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Farinata: a crispy top crust with rosemary and a custard center

Piero and I went alone today to his vineyard in Strevi to collect the cortese grapes, a white variety native to Piemonte. He has a small number of cortese vines, so the two of us were able to do the job in a few hours. After we had harvested the grapes, and before eating our lunch of spaghetti with porcini mushrooms prepared by his mother, we took a short trip to the nearby city of Acqui Terme, in the province of Alessandria.

Acqui Terme is most famous for its thermal springs, but it is also home to one of Italy’s best versions of farinata, a chickpea pancake. Farinata is thought to have originated in Liguria, the coastal region just south of Piemonte, and spread to surrounding areas, everywhere from Nice in France (where they call it socca) to Tuscany, and including the southern Piemontese province of Alessandria, which borders Liguria and is where Acqui Terme is located.

I have eaten farinata before, in the city of Torino, as well as in New York City when I was sous chef to Tuscan chef Cesare Casella at his restaurant Beppe, where we cooked a version of it in the restaurant’s convection oven. Both times the farinata was nothing to rave about, a mostly dry, thin cake made from chickpea flour. I was starting to wonder why anyone bothered to make it, thinking perhaps farinata enthusiasts were victims of their childhood nostalgia.

A giant pan of farinata bakes in the wood-fired oven, Acqui Terme

Now that I have eaten farinata in Acqui Terme, I finally understand why it is a beloved dish. The farinata was cooked in a wood-fired oven on a giant cast-iron pan, then cut into smaller portions. It has a crispy crust, covered in fresh rosemary leaves, and is like custard on the inside. As an Italian child might cry out: Che Meraviglia! (What a Wonder!)

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