Friday, June 14, 2013

La Cucina Italiana

by Sheila Connolly

Or something like that.  I do not speak Italian.  My entire vocabulary consists of terms like yes, no, how, where, what, and how much. I can also be very enthusiastic in Italian:  marvelous, beautiful, perfect, please, and thank you.

I just spent close to two weeks in northern Italy. Most of the time I didn't need language, since the amazing planners for this long-planned trip for college classmates, hatched at a reunion last year, pre-arranged everything, including most meals.  No decisions required.

The meals were incredible. In restaurant after restaurant, course upon course simply appeared on the tables in front of us.  Platters often held three or more goodies each.  And bottles of local wine were liberally poured. Since for at least the latter half of the trip we were near the sea (often in sight of it), we ate a lot of seafood—local sardines, squid the size of my finger, gamberoni (a kind of jumbo prawn).  We also tasted some interesting local delicacies, such as lardo (which is exactly what it sounds like:  pig fat, cured in marble vats for over a year with spices and herbs—I liked it) and ravioli with stinging nettles in the filling.

You will no doubt hear me raving on here about the cooking of northern Italy for a while, but most of it I can't hope to replicate, so I'll start with the simple stuff.  But first:  a tour of a Medici Renaissance kitchen, in the Castello di Trebbio.  No, it's not a museum—there are people living in the castle, not to mention the aged, uh, servants?, and we saw our meal prepared in the incredible kitchen, unchanged for centuries (except for the flat-screen television in the corner!).

I want these. And someone to polish them all.

The stone sink--still in use.

The kitchen table:  two boards only, over
two inches thick
Oh, right--a recipe. Farinata is, I am told, a specialty of the region of Liguria in the north of Italy. It's a kind of fast food, and in spirit it resembles pizza—you eat wedges of it, by hand.  But in its way it's much simpler than pizza:  the basic recipe has all of five ingredients (although you can add some toppings). The most complicated part is cooking it, since you end up using both your broiler and your oven.  And it's meant to be eaten immediately—it doesn't keep.


2 cups chickpea/garbanzo flour (finding this may be 
   your biggest challenge)

1 1/4 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 3/4 cups water, at room temperature
1/4 cup olive oil, plus a little extra for the pans

Whisk together the dry ingredients.  In another bowl, whisk together the water and olive oil.  Whisk the contents of the two bowls together until smooth.  Let sit, covered, for an hour.

While you're waiting, turn on your broiler and let your oven preheat.

The authentic version calls for a 12" round ovenproof pan.  I don't happen to have one, but cast iron skillets (9") work just as well.  You need something that will get good and hot!

A few minutes before you are ready to cook your farinata, place one skillet in the oven to preheat.  Remove from the oven when hot and add about a teaspoon of olive oil, tilting the pan to distribute it evenly.

Pour about a cup of your batter into the pan (it will sizzle! And don't make the layer of batter too thick) and distribute.  Place the skillet in the oven and broil for about 4 minutes.  Then turn off the broiler and turn on the oven to 450 degrees F and cook another three-four minutes, until your farinata looks crisp.  Remove from the oven and slide the farinata onto a cutting board (if you have a seasoned pan, it goes easily).  Let cool a couple of minutes and slice into six wedges.

Repeat with the remaining batter.  This recipe made about three farinata.

You can dress this up by sprinkling some grated Parmesan cheese over the top before broiling.  If you want you can get fancy and sprinkle other herbs, onion, olives, etc., but remember—this is not a pizza.  I'm not sure what it is, but it's kind of addictive.


Farinata from Monterosso
Oh, right, my next book came out while I was out of the country.

Looks appropriately classical--which of course I didn't know when I planned this trip.


  1. Wow, Sheila, that kitchen looks like Downton Abbey! Love the wooden table...

  2. You can buy the Chickpea flour on Amazon . . . or try the online store of Bob's Red Mill. Love that sink! and those copper pans - I love copper.

  3. I can pat my head and rub my tummy. I can make this recipe. I'm just not sure how to word the invitation. If I call my friends and say come on over and we'll make some farinata, they might misunderstand my intentions. :-)

  4. I am so jealous! It sounds like a fabulous trip. Plates appearing before you -- oh my! While I love the copper pots and pans, I've cleaned a few too many of them to want them. But that sink! Does anyone else think sinks are too small and impractical today?

    BTW, Bob's Mill makes a garbanzo bean/chickpea flour. I used to make things with it for my dog who had wheat allergies. Honestly, it was hard to tell the difference between things made with that flour and regular wheat flour.

    I have to try this!


  5. I liked the chickpea flour--it's just a little nutty in flavor, but easy to work with. I may try it in other things.

    If anyone is interested, after two weeks of healthy eating (lots of olive oil!) and plenty of exercise, my cholesterol is way down (had a pre-scheduled check-up today). Apparently the Mediterranean diet lives up to its promotion.

  6. Great post, Sheila! I look forward to more.

    Welcome back!

  7. It must be chickpea week since Peg posted something today about chickpeas. I was told about this recipe from an Italian chef and made it about a year ago. Loved it. Great alternative to gluten items for celiac sufferers!

    Thanks, Sheila. I'm definitely jealous of your trip. Can't wait to go and planning to year?? The pots and pans are beautiful!!

    Daryl / Avery