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Farinata: gold that doesn’t shine!

Farinata, what is it? Queen of poor yet rich in flavor cuisine throughout Italy.

Many similar dishes are made from chickpea flour throughout Italy, often part of the most simple cooking tradition and regional street food. There are variants in the upper Tuscany coast, Liguria, Piedmont, and the islands. In Sicily, the “Panelle” or “Cazzilli,” like the Ligurian “Panizza” variants, are sorts of rissoles made with the same dough and fried. Here, we want to discuss the baked version of this much-loved chickpeas pie tradition, mainly spread in northwestern Italy and the islands. It is a shallow chickpea cake, about half a centimeter thick, which is often served sliced as street food. The recipe takes a different name depending on the city or region in which it is prepared.

DISPUTED ORIGINS: THE FARINATA WAS BORN IN WAR

There is a significant dispute about the origins of the Farinata variants. For example, is the authentic recipe from Pisa or Livorno? Should the Nicoise one, the Sardinian, or the Ligurian be considered the real one?

Interestingly enough, this argument agrees that the recipe was conceived in war.

There is evidence of Greek and Roman recipes for baked chickpeas and bean puree cooked in the oven. However, most agree the first chickpea pie was born in 1284, during the Meloria battle between the maritime republics of Genoa and Pisa.

The Genoese galleys engaged in the battle were in a storm. The supplies eventually spilled during the commotion; some bags of chickpeas flour were now wasted in saltwater. The resulting dough was served to the crew with some oil added to save on the few provisions left. But some refused to eat it and left it to dry in the sun. What happened is they discovered gold, their Fainà. Enhanced by baking in the oven once back on dry land, it never left the heart of Genoa and the eastern Ligurian coast. 

To commemorate the victory over Pisa, the Genoese called the pie “the gold of Pisa.” 

Farinata topped with Colonnata lard

THE TUSCANY CECINA, CINQUE E CINQUE AND CALDA CALDA  

It’s amusing how the Tuscany tradition switches the parts and refers to the story’s protagonists as Pisa sailors. However, the Tuscany pies come in slightly other variants, a little thicker, less oily, and often served with a lot of pepper. Also, the names of Farinata are very different and imaginative in Tuscany. For example, the name Cecina comes from Ceci, chickpeas in Italian, and is used in Pisa. In Livorno, they call it “torta,” pie, but as street food, you will often see it as “Cinque e Cinque” (five and five). In the 1930ies, when both the price of bread and chickpea pie were 5 lire, the typical phrase of the customer who wanted to buy both was “I would like 5 of cake and 5 of bread”.

More up north, the farinata is called “Calda Calda” (hot-hot) in Carrara. The name works as a reminder; it must be served very hot!  

THE SARDINIAN VERSION NOT FOR PURISTS

Sardinia welcomed the Farinata recipe from Genova and many further traditions, specifically in the Sassari region. Even though trades between Genoa and Sardina went on for centuries, Farinata is in Sassari due to a Genoese entrepreneur with a typical Genoan name, “Baciccia.” He opened a Fainà bakery in the 1930ies, which was so successful it soon became a traditional product of Sassari, with the name Fainè.

Farinata for purists cannot be otherwise than plain, with no other seasonings than a bit of pepper. However, Sassari enriches the dish with other ingredients, onions with courgette flowerssoft cheese, or pesto. These additional ingredients have occasionally been accepted also in other regions.  

THE FARINATA RECIPE 

The name Farinata is the most spread one for this simple dish, yet requiring a very long preparation. In addition, if adequately cooked, the farinata is made of a few essential ingredients, chickpea flour, water, salt, and oil. 

Dilute the chickpea flour in abundant water with salt added; the mixture is left to stand for two to 10 hours, periodically stirring to dissolve the clots.

The time for cooking is essential. Pour the mixture into a heated olive-oil-greased baking tray and put it in a high-temperature heated oven. The tray must be copper for the traditional preparation, and the stove wood-heated. 

A typical pizzeria in La Spezia serves Farinata and Pizza as a single dish.

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