On Monday I had one of the first cooking classes of the new season and we made cecina, also known as torta di ceci, a Tuscan chickpea cake. My American guests loved it and gave me a lot of fresh new ideas about pairings and other occasions to use it beyond our usual street food approach. I realized how versatile it could be and a urge to make it again grew faster in me. So here I am today with a new version, partly Tuscan, partly Middle Eastern inspired.
Like a good thirty year old Italian girl extremely related to my family, until my new life as a single girl living on her own I had always lived at home with my parents and sister and grandma, sometimes I am almost ashamed to say this. Always with one small exception, 5 weeks in Pisa for a post-graduate course, in a small apartment without a kitchen but with a microwave. At that time I discovered the cecina, which in Livorno is named torta di ceci, chickpea cake. It became my main source of livelihood.
Do not call it cecina in Livorno, or they will refuse to serve you because they called it torta, simply. Seriously, I am not exaggerating. It is actually a cake made of chickpea flour, tasty and simple, showing the preference of Livorno and its people for straightforward and genuine food.
I was at the central market in Livorno, the heart of the city along with the port, and I asked for directions on where to eat a good torta di ceci. Everyone addressed me without hesitation to Gagarin, just outside the market. It is one of the last torterie, if not the last, that still serves only torta. Take a good look, because the door is so small that it can be confused with a house entrance, it is a little shop that serves the best torta you can imagine. They have been doing this for 52 years, and they just serve torta, you can trust them.
Despite this heavy Tuscan influence, every time I think of chickpeas the first thing that comes to my mind are hummus and Lebanese recipes, probably inspired by one of my dearest friends, Bethany, a real hurricane in the kitchen, who can create amazing dishes with just a few ingredients in addition to chickpeas. Her creamy hummus is the best I have ever tasted and… oh, her hummus balila! we devoured it at 2am in the morning, gathered around a happy table, armed with spoons and Arabic bread.
Then, another mental association. Whenever I mention hummus, I immediately crave for a carrot hummus I tasted the first and only time I’ve had the good chance to dine at one of Ottolenghi’s restaurants of in London. It was simply awesome.
I found a good recipe that really inspired me to make carrot hummus. It is a recipe developed by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, The River Cottage chef. Carrots are first roasted olive oil and garlic, then pureed with tahine and lemon juice. Lemon – which I used instead of orange – refreshes the taste of carrots and is a perfect match to the cecina. Do not forget a generous sprinkle of za’atar.
Serve it as an appetizer, but believe me, this can be a well balanced and satisfying main course especially if combined with a raw fennel salad.
- 200 g chickpea flour
- 600 ml water
- 12 g salt
- 90 g organic sunflower seed oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
Pour in the water in the chickpea flour, stirring constantly with a whisk to prevent lumps. When the water has been completely incorporated add the sunflower seed oil and salt.
Let the batter rest for at least half an hour.
Heat oven to 250°C, grease with oil a 25cm x 40 cm baking tin and pour in the batter into a very thin layer, up to 3 or 4 mm.
Bake the chickpea cake for 20 to 25 minutes, until crisp and golden on the surface and still soft inside.
Serve hot with plenty of freshly ground black pepper.