San Fermo chef Sam West tinkered the temperament out of farinata, pancakes from Liguria.
I FIRST ENCOUNTERED farinata last summer on the porch at San Fermo, the Ballard restaurant housed in two conjoined, historic buildings whose handsomely updated old bones are a fitting setting for chef Sam West’s rustic Italian cooking.
Farinata is a simple pancake made of chickpea flour. The late Italian cooking authority Marcella Hazan described it as resembling a thin, very soft focaccia, which, like farinata, also hails from Liguria, often called the Italian Riviera. You’ll find the popular snack sold in friggitorie (fry shops) throughout the region. It’s a close cousin to fried chickpea treats like the French panisse and the Sicilian pannelle.
Farinata is easy to make but can be finicky. At San Fermo, West tinkered with his recipe a lot. “Even the slightest change, and you end up with a different product. Sometimes good, sometimes useless,” he says.
Some recipes, like Hazan’s, include onions, but most farinata is flavored simply with rosemary. You can add chopped rosemary to the batter, but West uses rosemary-infused olive oil, which softens and diffuses the herb’s impact. Letting the batter sit for several hours develops the flavor. Baked in the oven to a golden brown, the pancake should have a soft center and a lightly crisped exterior.
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At the restaurant, the farinata is finished on the grill and served with fresh cagliatta cheese and sweet tomato confit. Olives, tapenade or a salad of peppery greens would be good companions too, and I’d recommend a glass of something bubbly to drink with it.
Hazan advises eating farinata the same day it’s made. I agree. While it’s best still warm and crisp at the edges, it’s good at room temperature, too. I found reheating it in the oven revived its crispness nicely.
“I love its simplicity, but I’m occasionally infuriated by how temperamental farinata can be,” says West. Nevertheless, “It will always be on the menu. It’s too delicious not to be.”
San Fermo’s Farinata, adapted from chef Sam West
1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup lukewarm water
½ cup rosemary-infused olive oil (see note)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
Pinch of coarse salt, such as Maldon, for finishing
1. Combine the chickpea flour, water, rosemary-infused olive oil and kosher salt, and whisk until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap, and let the batter sit at room temperature for at least four hours and up to 12 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a 10-inch cast-iron skillet (enough to thinly cover the bottom), and put the pan in the oven to warm for about five minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and pour in the batter. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the pancake is firm and the edges set.
3. Heat the broiler. Brush the top of the pancake lightly with another tablespoon of olive oil if it looks dry. Broil a few inches from the heat until the top starts to brown, about two minutes. Top with chopped rosemary and coarse salt. Cut into wedges, and serve hot or warm. (At the restaurant, it is grilled before serving, but it also reheats well on a sheet pan in the oven.) Serve alone, or with a soft cheese, olives or tapenade.
Note: To make the rosemary-infused olive oil, add a few sprigs of rosemary to 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil — or a big handful of it to a gallon of oil to make a restaurant-size batch. Steep for about an hour over very low heat. A crock pot works well for this. Reserve the oil-coated leaves to scatter over the farinata.