The delicious Chickpea flatbread
The chickpea flatbread is a traditional and tasty street food or snack of Tuscany. It is a very thin sort of pancake (about 0,5 cm wide), soft inside but with a crunchy crust, made with simple ingredients as chickpea flour, water, salt and extra virgin olive oil. In Tuscany, it is known by several different names.
In Pisa and Versilia they call it “Cecìna”. Leghorn and province know it as “torta di ceci” or more simply “torta“. In Carrara, it is called “Calda Calda” (hot hot). In Lunigiana and Garfagnana it is called “farinata di ceci” or “farinata“.
A few years ago my friend Jed from San Francisco bay came to visit me in Tuscany. After few days exploring the Tuscan best places, I thought it was a good idea to let him try the chickpea pie.
We went to a pizzeria to order the chickpea flatbread, and I asked Jed to guess what was this delicious specialty. He thought it was an omelet and this made me laugh. The owner of the pizzeria, an old woman who saw me grow up, asked me: “Why are you laughing?” I told her what my friend Jed thought about the chickpea flatbread, and she started to laugh too. She replied to him: “No my dear, this is CALDA CALDA!” associating the typical Italian gesture that meant, “eating”. My friend, of course, did not understand, but he was delighted eating some slices and asked me what was that.
The chickpea flatbread has a round shape and is baked in a wood-fired oven, in a special copper pan, and once cooked it assumes a bright golden color. Some food companies offer a packaged pre-cooked version, ready to be heated, but of course, it is not the same thing than preparing by you.
According to one of many popular recipes, you have to dilute 1/4 part of chickpea flour with 3/4 parts of water in a bowl, add salt and stir vigorously to dissolve the lumps of flour (possibly crushing them against the sides of the bowl with the spoon).
Before to bake, allow the mixture to stand for a few hours (from two to ten hours and even more), stirring occasionally to prevent the settling of the flour and dissolving the residual lumps.
Fresh baked Chickpea flatbread – Photo Credits: Lucadea
The Chickpea flatbread in a legend
The chickpea flatbread has very ancient roots. Various recipes of Latin and Greek origins included pies with mashed legumes cooked in the oven.
Anyway, a legend says that the chickpea flatbread was born by chance in 1284 when Genoa defeated Pisa in the naval combat of Meloria. A Genoese ship, carrying prisoners, suffered damages caused by a storm. In the hustle and bustle, some olive oil barrels and sacks of chickpeas toppled, soaking into the salt water entered in the galley.
Due to the storm and to the hard battle against Pisa, the food was scarce, so the captain of the ship ordered to retrieve the cans and to serve to the sailors a bowl of a shapeless chickpea purée with olive oil. At the beginning some sailors refused to eat that mash leaving it in the sun, wiping the mixture into a kind of pancake. The next days, driven by hunger pangs, the sailors ate the food left in the sun finding it so delicious. Once back on land, the Genoese decided to improve the unexpected discovery cooking the purée in the oven. The result pleased him, and to mock the defeated of the enemy, they called the chickpea crust “the gold of Pisa“.
As you heard in this legend the Farinata born in Genoa in Liguria. Moreover, this food became popular also along the coast of Tuscany, especially in the Pisan cuisine. In fact, Pisa requested the DOP designation of origin for this product.
Usually, a sprinkling of black pepper on top is perfect. You can taste some slices of Chickpea Pie served on a dish or even inside a small loaf of bread called “francesino” or with a rounded small focaccia.
From the combination between bread and Farinata, in the first half of the twentieth century in Leghorn, the expression “Cinque e Cinque” (five and five) born. People used to go to the bakery asking for 5 Lire of bread and 5 Lire of Torta. (Lira was the currency of Italy before the introduction of the Euro).
In Leghorn and throughout the province, Cinque e Cinque is a traditional and popular street food. You still find many “tortai” (special torta sellers, ancestors of modern Pizza By The Slice) where you can taste the original sandwich usually served with a glass of a gold colored soda called “Spuma”.
Moreover, there are many variations of the Farinata. It can be served with soft cheese, with leeks and blue cheese, or with eggplants.
In Gibraltar, it was introduced by the massive Genoese colony that populated the area since the early decades of the eighteenth century. Still widespread, it is known as calentita and is considered a typical dish of the town. In Cote d’Azur in France, the chickpea flatbread is very popular and is called Socca.