Cecina – where have you been all my life?

by Steven Brenner

I just discovered cecina, a Tuscan flatbread/pancake made from chickpea flour and water.  I can’t stop thinking, “how is it possible that I’ve lived in Italy most of my adult life and never had this before?”

Two of my daughters and I were in Florence and since I refuse to eat a mediocre meal anywhere, I dragged them around looking for just the right place and decided on Cinque e 5 in the Oltrarno.  It was small, cute, organic, vegetarian/vegan friendly, and the right mix of traditional and creative.  On the menu were a number of things I didn’t recognize, like cecina, both plain or with artichokes (as pictured above) as well as an unleavened focaccia called covaccino and the Florentine ravioli, pansoti, which are stuffed with greens and tossed in a walnut sauce.

Perhaps this is yet one more example of Italy’s awesomeness – that one can discover new foods that exist only a few hours away from one’s home; that entire culinary traditions in a neighboring region are totally foreign to you.

With my interested piqued, I looked it up to get the full story and to make it myself:  it’s called farinata in general, cecina in Tuscany, and socca in southern France.  There’s even a version of it in Sardegna, Uruguay and Argentina.  Originally from Genova – hence having spread to Sardegna (which was originally populated by the French Genovesi) and now typical of all of Liguria, and the stretch from Nice all the way to Pisa.  It is a simple flatbread made of chickpea flour, olive oil and salt.  It’s gluten-free – something that ought to really appeal to celiacs, suffering in Italy without something bread-like to dip into.  It’s similar to a tortilla and holds together well – can be stuffed or used like a sandwich, or rolled up like a crêpe.  You can bake stuff into it, like the artichokes; spread a soft cheese on it, such as stracchino; or top with onions, as I did for my first trial:

It’s pretty easy to make, but also easy to burn.  I mixed about 250g of chickpea flour with 750ml of water, added about 2 tbs of salt and let it sit overnight.  The next morning I stirred in 3 tbs of olive oil and a bit more flour until it was batter-like, then poured it into a well-oiled round dish, and baked it at 250°C until it was nice and brown.  Since I made a few different ones of various thicknesses, to experiment, the time ranged from 10 minutes to 30 minutes (and 1/2 of one was totally burnt to a crisp).

If you’re in Florence, be sure to try the cecina at Cinque e 5 in piazza della Passera in the Oltrarno.

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