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Thursday, 4 June 2009

Farinata …or is it Socca? (bookmarked recipe)

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Bookmarked Recipes - every Monday

summary: recipe for farinata/socca; information about Bookmarked Recipes; information about YeastSpotting; excerpt from The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken by Laura Schenone; (click on image to see larger views and more photos)

Bookmarked Recipes #56

farinata/socca We are currently reading The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken by Laura Schenone. You’re probably wondering what farinata has to do with ravioli, aren’t you? Well, at one point in this wonderful memoir, Schenone mentions eating farinata while in Liguria searching for her grandmother’s ravioli recipe.

But she doesn’t list a farinata recipe (or at least not so far and I HATE peeking ahead in a book!). There is simply that description. And it sounded too good to miss!

So we looked in all of our cookbooks in the kitchen. The large tome “Savoring Italy” by Robert Freson mentions farinata. No recipe. In Susan McKenna Grant’s “Piano Piano Pieno”, there is a recipe for farinata, but it’s the kind of farinata that is soup! McKenna Grant does mention the regional differences and describes the bread version but goes on to say that she prefers the soup to the flatbread so that’s why there is no recipe for the flatbread version. And alas, there is no mention of it at all in Field’s otherwise fabulous book “The Italian Baker”. (My copy of “The Italian Baker” has a badly broken spine because I’ve used it so often.)

Apparently, farinata is very similar to the socca made in Nice. So I checked our copy of “La Cuisine: the Complete Book of French Cooking” by Valerie-Anne L’Etoile (ha. Complete, eh?) – not even a mention of socca there.

We had real bees in our bonnets though and we neeeeeeeeded to try farinata!

Happily, there is the internet and once again it came to our rescue. Some of the online recipes we looked at are very simple, calling only for chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt and pepper. Others add herbs. Others add herbs and onion. Rosemary was mentioned several times.

Rosemary!! I love rosemary. I wanted rosemary!!

I was just in the process of planting the herb garden. I knew that the rosemary I planted really had to be left to establish itself. But when I was in the basement watering our bay tree (I’m waiting until there is good leaf cover outside before bringing it back out into unaccustomed bright light), I was thrilled to see that last year’s rosemary plant that I had been babying all winter has survived!! Not only survived but it’s starting to send out new growth. This is the first time in years that an overwintering rosemary plant hasn’t died from either powdery mildew, neglect, too much attention, too much heat, not enough heat, too much light, not enough light, and/or unknown causes. To celebrate, I gave it a little trim so we could add rosemary to our farinata.

Here is what T did to make the bread:

Farinata/Socca
loosely based on the recipe for Socca de Nice at “Provence & Beyond”

Sorry, no measurements again… see the linked recipes below if you would like measurements.

  • chickpea flour
  • seasalt
  • cold water
  • olive oil
  • fresh rosemary, chopped (optional)
  • onion, chopped (optional)
  • black pepper, freshly ground

Preparation

  1. Mix salt and chickpea flour (look for “besan” or “gram flour” in Indian grocery stores) in a medium sized bowl – we used around ½ c besan and roughly ½ tsp seasalt to make farinata in our 11 inch frying pan twice. Whisk in water to form a batter that is the consistency of thin pancake batter (or whipping cream). Without knowing for certain that this is true but judging from photos, if you want your bread to be more Italian, the batter should be like thick thick cream. If you want it to be more French, the batter should be like unwhipped whipping cream. After the batter is smooth, cover the bowl with a plate and set aside on the counter for at least 2 hours. Recommendations for sitting times on various recipes vary from 2 to 12 hours.
  2. If using, turn the oven to 500F.
  3. Stir a little olive oil and rosemary, if using, into the batter.
  4. Oven method: Put a large cast-iron frying pan in the oven to heat for about 10 minutes. When the pan is hot, carefully coat the bottom of the pan with a little more olive oil. Scatter onions, if using, over the olive oil. Ladle the batter in evenly – it shouldn’t be more than ½ inch (1.25cm) thick. Drizzle on a little more olive oil. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until crisp around the edges and golden on the bottom. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper.

    OR

    Stovetop method: Preheat the cast iron pan over high heat. Drizzle in some olive oil. Add onions, if using. Ladle the batter in evenly – it shouldn’t be more than ½ inch (1.25cm) thick. Drizzle on a little more olive oil. Allow to fry til the bottom is golden brown. Flip and cook the other side til golden. Add more olive oil if necessary. (More olive oil makes the bread crispier.)

Cut into wedges and serve immediately.

Notes

:: This is much better when freshly out of the oven. It tastes okay reheated but is not nearly as thrilling.

:: Stovetop farinata turns out pretty much the same as it does in the oven. We think the stovetop version is more energy efficient AND it’s a lot easier to assess whether the farinata is done on the bottom. I’m guessing that it would cook well in the barbecue too.

:: From the photographs I’ve looked at, farinata appears to be slightly thicker than Socca. I’m guessing that they’re very similar in flavour though.

farinata/socca Innocently, knowing that papadam is made with besan, as we were waiting for the farinata to cook, I suggested that papadams were pretty much the same as farinata. Oh my! NO!! Could I have been more wrong?!

A cooked papadam is much thinner and contains no oil. Also, apparently, papadam dough is quite stiff – stiff enough to be rolled with a rolling pin. We’ve never made our own papadams, but buy them ready-made at the Indian grocery store, then heat them up just before serving.

Farinata batter is much more similar to the batter used for making pakoras and aloo chops. In fact, if you have extra farinata batter, I’m thinking you could easily make pakoras with it.

But I’m getting WAY off-topic here! (I’m feeling quite scattered these days.)

farinata/socca Okay, I’m back now…. So? How did the farinata taste?

It really IS good. Unfortunately though, because the rosemary had been growing indoors all winter, the flavour was pretty much lost. Indoor herbs are much more delicately flavoured. I’m looking forward to trying farinata/socca with our outdoor rosemary that is now flourishing in the back garden!

Yes, I can well imagine queuing up in the market in Nice just to get socca that has been freshly baked. Apparently, farinata and socca are traditionally made in woodfire ovens. We had to made do with our electric oven. We made farinata on the stovetop as well. This might not be the traditional way to make it but we don’t care. It tastes pretty much the same as the baked version. Both ways are great! I’m guessing that farinata/socca would work well in the barbecue too.

I’d love to taste the woodfire oven version to compare! I wonder if the bread takes on the smoky flavour of the wood. What kind of wood would be best? Olive? Apple? If we had a woodfire oven, I’d want to throw rosemary branches into the fire too (although I have no idea if that would lend any extra flavour at all).

While farinata doesn’t actually contain yeast, I am still submitting it for Susan’s (WildYeast) YeastSpotting event. Some people will say that this is a kind of pancake but I maintain that it is a kind of flatbread. And even if it isn’t bread, it IS awfully good!

Why not make it? You be the judge.

Still not convinced? Maybe Elizabeth (A Bread A Day) will change your mind:

This bread is absolutely amazing. It’s so fast, so good, and so endlessly customizable – you won’t believe it’s gluten-free! Personally, this wheat-addict can’t get enough of it. [...] Yes, that’s right: farinata is not only gluten-free, but dairy-free, nut-free, vegan, and I’m pretty sure it cleans your car and makes your bed, too.

-excerpt from abreadaday.com – farinata

Bookmarked Recipes - every MondayBookmarked Recipes
Some time ago, Ruth (Ruth’s Kitchen Experiments) created this event to urge herself (and everyone else) to actually make the several recipes they have bookmarked in various books, magazines and internet pages. This is now the 56th session for Bookmarked Recipes! (I think.)

For complete details on how to participate in Bookmarked Recipes, please read the following:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
YeastSpotting
Yeastspotting - every Friday (wordle.net image)

Each week, Susan (Wild Yeast) compiles a list of many bread-specific recipes from across the web. This week marks the 1st anniversary of YeastSpotting! For complete details on how to be included in the YeastSpotting round up, please read the following:

 

edit 5 June 2009: We made farinata/socca again yesterday after I had already written the post above. We made the batter even thinner – more like socca than farinata if I’m reading the various photos online correctly. We also sliced the onion very thinly rather than chopping it. And we cooked the farinata/socca on the stove.
 
It was really incredible!! Not exactly like bread any more – more like crepes. Using about a cup of besan, we made 4 very very thin wonderfully crisp and light pancakes.
 
Incidentally, a very hot pan seems to work better. This is where farinata/socca seems to differ from pancakes or crepes. No beading of water when flicked at the pan here. The water should sizzle and evaporate immediately!
 
We’re thinking this thin socca-like (I think) version might be a reasonable facsimile for dosa.

 

edit 19 July 2009: We finished reading Laura Schenone’s wonderful book The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken. There are a number of recipes in the back of the book, but alas, none for farinata. But read Schenone’s description and you can see why we had to try finding it.

Having read descriptions of farinata, I was expecting it to be like the French crepe – a light, flimsy, soft thing. But chickpea is an elemental, hearty legume of the Mediterranean, and farinata is much more rustic and substantial, made of four simple ingredients: chickpea flour, water, salt, and olive oil, soaked together and baked in an enormous round pan, three feet in diameter, pulled in and out of the wood-burning oven with long metal prongs, reminding me of the earliest breads invented by humans thousands of years ago and cooked on hot stones. [...] [F]arinata is quite ancient, traced back to the Romans and documented in a fourth-century cookbook. How can such a primitive food be so wonderful? The bottom of the crepe is soft and coated with olive oil, the top is crackled by fire and crunchy; the taste is a little like a potato pancake, but more interesting and earthy.
 
-Laura Schenone, The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, p. 134

 

5 Comments for Farinata …or is it Socca? (bookmarked recipe)” »

  1. Comment by MyKitchenInHalfCups — 4 June 2009 @ 18:33 EDT

    I love how your writing and researching is so scattered about much like mine. I do appreciate how not on time I am with dead lines.
    Socca … gosh yes I have it on my list of bread to make but you see you’ve gone and beat me to it.
    And yes the rosemary twigs do impart flavor on the grill. I’ve used them to thread shrimp on the grill too and that’s very nice.

  2. Pingback by YeastSpotting June 5, 2009 | Wild Yeast — 5 June 2009 @ 04:14 EDT

    [...] YeastSpotting is one year old. I asked you to help me make this a big celebration, and wow, did you deliver! [...]

  3. Comment by Susan/Wild Yeast — 4 June 2009 @ 22:24 EDT

    That’s a great looking flat bread, looks so quick, easy, and delicious. And on top of that it cleans your car AND makes your bed. Count me in!

  4. Comment by MC — 5 June 2009 @ 08:24 EDT

    Wonderful post! So lively and informative. I make socca regularly. We love it! I use for it the recipe that Mark Bittman (the New York Times’ Minimalist) published for it years ago. It is exactly the same as yours (except that there is no option to make it on the stove top), so what I make may be farinata too. I didn’t know that…

  5. Comment by ejm — 5 June 2009 @ 09:00 EDT

    Rosemary twigs to skewer shrimp! How clever are you, Tanna?!

    I’m not sure about the other Elizabeth’s claim that the farinata will clean the car and make the bed. I just checked and our car is looking awfully grimy! But maybe that’s because we made stove-top farinata.

    I’m not sure that anyone (except us) makes farinata on the stove, MC. All the recipes we looked at called for it to be baked in the oven. Ha! I can’t believe I missed seeing Bittman’s recipe! It IS very similar to what we do, the only difference being that he broils his after baking it.

    -Elizabeth

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