Farinata is basically a flatbread made of chickpea flour, water and olive oil (sometimes with the addition of onion and/or rosemary). It is a regional specialty, eaten as streetfood without a topping both in Nice, France (where they call it socca) and in Liguria (the part of Italy where Genoa is located). I have made it over and over as an appetizer since Mark Bittman published the recipe in the New York Times and he’s right, it does disappear fast…
We tried the Ligurian version in Genoa a couple of years back and ate it in the street and thoroughly enjoyed but I would never have thought of making a whole meal of it if I hadn’t happened on an Italian cookbook listing dozens and dozens of recipes using the farinata as a base for all kinds of tasty toppings, including mushrooms. That gave me an idea for a quick dinner the other night.
I wanted something really light, no sauces, no tomatoes, nothing runny, a topping that would enhance and not cover the taste of the chickpea flour (which we love). I had stuffing mushrooms on hand and half a bag of baby spinach. A few citruses were awaiting their fate in the fruit bowl and I thought they would do nicely for a marinade. I was going to juice a Meyer lemon and a tangerine and blend that with some white balsamic vinegar when I remembered the balsam calamansi vinegar my friend Kim had kindly brought me. Calamansi is a sweet and sour citrus, very popular in the Philippines. It added an interesting and exotic layer of flavor, but if you don’t have any in your pantry, any combination of sweet and sour citruses and mellow white vinegar will work.
I mixed the farinata batter (it has to rest for a while, four hours at least says the Genoan cookbook, while the oven heats up and as long as 12 hours, says Mark Bittman) and set it to do its thing on the counter. Meanwhile I washed and sliced the mushrooms, drizzled calamansi vinegar and olive oil over them, added some finely chopped garlic (no salt at this stage or no pepper either since there is lots of pepper in the farinata itself) and set them to rest companiably next to the batter.
The farinata is normally baked in the oven in a cast-iron skillet but I tried something different this time and cooked it like a crepe on the stove top. Although it has advantages (it cooks faster and cleaning a regular crepe pan is less work than cleaning, drying and re-seasoning a cast-iron skillet) I don’t think the taste is quite as delicate as when it is oven-baked, so by all means follow the original recipe if you do have access to an oven and don’t mind turning it on.
For the farinata (below are the proportions I used for 5 small flatbreads. You should use Bittman’s if you are making the larger oven-baked flatbread)
- 150 g chickpea flour
- 320 g water
- 35 g olive oil
- freshly ground pepper (as liberal an amount as you think you can stand)
For the topping
- 170 g small portabella mushrooms (I used the stuffing variety from Trader Joe’s)
- 170 g baby spinach (twice that amount would have been better but I only had half a bag)
- 3 tablespoons balsam calamansi vinegar (or one tablespoon each of lemon juice, tangerine, clementine or mandarine juice and white balsamic vinegar)
- 2 tablespons of extra-virgin olive oil (for the marinade) + 1 tablespoon for sautéing the mushrooms
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
- salt to taste
- red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
- For the farinata itself, please follow Mark Bittman’s recipe. When it is almost done baking:
- Heat up a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan, drain the mushrooms, saving the marinating liquid, and gently sauté them until done (they cook fast) taking care not to overbrown them so that they remain moist
- Add the baby spinach to the mushrooms and drizzle over them a scant teaspoonful of the marinade (no more as you don’t want an overload of raw garlic) and sauté them briefly until they barely start softening a little.
- Add salt and red pepper flakes. Remove from heat
- Take the farinata out of the oven, cut it in slices like a pizza and serve hot, topping each slice with a heaping spoonful of mushroom and spinach.