Torta di ceci or Bean Bread

torta di ceci

With time on my hands, no ideas for dinner and a bag of garbanzo flour I’d bought expressly for this purpose I finally tried making Torta di ceci, or farinata.  It’s described as a traditional Italian street food; basically it’s a large thin pancake made with garbanzo flour.  I was certainly curious, since I can’t imagine how “flour” made from a legume can work.  But it sounds like a great addition to a vegan or vegetarian diet, since it’s a legume, with the nutritional benefits of a legume, such as high protein, high fiber and full of other vitamins and minerals.

Fortunately I found garbanzo flour at the grocery store (Bob’s Red Mill brand), so didn’t have to grind my own dry chickpeas.  Next step was looking up recipes.  They all had much in common:

  1. mix water and garbanzo flour and let it sit for awhile (1-3 hours)
  2. season with salt, pepper, rosemary
  3. add olive oil just before cooking
  4. bake in a large pan in a hot oven
  5. serve, cut into triangles

Ok simple enough.  What could go wrong?  Well first I had to translate the European weight-based ingredient amounts to volume-based.  Not always completely accurate when it comes to flour.  I  used the weight of the serving size listed on the package and calculated backwards, or perhaps forwards.  I had to figure out what pan to use and what oven temperature, as those varied a lot.  What’s a “hot” oven?  What’s a “very hot” oven?  Anyway here’s what I ended up with:

Torta di Ceci

  • 1 cup garbanzo flour
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dried rosemary
  • 2 TB olive oil

First I whisked the flour and water together, as all the recipes instructed and let it sit for 3+ hours.  Not much happened.  Given how adamant the recipes were about letting this sit, I thought it would at least thicken up or something, but it remained a rather thin, watery batter.  I heated a 12-inch cast-iron pan in a 400° oven.  Meanwhile I added the salt, pepper, rosemary and olive oil to the batter, whisked it up some more and the poured it into the heated pan.  The instructions were to bake for 30-40 minutes.  I checked at 30.  It looked pretty soft and undone, not at all what I’d expect from a pancake or flatbread.  So I baked it another 10 minutes.  Nothing changed, so I just gave up, took it out.  After a few minutes, I sliced it and dished some out.  Miraculously it now held together, although it was very thin.  Tasted fine, not overly legume-y.  The center had a creamy texture.  It was a nice change from other types of flatbread.  I think it would go nicely topped with melted cheese and/or pesto sauce and/or caponata or tzatziki or tapenade.  I also think you need to eat it while it’s hot.  Leftover, not so exciting.

Nutritionally speaking, the whole torta had about 650 calories, 24 grams protein and 20 grams fiber.  When I make this again (I do have most of that bag of garbanzo flour left), I’m going to use another 2 TB flour and cook in a hotter oven, probably 425°.  Of course, your oven may run hotter or colder than mine, so adjust accordingly.

Torta di ceci, made from beans, opens up some possibilities for complementary protein in a vegan or vegetarian meal.  Combining beans with grains and/or nuts makes the protein higher quality.  So I decided to combine the torta with a grain dish.  Here’s what I made up out of ingredients I had around:

Sunday Evening Bulgur

  • 3/4 cup dried bulgur
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 2 oz crumbled feta (preferably full fat)
  • 3-4 TB grated parmesan or manchego
  • 1/2 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 TB fresh mint leaves, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste

First, simmer the bulgur in the water for about 15 minutes.  Fluff with a fork and spread in an oven proof casserole dish to cool slightly.

Saute the onions in olive oil.

Spread the almonds on a flat baking pan in one layer, and toast in a 350° oven for 5-10 minutes, until just slightly browned.  Keep in mind, the almonds will continue browning for a few minutes when you remove them from the oven, so don’t over brown.  When they’re cool, chop them into chunks; don’t over do it.  You want some crunchy texture.

Add everything to the bulgur in the dish and mix with a fork.  Cover with foil or a lid and heat through in the oven until the cheeses are a bit melted.

There you have it, a nice vegetarian meal.  I would also include some fresh vegetables with this meal, perhaps a cucumber radish grated carrot salad or a slaw or a fruit salad, for a fresh taste.  If you want to veganize it:

Leave out the cheeses.  You might need to boost the seasonings in the bulgur a bit for flavor.

Boost protein by serving the torta with a walnut pesto or a tapenade with chopped walnuts or pistachios, or spread with tahini.

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