|This is a lightly baked farinata. I usually let it go a little longer, so there are more burned bits.|
|I find the cast iron skillet the ideal cooking vessel.|
|It works well in a non-stick sheet pan too, but those sheets tend to warp, leading to an uneven outcome, which isn't all bad especially if some of your eaters like the burnt parts! And non-stick is a relative term.|
The original recipe was so good, that it took me awhile to experiment with variations. At the beginning, I used different mixtures of flours to go with the chickpea flour, tending to gravitate towards corn meal. The onions were always a must, but the rosemary was optional. Other flavoring such as cumin and coriander mixed in the oil as it heated was interesting, but not earth-shaking. And I also played with different pans, such as a square sheet pan, but keep coming back to my cast iron skillet. I have not yet sprung for a specialty farinata pan. But by far the best variation involved using dried porcini and shiitake mushrooms, which I'll get to in a moment.
Farinata is native to the northeastern Mediterranean Sea region. In Italy, you find it in Liguria, in and around Genoa. In France, you find it in Nice, where it is called socca. I find the Italian farinata rolls off the tongue more easily and is more fun to say than the hard-c challenged socca. When Susan and I traveled to that region in 2015, I was thrilled to realize that we were going to the birthplace of farinata, and that one of our goals should be to find the best farinata. The first place we walked into in Levanto, at the northern edge of the Cinque Terre region was a pizza joint that had slices of farinata that was doughy, not crisp, and not very flavorful. Truly a disappointment. When we made it to Genoa, the our AirBnB host's recommendation for his favorite farinata was better, a little crispier, but still somewhat uninspired. In Nice, we went to a socca place recommended by a nice couple (from Nice!) we met at a bar and found decent, but not spectacular fare.
I was forced to reckon with the reality that my own humble experiments with farinata were far better than what I could get in its home base. Since Susan would not let me turn our vacation into a "hunt for the the ultimate farinata" project, there is a chance I've missed the best. Further exploration will have to wait for our next trip. But I am pretty certain the Ligurians and the people from Nice (Nicians?) have never tried farinata with dried porcini and shiitake mushrooms.
Ultimate Farinata (Socca) with Dried Mushrooms
Yield: Serves 2-8 as an appetizer, first course, or part of a simple meal
Total Time: 2:45, including 2 hours of resting time for the batter.
Simple, crispy, healthy, yummy, inexpensive, gluten free and vegan.
- 1 small handful dried porcini and/or shiitake mushrooms
- Boiling water to cover mushrooms for soaking
- 3/4 cup chickpea flour (in Indian groceries, it's called besan or gram flour)
- Optionally, swap out 1/4 cup of besan for cornmeal
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 cup water -- use as much of the soaking water from the mushrooms as you can
- 1 small onion
- 6 glugs of olive oil
- Soak the mushrooms: Put the mushrooms in a small bowl. Cover with boiling water, and soak for at least 15 minutes, or until the mushrooms are soft and pliable. Drain the mushrooms and reserve the soaking water for the batter. Strain out any small particles, if any. Chop the mushrooms into a small to medium size dice and set aside.
- Make the batter: Whisk together the chickpea flour, salt, and 1 cup of water, using as much of the soaking liquid as you can, adding water if needed. Cover, and let sit for at least one hour, preferably more than two hours, and up to 12 hours.
- Slice the onion. Slice the onion into very thin slices.
- Prepare to sizzle. Turn on the oven to 450 degrees. Put the olive oil and onions in a 12" well-seasoned cast iron skillet, and swirl around to coat the skillet and the onions. Put the skillet into the heating oven. After a little while, it will begin to sizzle and smell good. After 10-15 minutes, the oven should be up to temperature, and the onions should be thinking about browning. Add the mushrooms to the skillet and put back in for a minute or two, taking care that you don't burn the onions, but don't be afraid if a few start to turn brown.
- Add the batter: Skim any foam from the top of the batter and whisk one more time. Swirl the batter in to the skillet, starting around the outside, and gently moving to the inside, taking care that all the mushrooms and onions don't end up in one clump in one part of the skillet. Rearrange them with a spatula or wooden spoon if necessary.
- Cook. Put the skillet in the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. Check the progress of the cooking. It will likely be starting to set up. Close the door and keep cooking and checking every few minutes until it is done. Done should at least be that the batter is firm throughout, and the edges are starting to brown. You might like to go even further. Some people like some parts burnt.
- Remove, slice, and serve. When done, remove the skillet from the oven using sturdy oven mitts. Lift the farinata from the skillet and put on a cutting board. Slice into pie shaped wedges or slice in half, then into "rectangles" for smaller serving pieces.
Serve hot but it tastes good even if it sits out for a bit. It will keep covered in the fridge for a few days, warmed in the toaster oven on a tray (my preference) or in the microwave.