This tasty meal is delightfully gourmet, but it’s not difficult to make and it highlights the best flavors of the season right now.
Italian Riviera-inspired Fare
Cinque Terre, a seaside escape in the Genoa region, is rugged and windswept and surprising. Meals are culled from the sea and harvested from the stepped gardens that sweep up from the water’s edge in fantastic formation. Farinata is a traditional Genovese flatbread made from very simple ingredients: Chickpea (garbanzo) flour, sea salt, olive oil, and rosemary. I first tried it in college when I traveled there and got stuck (another story) for 10 days and feasted on food like a queen. Years later, Brian and I stayed in Cinque Terre for about a week when we traveled to Italy before having kids. We went back to the apartment where I had stayed long before, and dined most evenings on the quaint balcony overlooking the town and water. There is nothing, really, like the complex, rich, satisfying taste of farinata with Genoa pesto and a Campari cocktail overlooking the salty, sparkly stretch of the Italian Riviera.
Yesterday, among the sun and our garden, I was feeling nostalgic for Italy and in particular the foods of Cinque Terre. Finding delight in the ingredients I had on hand, I poured myself a Campari cocktail and made my own NW springtime-inspired version using only seasonal ingredients. I hope you like it as much as we did.
Seasonal Herbs & Ingredients
One of my favorite things about having a garden is that once it begins to grow, everything from there shapes our meals—and we start to love our meals in a way that can only be called passionately in love with flavor. It’s not highbrow or silly. It’s just that in-season produce tastes better than anything grown in a hothouse or carted across the country–it’s fresh and bright and full of rain and sun and you can taste the difference the minute it hits your tongue. Right now the garden consists mainly of quite a bit of returning herbs (parsley, chives, mint, sage) and mature arugula that has self-seeded itself since last year. The radishes are at their sweetest baby stage and are ready to be thinned. Multi-colored baby greens are waiting to be scattered haphazardly over everything to make picture-perfect dishes from humble ingredients.
Tips and Tricks
You’ll make this meal in stages. The things you have to get right are fairly straightforward:
- You’ll need a super-hot oven. I set mine to 475-degrees convection. If you don’t have a convection oven, you’ll need to set your oven to 500 degrees.
- Prep your farinata batter at least an hour ahead of time, because it needs to sit about that long before cooking. If you’re especially prepared, you can make the batter the night before or in the morning and let it sit until you’re ready to bake.
- Be sure to fully preheat your cast iron pan for 5 minutes before baking the farinata. That’s it. The rest is just a matter of chopping and mixing and making this meal your own.
- Garbanzo bean flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill Garbanzo Bean flour)
- A 15-inch cast iron fry pan (I used a Lodge 15-inch cast iron skillet)
- Good olive oil (it doesn’t need to be expensive, it just needs to have a great, smooth taste without any bitterness)
- High-heat oil, such as Safflower, Avocado, or Sunflower
- 8-10 baby new potatoes
- About 2 cups of my Spring Herb Pesto with Roasted Walnuts, or your favorite pesto
- Sea salt, such as a flake sea salt
- Baby radishes
- Handful of chives
- Parmesan cheese, grated
- Fresh bocconcini mozzarella (the mini, cherry-sized balls)
To Make the Farinata:
- In a large mixing bowl, mix 1-1/2 cups garbanzo bean flour, 1-3/4 cups warm water and 1/4-cup olive oil plus a pinch of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper.
- Whisk thoroughly until batter is completely smooth. Set aside for 30-60 minutes, or longer, such as overnight or all day (many recipes recommend letting the batter sit for 2 hours; I didn’t wait that long).
- Preheat oven to 475-degrees F convection OR 500-degrees F standard bake setting.
- Before you are ready to bake, put your big cast iron pan in the oven and wait about 5 minutes for it to fully heat up. And watch out–it should be burning hot; use oven mitts to handle.
Meanwhile, Slice and Cook Potatoes
Potatoes are a traditional addition to pizza in Italy. They go especially well with farinata, because it’s a rich, but not heavy, crust, that doesn’t reiterate the starchy qualities of a typical wheat crust. Slice 8-10 unpeeled new potatoes into thin disks. Fry in a cast iron pan in a a generous amount of high-heat oil such as Safflower, Sunflower, or Avocado oil, turning occasionally and allowing to crisp. Add a light dusting of salt and pepper. Don’t over-season.
Prepare additional toppings
Wash and slice baby radishes in half lengthwise, keeping the tops on. If you don’t have access to fresh baby radishes, just grab a bunch of radishes at your local grocer and slice them into fourths (with the tops on!) so they’re small enough to fully cook.
Grate Parmesan cheese and snip chives into quarters. You’ll want about 1/4 cup coarsely grated Paremsan and a couple tablespoons of chives.
Baking the Farinata
Finally, it’s almost time to bake your farinata. Give your farinata batter a few whisks to fully incorporate ingredients—there shouldn’t be any striation; it will be similar in consistency to pancake batter. Keeping the pan in the oven, pull out your oven rack and add a generous drizzle of olive oil to coat the base of the pan, and put back in the oven for a minute or so, or until the oil is sizzling in the pan. Finally, pour your farinata batter into the pan. I prefer to just pull out the oven rack and keep the pan in the oven. Try to cover the entire base of the pan evenly, but don’t worry if it’s a bit uneven. Set timer for 20 minutes. When done, the edges will be pulling away from the pan. The surface will be golden and the sides will be brown. Bake an additional 3-5 minutes if necessary.
Add Pesto and Toppings
Remove the pan from the oven. Don’t turn off the oven. Spread a thick layer of pesto onto the farinata, about 1-1/2 cups. Top with potatoes. Add radishes and mozzarella balls. Return to the oven until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with chives and Parmesan. Bake a minute or so more, until Parmesan has just melted. Remove to a hot plate. Don’t transfer to a serving dish. Slice and serve immediately.