My favorite sustainable Italian recipe
Celebrate Earth Day with a taste of the Mediterranean
“Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else?… And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say not now, then when?” — Jonathan Safron Foer
Almost every morning of my childhood, I ate Honey Nut Cheerios with 2% milk. Yet I never once considered which ingredients Cheerios are made of or how they’re produced. I never wondered where the milk came from. I never questioned how the milk became two percent, or what two percent even meant. I’m not even sure I understood that milk came from the udder of a female cow.
I thought about my cereal as much as I thought about our plumbing. It was just something that was there. Sure, I used it daily, benefitted from it greatly. But it was such a given in my daily life that I never bothered to find out how it functions, and how it ended up inside my house. It just did. Water came from the faucet. Cheerios came from the supermarket aisle.
Now, of course, I think constantly about what I eat, where it comes from, who made it, and how they made it.
Now I understand that each time you pick up a fork you are making a political, ecological, and ethical choice with global implications.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, about 40% of arable land on the planet goes towards growing and raising our food. Agriculture is also the biggest contributor to climate change, responsible for almost a quarter of global emissions.
So, in honor of Earth Day, the best and easiest way we can have a positive impact on our planet is through our stomachs.
It sounds ridiculous at first. For years, I told myself, What I eat for lunch won’t change anything in the grand scheme of things. I deeply wanted to believe that, because that way I didn’t have to change my habits. But then I read author after author, each one more brilliant than the next, all convinced that our forks are the best tool we have to implement real change in the world.
And it’s time for some real change.
Because today we systematically slaughter living animals by the billions, raze ecosystems to the ground for single monocultures, pollute our drinking waters with feces and plastic residues, and force other humans into modern-day slavery, all in the name of a quick fast-food burger or an overpriced avocado toast.
So in honor of Earth Day 2022, let’s have one day of eating better for the planet.
Farinata is super healthful and easy to make. Best of all, it’s green for the planet while keeping green in your wallet.
Chickpeas use very little water, require very limited pesticides, and help enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen, making them natural fertilizers for other plants to thrive.
They also happen to be delicious.
What is a farinata?
Many peasant dishes from the ancient Greeks and the Romans involved making baked disks of legumes, so this chickpea cake likely has a long and important heritage, providing cheap and accessible protein to farmers for thousands of years.
Using chickpeas in particular likely came from the Arab world (like many dishes and ingredients in Italian cuisine), and soon became a go-to snack for sailors in the port city of Genoa, for whom dried chickpeas made a dependable and nutritious ingredient that traveled well.
The most certainly fictitious legend claims that the recipe was discovered when a Genoese galley got caught in a terrible storm, and a barrel of olive oil spilled over a sack of dried chickpeas. The sailors, not wanting to waste their precious rations, decided to gather the mess of oil, chickpeas and seawater, mash them into a paste, and leave them out to dry. The next day, overcome with hunger, they ate it and then promptly abandoned the ship to pursue their true dreams of culinary school.
(DISCLAIMER: There are many, many different names for this dish and many, many different origin stories. This is only one.)
Whatever the true story, here’s the classic recipes for farinata, as it’s known on the Ligurean coast.
(Makes 1 thin pie-sized cake)
Chickpea flour — 90 grams (1 cup)
Water (room temperature) — 300 mL (1.25 cups)
Olive oil — 15 grams (2 tbsp)
Salt and pepper — to taste
Rosemary — to taste
- Whisk the chickpea flour with water in a big bowl. To avoid clumps, mix a bit of water at time and whisk well as you go.
2. When you have a uniform liquid, cover the bowl and leave to rest for at least 5 hours and as many as 12 hours.
3. After the mixture has rested, it should have a more viscous consistency, slightly runnier than raw eggs. Stir in the oil and pour the mixture onto a pan. The wider the pan, the crispier and thinner the result, of course! (If you prefer a thicker, moister result, more like a frittata, use a smaller pan.)
4. Add the rosemary (dried or fresh) and sea salt. You can also add in whatever other veggies you prefer if you want to experiment! (Just make sure that veggies with lots of water in them, like spinach and zucchini, are cooked and strained; otherwise, you’ll have way too much liquid.) I personally like to toss in sauteed mushrooms or dried tomatoes.
5. Bake the farinata at the bottom of the oven at the highest temperature for 10 minutes (so the bottom gets crunchy). Then move it to the middle of the oven for 15 minutes to finish.
Hope you enjoy this simple, vegan, earth-friendly recipe! This same recipe makes great savory pancakes too: just add a teaspoon of baking powder to the mix and then pour it on the skillet.
PRO TIP: If you want to make sure the farinata doesn’t stick to the pan, spread a thin layer of olive oil across the surface of the pan using a brush, then sprinkle an ultra-thin layer of bread crumbs across the surface, just enough to stick to the oil. The farinata will pop clean out of the pan with ease.