Editor: Michela Pompeo
This is a recipe typical of Liguria the strangely arch-shaped region in the north west of Italy (capital: Genoa), in whose gulf (the Gulf of Spezia) Shelley, the romantic English poet, drowned in 1822.
(The last time I passed through we were taking our yearly summer drive through the Italian and then French Riviera on our way to one of my favorite little beaches in the South of France-Beaulieu Sur Le Mer- it was one of Napoleon’s favorite places also. Sorry, I am digressing here from the recipe,but too beautiful a place not to make a mention)
The main (and almost ‘unique’) ingredient is chickpea flour. Chickpeas furnish as many calories as dried beans, broad beans or lentils (331 Kcal for 1 cup) and as many proteins. They are very nutritious, especially if added to dishes with pasta or rice. They can substitute meat and they are easily digestible.
This kind of ‘bread’ is to be baked in the oven (in the grill mode, meaning heat coming only from above) using a special type of oven dish, called testo1: it is round; it comes in various dimensions: the medium one has a diameter of 30 cm; it is 2.5cm deep and it is made of tin-plated copper. This is the most fundamental characteristic, because copper, being a good heat conductor, allows a uniform heat diffusion and a perfect cooking.
So, here it is:
Genovese Chickpea Flat Bread ( Farinata Genoese)
½ cup chickpea flour;
1 teaspoon salt;
2 tablespoons olive oil
¾ cup water
Sift the chickpea flour, add salt, oil and water. Stir carefully and let it rest for a couple of hours at least (This mixture is rather liquid, due to the amount of water; never mind: it must be so). Grease the testo with olive oil. Stir the mixture again and pour it into the testo. Bake in the oven, whose door will be left ajar, at 430° F (220 C) for about half an hour. Serve hot with a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.
For centuries, pulses had been the fundamental food of rural people, very common and widespread. This perhaps accounts for their importance and presence in many folklore tales, such as the Princess and the Pea, Anderson’s Jack and the Bean Plant, etc.
The Italian writer Italo Calvino (1923-1985) collected a variety of Italian tales in his Fiabe Italiane, 2 volumes, Oscar Mondadori, Cles (TN), 1968. At page 364, 2nd volume, we find Cecino e il bue (Cecino means ‘little chickpea’), a story which has different versions as Calvino himself has explained. He chose the Florentine version, but he changed its beginning, drawing from other local traditions.
While a woman was cooking chickpeas, a beggar passed by and asked for some chickpeas to eat. The woman refused to give her any, because she was afraid not to have enough for herself and her husband. The beggar cursed her: “May all the chickpeas you are cooking turn into as many children to feed!” Immediately, a hundred very tiny children(resembling chickpeas) sprang up from the pan and started crying and asking for food. The woman, terrified, chased them and crushed them into the mortar as if to make a chickpea purée. When the woman got hold of the last one, she spared him, liked him and kept him as her child.
Soon, she and her husband gave Cecino some jobs to do and then found an employment for him. Being so little, he could be of much help in thwarting robberies, etc.
After many adventures, some of which very dangerous (as when he was eaten by a wolf), he met a gang of robbers with plenty of money. While they were counting the coins, he scared them (they could not see him, but could hear his voice) to such an extent that they ran away, leaving the money there. Cecino took the bag and brought it to his family, making them happy and rich.
I think this is to show how important children are in a family… (shall I add: how important chickpeas are in human diet, too?)
“Mangia Bene, Vivi Bene”