Thursday, November 3, 2011



How delightful it is to discover a new comfort food! I had always thought comfort foods were those carbohydrates first eaten during early childhood, with their deeply familiar flavours and their taste of home, like good bread with salted butter; or really fresh stretchy pita; or burning hot chips, crisp and salty on the outside, soft and mealy within. These are pleasure enough – but one of the joys of being an adult is that I keep finding new foods to add to the list!

I’ve always liked Lebanese pastries, but when I first bit into the spelt version of the haloumi pie at Mankoushe on Lygon Street, I knew I had discovered the perfect dish. Hot, salty, cheesy, with the deep slaty taste of spelt, heat blistered, and brushed with olive oil: this is comfort food at its best – and is, perhaps, why the Mankoushe boys, dishes themselves, wave whenever we go by: we are their best customers.

Even more recently, I discovered farinata. Farinata is a thick chickpea flour pancake flecked with salt and rosemary. It is that perfect combination of hot and crisp at the edges and mealy inside; and it is savoury, filling, and flavourful. Even better, it is so quick and simple to make that it is a wonder it is not more widely known; the only step that takes any time at all is leaving it to soak for a couple of hours.

I’m so enamoured with farinata that I’ve been making it twice a week for dinner, with a couple of hefty salads on the side. It’s best served hot straight from the pan; but even eaten the next day, whether cold or warmed in the microwave, it is still good.

Farinata doesn’t have to be eaten at dinner. According to Skye Gyngell in her lovely book My Favourite Ingredients, farinata is the traditional breakfast food for Genoese fisherman. I, however, struggle to eat breakfast any later than the time it takes me to shuffle down the hall to the kitchen, so I am yet to find out whether it’s good just then. However, like all salty foods farinata cries out for beer, and I’m looking forward to warmer weather and drinkies in our complete mess of a garden with a slice of farinata in one hand, and a cold beer in the other.

The ingredients are not quite local (I am not sure which bit of Australia provides the chickpea flour in the organic shop), but it is so good that I can’t help but include it in this blog. If you need an excuse to cook a non-local food, farinata is gluten free, sugar free, vegan, and economical. And because pricing completely fails to take into account the distance food has travelled, if you use an imported chickpea flour (also known as besan flour, and readily available in Indian and Pakistani shops), it will be even cheaper.

In Liguria, farinata is made in a large zinc lined copper pan. As I am not Ligurian and don’t have a great pile of specialist cooking equipment, I have adapted the recipe for my thick bottomed stainless steel frying pan 30cm (12”) in diameter. Whatever pan you use, make sure it can go into the oven.


- 150g chickpea flour (also sold as besan flour)
- 500ml lukewarm water
- a very hefty pinch of sea salt
- ¼ cup plus a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
- a long stem of rosemary

Place the chickpea flour and a pinch of salt into a large bowl. If the flour is very lumpy, sieve it; otherwise press out any lumps with a whisk. Make a well in the centre. Gradually add the water, whisking constantly as you slowly incorporate the flour; you should end up with a runny yellow batter.

Leave it to sit for 2 to 4 hours. (I have eaten farinata under the guise of chickpea fritters at several bars and been left with an unpleasant grainy texture on the back of my teeth, like a scone that lacks the necessary pinch of sugar. Leaving it to sit and very slightly ferment seems to fix this problem.)

Pick the leaves from the rosemary.

Place an oven rack in the top half of the oven (not the topmost row, but the one below it), and preheat the oven to 225°C (450°F).

Stir ¼ cup olive oil into the batter.

Place the frying pan on the stovetop, and heat the tablespoon of oil until it is just beginning to smoke. Pour in the batter – it will frill up at the sides like a frittata – and scatter it with rosemary. Gently slide the pan into the oven.

Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until the edges are crisp, the top is golden, and the middle is perfectly mealy. Sprinkle with extra salt flakes, and serve immediately. This makes enough for a bunch of people to have a taste, four or five people to eat with other things, or for two hungry greedy people to demolish with gusto. Gyngell recommends eating farinata topped with flecks of sweet gorgonzola... sounds good, but I haven’t tried it! She also has a recipe for farinata, but I prefer the thinner batter used above.

From a recipe in the The River Cafe Cook Book Green, adapted to home cooking conditions and equipment.

(Backyard: rosemary. Local: olive oil. Somewhere in Australia: chickpea flour. Not so local: salt.)

The River Cafe Green Cook book My Favourite Ingredients


  1. That sounds fantastic. I must try it. Hot chips are my ultimate comfort food. Oh and those boxes of macaroni cheese ready made at the supermarket.

  2. Calvin Trillin, an American journalist and food writer, tells a story of a time when he was trying to work out why macaroni cheese didn't taste as good as he remembered - then he caught his wife in the kitchen grating parmeggiano reggiano over the it - that change of flavour of course compromised the comfort of the food.