Emiko Davies’ Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence arrived in my mailbox earlier this year after much anticipation. I have enjoyed Emiko’s blog for several years, and I look forward to her informative articles about Italian food, history, and culture on Food 52. She also writes a food column for the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera and did a video interview for the publication’s Le Donne del Cibo series. Her Instagram feed is one of my favorites for its gorgeous captures of her daily life in Tuscany, her travels, her food photos, and her adorable daughter whom I’m convinced is one of the cutest kids on Instagram. Over the last couple of years, Emiko and I have developed a lovely rapport with each other through our exchanges on Instagram, where we often discuss our food memories. I’ve been carrying Emiko’s beautiful cookbook between my kitchen table and the living room, where I’ve read it from cover to cover several times, learning about Florentine culture and cooking, admiring the photography, and discovering new recipes. As I was deciding which of Emiko’s recipes to make (it wasn’t easy as they’re all wonderful), I decided that I wanted to feature a recipe I had never made or eaten before, so I chose to make this chickpea flatbread, which in Italian is known as torta di ceci.
I feel a little sheepish admitting that in all my years of traveling to Italy, I have never once been to Florence (yes, really). While I certainly plan on traveling there, in the meantime, I have Emiko’s cookbook to learn more about the cuisine of this Renaissance city. Emiko’s writing appeals to me particularly because of my newfound interest in Italian food history. The food and food culture of Florence is steeped in centuries of rich history and Emiko has infused her cookbook with fascinating information in each chapter and headnote, coupled with charming stories of her family’s daily life in and around the city. Her interest in and reference to antique Italian cookbooks, specifically that of Pellegrino Artusi, adds even more historical context to many of the recipes.
The chapters of Florentine are organized by shopping locales typical to all cities and small towns in Italy, which is one of the most creative and unique aspects of the book. The first recipes featured are desserts in the chapter titled la pasticceria (the pastry shop), breads and cookies are displayed in il forno (the bakery), vegetables and fruits are featured in il mercato (the market), soups, pasta, and sauces are showcased in la trattoria (the trattoria), meats are front and center in il maccellaio (the butcher), and snacks, street food, and ice cream are highlighted in in giro (out & about). Perusing the cookbook by shopping venue brings back many memories of the times I tagged along on food shopping trips during my childhood summers spent in Italy. I can still remember the sights, sounds and aromas in each place, and Emiko’s photographs of each type of shop throughout the book transport my memories right back to Italy. Even the cover of the cookbook is quintessentially Florentine with its carta marmorizzata (marbled paper) design, a paper art unique to the city.
Chickpea flatbread is a pancake-like bread made only with chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour, water, olive oil and salt. The origin of this recipe can be traced back to the port city of Genova in the region of Liguria, and from there, the popularity of this street food snack spread to the Tuscan coastal town of Livorno and even up to Nice, France, where it is known as socca. Its popularity spread inland to Florence where it can be found in local bakeries and has been adopted as a local street food of the city. Chickpea flatbread is traditionally cooked in wood-fired ovens and eaten hot with a drizzle of olive oil and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper. It can also be eaten in a panino known as cinque e cinque (“five plus five”) which refers to the times when both the bread and the chickpea flatbread each cost five lire. It’s naturally gluten-free and vegan, making it a satisfying and flavorful substitute for bread.
The batter for chickpea flatbread comes together quickly but requires time to rest before it’s baked off. Emiko’s recipe indicates a one-hour rest at room temperature, whereas other recipes I’ve researched have instructed up to a four-hour rest. The discrepancy may be due to the quantity of batter being made, and since Emiko’s recipe serves four to six people, the one-hour rest time made sense and yielded a successful flatbread on my first try. Regardless of how long the batter has to rest, it’s a step that cannot be skipped. Resting the batter after it has been made allows for the chickpea flour to fully hydrate and ensures an evenly textured flatbread that is soft and creamy in the center and lightly crisp on top and at the edges. Aside from the rest time, chickpea flatbread is a recipe that can be made and enjoyed within a couple of hours to satisfy a snack craving or to have at the ready as an accompaniment to a platter of grilled summer vegetables or a crisp salad. It’s another perfect example of how Italians use simple, best-quality ingredients to create a recipe that is uniquely regional.
Adapted from Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence by Emiko Davies
200 grams (1¾ cups) chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
1½ teaspoons salt
600 ml (2½ cups) water
80 ml (1/3 cups) extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 430º.
Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl and whisk to incorporate. Add the water gradually while whisking to create a smooth batter. Once the batter is completely smooth, add in the olive oil and whisk to incorporate. Set the mixture aside for 1 hour at room temperature.
Lightly grease a 12-inch round pizza pan or a 9 x 12 baking pan with olive oil. Pour the batter slowly into the pan, letting it come up the sides no more than 1/8-inches.
Bake for 20-30 minutes until the flatbread is golden brown, crisp, and flaky around the edges. You will notice the center will bubble up while it is baking (the bubbles will deflate as the flatbread continues to cook). The center will have a creamy, soft texture once it is fully baked.
Remove the flatbread from the oven and let it rest for about 10-15 minutes before cutting. If you cut the flatbread when it is too hot, the slices will not stay intact. Serve with freshly ground black pepper and extra olive oil to taste.
Storage:Wrap any leftover flatbread lightly in aluminum foil and refrigerate. For the best flavor and texture, eat the flatbread within 2 days. Reheat any leftover flatbread in a 200° oven for a 5-10 minutes, or until heated through.