Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The "cecina" (or "farinata di ceci")

A couple of weeks ago I talked about a typical Tuscan cake, the  castagnaccio. Today I want to talk about another very simple Tuscan dish, easy to make and delicious: the cecina. The cecina (pronunciation: chaycheenay) is a very thin focaccia bread made out of chickpea flour, water and olive oil. Nothing else (it happens that it is gluten free). The name comes from chickpeas, that in Italian are ceci. However, this focaccia is also known as farinata (farina means flour), because this is the name they use in Liguria, a region North of Tuscany, where apparently this dish was born.

The history of this dish is quite funny. Back in the XIII century, Pisa and Genoa were the two great powers of the Mediterranean Sea. They were the USA and the USSR of the time, fighting for dominion over the coast of Northern Africa and much of the coast of Spain, Sardinia, Corsica. The story goes that in 1264, after the naval battle of the Meloria, where Genoa defeated Pisa, Genoa was able to capture many prisoners from Pisa. On their way back to Genoa though, a thunderstorm caught the fleet at sea, and the waves and the wind caused the cargo on the Genoan ships to go loose. The cargo was mainly made of jars of chickpeas and olive oil, which were the major source of food for sailors and soldiers at the time.

The chickpeas and the olive oil blended together, creating a very appalling looking batter. The Genoans, being very stingy (this is a feature that they kept to these days) didn't want to throw this batter away, and they thought of serving it to the Pisa prisoners. The proud Pisa boys refused to eat it at first, because they had standards. Legend goes that one of them refused to even touch his plate, leaving it in the sun for one entire day. The day after, the disgusting looking batter had turned into a much more appealing focaccia bread, thanks to the heat of the sun. And the cecina was born.

Schiacciatina con la cecina and a spuma, a typical soda from Pisa
You will find the cecina in Liguria (farinata), Northern Tuscany (Pisa, Viareggio, Livorno), certain areas of Southern coastal France, and Morocco, although the recipes change outside of Italy change, and eggs and other stuff are added to the batter. In Italy it is sold in pizzerias, although people normally eat it as street food. It makes for an excellent quick lunch or a snack in the afternoon. The way we eat it in Pisa is very simple: we stuff it into a flour focaccia bread, in what we call "torta con la cecina", or we eat it on its own, with some ground pepper on top. That simple. In Livorno they like to do things differently, and they call it cinque e cinque (five plus five). This name derives from old times, when the focaccia bread and the cecina cost 5 liras each, so 5+5. In Liguria they add rosemary or onions to the batter, sometimes salami, sausage, cheese, so that it becomes a fuller meal. Since I can't find any focaccia bread similar to the one I had in Pisa, nor am I able to bake it myself, I make the cecina with rosemary mostly.

Making the cecina is extremely easy on paper. After all, you only need water, chickpeas flour, olive oil, salt and pepper. But you can rest assured that every time you will try, the end result will be different from the previous time: too burnt, too liquid, too soft, not creamy enough. And it will never be as good as the cecina you will find in the pizzerias, because the real deal requires a wood fire oven. On the plus side though, any result you will obtain will be very good, as long as you eat it freshly cooked.

Tradition wants for you to use a copper round pan. But most people(including me) don't have a round copper pan...I have making this at home with other pans and it always came out nicely. Lately, I have been baking it with my new best friend in the kitchen, a 10 1/4 inches (25cm) cast iron skillet. But any large pan, even a square baking sheet, will do, as long as it is flat. The trick is to make sure that batter, when poured into the pan, is 5mm, i.e. 1/5 of an inch.

You can find chickpea flour in most supermarkets, either in the baking aisle or in the international aisle. If not, you can search for chickpea flour, and there are plenty of options.

Cecina (chickpea focaccia) - ingredients (for four people)


In the metric system, the ratio between flour and water in this recipe is very simple: 1 part of flour for three parts of water (for instance 100 grams of flour for 300 ml of water). So, if you have a metric scale things will be easier. If not, just use the quantities I have put here for four people as a basis. 
    • 100 grams of chickpea flour (3.5oz)
    • 300 ml of water (1.27 cups)
    • 3tbsp olive oil
    • salt and pepper 
    • rosemary (optional) or any other herbs/topping you may fancy - I normally only use rosemary IF I use anything at all.
    How to make it
    • Mix the chickpea flour and the water in a bowl, stir, cover and let it sit for 2-6 hours. Don't worry if there are clogs when you mix the flour and water: they will dissolve while the batter sits. 
    • Coat the pan/cast iron skillet with 1tbsp of olive oil. 
    • When the batter is ready, stir it, add salt and pepper (not too much pepper, because you want to add some pepper when the cecina has been cooked). If you are using rosemary or other stuff, this is the time to put it in. 
    • Pour the batter into the pan or iron cast skillet. Add the rest of the olive oil. With a wooden spoon, gently turn the batter in the pan so as to break the olive oil. The batter should be 5mm (1/5 of an inch) high.
    • Bake the batter in a preheated oven at 450F (200-230 C) for 15 minutes. Broil then the pan on high for an additional 5 minutes, so that a golden crust forms. Cooking times will widely varies depending on the oven. In some cases you will have to bake it for much longer, in some other you may need only 10 minutes. The important thing to keep in mind is that the cecina should be firm enough so that you can easily cut it in slices and take it off the pan, but still creamy enough not to be confused for a normal focaccia: have a look at the photo at the bottom to see what I mean: for me that is a little undercooked, because it doesn't have the nice golden crust that you have in the photo that I put at the beginning of this post. But it is creamy as it should be. So shoot for something in between the two photos: a brown crust, but creamy. 
    Ground some fresh pepper on it, slice it and enjoy it, either on its own as an appetizer or a snack, or with cold cuts or cheese. 
    Photo from here.


    Ana O'Reilly said...


    Whe I read the title of your post, I thought it was about what we call cecina (seh-see-nah) in Spanish, which is "meat that has been salted and dried by means of air, sun or smoke" Then I started reading and realized it was about what we call "fainá" in Argentina.

    Funny how a word can mean different things in different languages.

    Anyway, our fainá is very similar and is also found in old-fashioned pizzerias too. Many people like to stick a slice of fainá on a slice of pizza, like you do with the focaccia. I wonder why we call it faina instead of cecina.

    I love your posts about Italian food, oddly enough they remind me of my country haha! :) :)

    Tuscan foodie in America said...

    Hi Ana, I am not surprised you have this in Argentina, given the high number of Italians who migrated there. I think the Argentinian name must come from the Italian farinata, since farina means flour...

    and YES: my father does exactly what you describe. He puts a slice of cecina on top of a slice of pizza. I also like it, but I prefer to enjoy them prolongs the eating pleasure!

    Nasim said...

    It looks really really good. The kiwi side of me is already thinking on how to incorporate this into a vegetarian sandwich that would look bright and morish.

    Tuscan foodie in America said...

    Hi Nasim, it IS very good. Some people eat it in a sandwich also with pickled grilled eggplants. But the options are limitless.

    Tuscan foodie in America said...

    BTW, Piccolo Sogno, an Italian restaurant in Chicago, offer a fried version of this dish, which is typical from the south of Italy. And it charges a ridiculous amount of money for what it is...

    gianfaldoni said...

    volevo retwittare questo post ma hai i tweet bloccati :(

    Tuscan foodie in America said...

    ciao gianfaldoni! Puoi comunque twittare la pagina con il link al post? O fare copia e incolla del mio tweet?

    elle said...

    Ma guarda se mi tocca venire a prendere una ricetta dal blog di un immigrato!!!!!!

    A Tuscan foodie in America said...

    Ciao Elle, fammi sapere come ti viene!

    Tori said...

    Hi I read a different recipe that said to let the batter rest overnight. Well something came up for dinner the next night and I wasn't able to cook I let it sit overnight again. This morning it has a thick doughy layer on top. I stirred it in and it looks okay. Is it ruined? I am going to try and bake it today anyway and see how it turns out. I am serving it with orzo stuffed tomatoes.

    A Tuscan foodie in America said...

    Hi Tori, I don't think anything bad happens if you let it rest overnight. But I think it is unnecessary: there is no rise in this dough, and the rest serves to dissolve the lumps in the garbanzo flour. This will take only a few hours.

    Let me know how it turns out!

    Tori said...

    It turned out pretty good. I enjoyed the crusty edges the best! Yum. I think I could have poured a little more batter in the pan, I was a little hesitant that it would be too thick or boil over the edges of the pan while baking. I was liberal with the oil on the bottom of the pan which is why I was surprised it stuck to the bottom of the pan a little. Overall good but I'm sure it will be better next time!

    A Tuscan foodie in America said...

    glad to hear!

    pixel3v said...

    in this article you've posted a photo that is MINE, ad it is protected by the copyright license, as you can see here in my blog:
    Please, remove it NOW or post a link to my blog!!
    ps. Usually, one must ask the permission to take otherone's photos... Did you know?

    A Tuscan foodie in America said...

    Hi, no reason to become aggressive. I have NEVER been on your blog before you posted your comment. I found this photo in an American culinary forum. So chillax, lady.

    As I say in my sidebar, If I someone sees a photo in here that belongs to him/her (95%of photos are mine) I am happy to give credit where credit is due, absolutely.

    Peace and happy cooking.

    Anonymous said...

    Do you know anywhere in New York City that serves cecina? My husband and I lived in Pisa for a while and this was our FAVORITE!!! Look forward to trying the recipe, but I'm curious if any restaurant serves it.

    A Tuscan foodie in America said...

    Hi there. No clue about who seels this in NY. I know for a fact that they have the traditional flour used to make this at Eataly.

    chiara-saocomesefao said...

    ti prego svelami perchè la farinata di ceci ha bisogno di riposo prima della cottura! è una cosa che non sono proprio riuscita a capire! :)

    A Tuscan foodie in America said...

    Ciao, uno dei motivi e' lasciare che l'acqua e l'olio sciolgano da soli i grumi che si formano una volta che li hai mischiati con la farina: se non lasci riposare l'impasto, ti ritrovi i grumi duri nella cecina, e non e' una bella cosa.

    Non so se ce ne siano altro (sicuramente non e' una questione di sviluppare la gabbia del glutine, visto che di glutine qui non ce n'e').

    Max said...

    Grazie per la ricetta! Ho vissuto un anno a Livorno tanti anni fa' (nel '94) ed ho mangiato tantissimi cinque e cinque. Cerchero' di fare la torta a casa, grazie a te. Una domanda: ho visto anche una versione che usa del lievito. Ne hai sentito mai?

    A Tuscan foodie in America said...

    Ciao, no, non ho mai sentito una versione con il lievito. La cecina deve rimanere molto bassa, per cui il lievito farebbe piu' danni che altro. Ho visto e cucinato una versione con l'albume dell'uovo, che si prepara nel sud della Francia. Molto buona anche quella, ma e' piu' una frittellona.

    Shima said...

    Is it every made a little sweet?
    Thank you

    A Tuscan foodie in America said...

    @ Shima: Not that I am aware of, at least in Tuscany and Liguria (the two regions in Italy that make it). There is nothing stopping you from adding a sweet component to it, though.


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