Ask Peter: Chickpea flour
I buy chickpea flour for a specific Indian fried fritter but I would like to use it more — I buy a packet and by the time I come to make my fritters again it is past the use-by date. Can I use it in other things — healthier options that don’t require frying? Can you bake with it? Can I replace other types of flour with chickpea?
Chickpea flour is known by several names and used in many cuisines other than Indian and Pakistani. In India it’s called besan, or gram flour. Chickpeas are peeled then split in half to produce channa dhal, and when these are then finely ground you end up with besan.
Chickpeas are known as garbanzos in Spain and most of South America, as cece in Italy and as pois chiche in France, so you can see there will probably be a lot of recipes from these regions as well.
In my 2009 cookbook A Culinary Journey, sadly no longer in print, I give a recipe for panizza which comes from my Tuscan friend Gianni. He grew up often eating this soft, smooth food which resembles polenta but is made from chickpeas rather than corn.
Versions of this are made around the Mediterranean and Ligurian Seas, often baked in the pizza oven at the end of the night as it’s cooling (along with castagnaccio, another style of flatbread made from chestnut flour and found in Tuscany, Liguria, Northern Italy and Corsica). In Italy “panizza ceci” is also known as farinata, but in Genoa it’s called faina. In France it’s called socca.
Late last year I created a dish for Air New Zealand to celebrate their flights to Buenos Aires, and we put it on the menu at The Sugar Club, much to the delight of many. The dish was seared beef on grilled faina with chimichurri sauce. The sauce is rather like an Italian salsa verde made from oregano, parsley, garlic, chilli flakes, olive oil and a few other things. I added kawakawa to give it a New Zealand fusion edge.
The faina is probably exactly what you’d find in Genoa — which is a long way from Argentina, but then a lot of Italians migrated to Argentina many years ago, so perhaps it’s not so strange. A rather odd use of faina in Argentina and Uruguay is to serve something called pizza a caballo — which is a slice of pizza topped with a slice of faina.
I can’t imagine serving a slice of polenta on top of pizza, and I’m yet to taste this combo, but I thought it would be good to share a recipe for faina/panizza/socca with you.
Make it and leave to cool, then you can either cut into fingers and deep-fry until golden and serve with dips, or keep it whole and spread with cheese, lightly stewed sliced tomatoes and caramelised onions and garlic and bake till bubbly and serve like a soft pizza. Or simply grill oiled slices and serve as you might polenta with roast chicken, lamb leg or pork chops.
The chickpea flour you use might vary, so be prepared to add more or less liquid. I flavoured mine with five spice and served with sauteed ginger lamb brains and Asian greens, but you can use other herbs and spices.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.