Fainá

My mom (who grew up in Uruguay) has fond childhood memories of a flat bread called fainá.  Fainá is made of garbanzo flour, and is closely related to an obscure Italian dish called farinata, found mainly in the region of Liguria/Genoa. There are variations of the dish in other pockets of the Mediterranean. According to an online article, the immigrant Guido family introduced fainá to Uruguay when they started their first local garbanzo milling business in 1915.

Fainá is commonly served by pizzerias in Uruguay. In “pizza a caballo” (pizza on horseback), a thin slice of fainá is placed on top of a regular slice of pizza, making a kind of pizza ‘sandwich’. Fainá can also be served as an appetizer, and some even top it with sugar, chocolate or dulce de leche for dessert. Check out this blog post for more details and pictures of the real deal from someone who lived in Uruguay for awhile.

At my parents’ bakery in Virginia this week, my mom and I decided to make some fainá together. The resulting product was very similar to her recollections of the bread, but not at all what I had expected from hearing it described. It’s not really much of a bread at all, but even better – more the texture of a thin fried polenta. The black pepper and cheese was a nice complement to the garbanzo-flavored fainá, which was crispy on the edges and soft in the middle. It’s not really like anything I have previously eaten, so it’s difficult to describe – but very easy to make, and delicious – so I encourage you to try it for yourself!

Fainá
2 1/2 cups garbanzo (chick pea) flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. parmesan cheese
1 tsp. ground black pepper (or more, to taste)
1 3/4 cup water

Whisk these ingredients together, and let the batter sit for at least 30 minutes to absorb the water and thicken. [At this point, our recipe mentioned adding another 3/4 cup of water. But the batter was already easily pourable without the additional water, so we chose not to add any more. Might depend on the climate, altitude, how coarsely ground the flour is, etc. – so if it looks like you need more water, add it. It should be about the consistency of a pancake batter.]

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. For this batch, we used a 9-inch cast-iron skillet and a 9×13 cake pan. Use cast-iron or metal pans with sides, drizzle the pans with a couple of Tbsp. olive oil and heat in the preheated oven for 5 minutes until pans and oil are sizzling hot.

Remove the pans from the oven and pour the batter thinly in the heated pans (one recipe said about 1/4-inch thick), jiggle to spread evenly and place back in the oven. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until crispy on the edges and nicely browned on the bottom. Cut into pieces, garnish with additional Parmesan or other toppings, and serve warm. Delicious!!

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