or stainless steel skillet will do.

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