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Thursday, June 27, 2013 11:23 am

Getting some crispy chewy

Called farinata in Italy and socca in France, this pizza-like flatbread is delicious anywhere.
PHOTO BY JOSPEH COPLEY

“What I really miss are crispy things, chewy things,” sighs my sister-in-law. “Things like pizza or pancakes. Kris is a former model. Now in her 50s, she’s still drop-dead gorgeous. She lives in a warehouse-turned-studio/event venue/home with her (also drop-dead gorgeous) children and photographer husband. It’s directly across from Oprah’s studio, on a strip of Randolph Street that’s currently Chicago’s trendiest restaurant scene.

Kris has celiac disease, a condition that produces a severe autoimmune reaction to not just wheat (and not just gluten) but other grains such as rye and barley. That means no bread, no pizza, no pasta; she even checks before she orders a beer to make sure that it’s not wheat-based brew.

It’s lucky for Kris to live in an area with wonderful Mexican restaurants and markets that are among the best outside Mexico itself. Even so, she craves things she can’t have. Who among us doesn’t? Forbidden fruit, no matter what it is, has an intrinsic attraction simply because it’s forbidden.

Both she and my nephew Max are wonderful cooks, and I’ve given them a few recipes to help satisfy her cravings. They aren’t wheat-based dishes altered to her situation, but preparations traditionally made without wheat or other verboten grains.

The chickpea flour pizza-like flatbread is called farinata in Italy’s Mediterranean coast; just over the border to the west in France’s Provençal region, it’s called socca. Like pizza, farinata/socca has a crispy crust strewn with toppings. But the chickpea flour used to make it is not only delicious, it’s substantially more nutritious than pizza made with wheat dough. And the batter can (actually should) be made ahead of time, making for perfect summer lunches or snacks for out-of-school kids. Chickpea flour (sometimes labeled as besan) can be found in the ethnic sections of some groceries, as well as at Food Fantasies and Little World Market.

The Walnut Zucchini Ricotta pancakes are wonderful for breakfast, lunch or even a dinnertime dessert. They can be down-home or fancy: topped with anything from maple syrup, mixed berries, apple sauce, jam, whipped cream or just a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

FARINATA/SOCCA

  • 1 c. chickpea flour
  • 2 c. cold water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt
  • 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil, divided


Possible toppings:

  • Fresh herbs: rosemary, sage, marjoram, oregano, winter savory; singly or in combination
  • Thinly sliced garlic
  • Roasted pepper strips
  • Sautéed onion
  • Pitted olives
  • Freshly cracked black peppercorns
  • Anchovy fillets
  • Fresh tomato, seeded and sliced
  • Cheeses: grated Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano or crumbled Gorgonzola
  • Traditional American pizza meats such as pepperoni or (cooked) sausage

Put the water in a large bowl and whisk in the chickpea flour in a thin stream. Whisk in the salt and 2 teaspoons of the olive oil. Cover and let stand at least 30 minutes (several hours or overnight is even better; refrigerate the batter in that case.)

Preheat the oven to 500 F. Prepare the toppings of your choice. The toppings should not be thickly heaped onto the batter, but lightly scattered across the surface.

Preheat a 10-12-inch skillet or pan (preferably nonstick) in the oven for about 10 minutes. Stir the batter gently to incorporate any bubbles that may have formed. You may wish to stir in minced herbs and garlic at this point rather than scattering them over the top of the batter.

Remove the hot pan from the oven and pour in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, swirling to coat the bottom of the pan. Pour in half the batter, tilting the pan to cover the bottom surface evenly. Quickly scatter a few of the toppings over the surface of the batter and return the pan to the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Slide the farinata onto a large plate or cutting board and cut into strips or wedges. Serve immediately. Return the pan to the oven to reheat for a few minutes and then repeat with the remaining batter. This can be made in smaller (or larger) skillets. Adjust the baking time as needed. Makes 2.

Many have a reaction to wheat, gluten and other grains. These pancakes have an oatmeal base.
PHOTO BY JOSPEH COPLEY


WALNUT/RICOTTA/ZUCCHINI PANCAKES

  • 1 c. walnuts
  • 3/4 c. oatmeal
  • 1 lb. young zucchini (without large seed cavities), stems and root ends trimmed, coarsely grated
  • 1 T. kosher or sea salt
  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 1 c. ricotta, preferably whole milk
  • 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest, optional
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla
  • Olive oil or other vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast until they have just begun to brown and have become fragrant, 5-10 minutes. Cool the nuts, chop them coarsely, and set aside.

At the same time, spread the oatmeal on another baking sheet and put it into the oven. Toast the oats until they are just lightly browned and fragrant. This will probably take less time than the nuts, no more than 5 minutes, depending on your oven. Remove the oats and cool completely.

Put the grated zucchini in a colander or sieve and sprinkle generously with salt. Toss to incorporate the salt throughout the zucchini, then put the colander over a sink or bowl and let the zucchini drain for 30-45 minutes. Rinse the zucchini shreds thoroughly under cold running water, then spread them evenly over the surface of a large lint-free towel. Roll the towel up and press it firmly to remove as much moisture as possible. If the zucchini still seems wet, twist the towel and wring it out until the shreds are as dry as possible.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl until completely combined.

Grind the oats to a powder in the bowl of a food processor or blender, then add to the bowl. Stir in the zucchini, ricotta, lemon peel, cinnamon and vanilla. At this point, the mixture can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated, covered, until ready to use, several hours or up to overnight.

Just before serving, stir in the walnuts, making sure that the ingredients are combined thoroughly.

Place a large baking sheet, lined with paper towels, in the oven and turn the oven to warm. Pour a thin film of oil into a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot but not smoking, place large spoonfuls (about 1/3 cup) into the oil, spreading the mixture into flat cakes with the back of the spoon. Fry until the pancakes are golden brown and crispy on the outside and cooked through, turning once, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. As they’re done, place the pancakes in a single layer on the baking sheet in the oven to keep warm while cooking the rest. Serve immediately with applesauce, rhubarb sauce, fresh berries, maple syrup or sprinkled with powdered sugar. Makes about 12.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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