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When I arrived in Asti late one night a week before Christmas a few years ago, the first thing I did after dropping my bag at the hotel was go out in search of some farinata.
This baked pancake-like dish, which can be found all along the Ligurian riviera (in Nice it's called socca, and there are similar dishes in Corsica, Sardinia, Tuscany and Sicily, too) is made with chick pea flour, olive oil, salt and water and when baked in a wood fired oven, it's magic.
It's hard to recreate at home and no self-respecting Italian will tell you otherwise. Most will likely even scoff at the idea of trying to make it at home.
But they have the luxury of popping out to buy this dish and we don't. So, I broke with that tradition and bought the perfect copper farinata pan in Sestri Levante – near Chiavari, which is the Ligurian city that most agree has the best farinata anywhere – and I make it at home.
A while back, when I learned that Juan Urbieta at Ristorante Bartolotta also liked farinata, I attempted to coax him into adding it to the Pizzeria Piccola menu, without success. Farinata, he said, is too bland for the American palate. I won't question someone like Juan on this, but I disagree.
Anyway, as I said, I make this at home whenever possible and even if the results aren't what I'd get at Da Dino or Luchin's in Chiavari, I love it. And frankly, I've had some duff re-heated farinata in Italian pizzerie, too, so I don't worry too much about it.
It's easy to make and it's a healthy (in moderation) mix of olive oil and protein-rich chick peas. Eat it piping hot with some sea salt.
- 4 cups warm water
- 3 cups chick pea flour (available at Outpost, Whole Foods, etc.)
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pour the water into a bowl and whisk in the chick pea flour and salt until it's smooth and all the lumps are out. Let is sit, covered, at room temperature for two to four hours. Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees (the hotter the better. If you have access to a wood-fired oven, that's better). Skim the foam off the top of the mixture, mix in the olive oil and pour it into the pan.
Into the oven it goes for 25-35 minutes, turning it once or twice to make sure it cooks evenly. Keep an eye on it toward the end to make sure it doesn't burn. Use a heavy duty pan that won't buckle under the heat or your batter won't be evenly distributed and one side will be too thin and burnt when the other side is too thick and uncooked.
Cut your farinata into squares and serve with salt and pepper.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.