“The chef that grew up with the grandma who cooks tends to always beat the chef that went to the culinary institute. It’s in the blood.” Gary Vaynerchuk, Wine Library
Some of the most memorable traditional heritage dishes I have enjoyed came not from restaurants within the country of origin but in the homes of those whose recipes were verbally passed through generations. There is a knowing among these home chefs acquired through hours spent in the kitchen with their parents and grandparents watching, listening and tasting.
My friend, Leni, is one of these home chefs. Her childhood was spent in the kitchen with her grandmother first watching and then participating in the preparation of many meals. Hours spent tasting, adding another ingredient, tasting again, and re-adjusting taught her the art of cooking traditional Italian dishes by look, smell and taste rather than through written recipes.
It is her grandmother’s cecina flatbread that holds a special memory, though. Its incredible aroma would greet her when arriving home from school on spelling test days. Her grandmother would be pulling the cecina from the oven as Leni walked in the door and announced “Another word test passed!” See, Leni’s grandmother was the quizzer of spelling words during their time in the kitchen together. She took great pride in Leni’s memorization skills and the cecina was Leni’s reward.
The cecina Leni shared with me was prepared as taught by her grandmother. Made with chickpea flour in the traditional manner, it was thicker and softer inside than most she ate during her travels to the Tuscany region of Italy. Her grandmother scoffed at thin cecina. The bread was meant to “starve the hunger not to starve the eater.” Leni agreed.
Leni is now passing down those fabulous culinary experiences from her grandmother’s kitchen to her own grandchildren. There are no paper or digital recipes but I understand one of her granddaughters makes a mean cecina and is a whiz on spelling tests.
This recipe contains the traditional simple ingredients of cecina: chickpea (garbanzo) flour, water, salt, pepper, rosemary and olive oil. However, there are a few nuances with both the ingredients and methods based on personal preference.
Let the water and flour mix sit at least 8 hours (or overnight) to allow the flour to absorb as much of the water as possible or the bread will have an extremely grainy texture. The olive oil is rosemary infused oil to increase the prevailing rosemary flavor without increasing the amount of the herb itself to avoid any herb bitterness. The batter is topped with the fresh black pepper prior to baking rather than after. It allows the pepper to sink into the bread.
Here the bread is cooked in a rectangle shaped 10″ x 15″ pan rather than round pan simply for ease in cutting and serving. The size of the pan results in a bread of the more traditional thin manner. If thicker bread is desired, simply use a smaller pan. A word of caution from experience, though, a pan with a side of one inch is required. Otherwise, the olive oil will seep over the sides and onto the oven floor.
This bread does not store well and is best eaten right from the oven. If there are any leftovers, reheat in a 400° on a sheet of aluminum foil for about 5 to 7 minutes. Do not wrap inside the foil to reheat or it will simply soften and crumble.
3 c chickpea flour (garbanzo bean flour)
3 1/4 c water
½ c rosemary infused olive oil, such as Calvirgin’s Rustic Rosemary Olive Oil
½ t fresh ground black pepper
1 T fresh rosemary leaves
1 T sea salt
Place flour in a medium bowl. Add water ½ c water at a time, mixing well between each addition. Mix will be runny. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at least eight hours.
Preheat oven to 400°. After sitting time, uncover batter and skim any foam that has formed on top of the batter.
Pour the olive oil in a 15" x 23" sided pan or baking sheet. Slowly pour batter into middle of the pan allowing it to spread to the sides. The olive oil will rise around the sides of the batter
Evenly distribute the rosemary and black pepper. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. Until browned on top.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve immediately.