I wonder if I am alone in finding it curious when a cookbook is described as ‘the only one you’ll ever need’. I’ve seen it fairly often, and it always occurs to me that the marketing brain behind such a claim must have precious little understanding of how the average cookbook-buyer’s mind works.
The idea of only ever owning one Indian cookbook, say, depresses me enormously. Gordon Ramsey said that Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy: Food and Stories was the only Italian cookbook one would ever need. But what of it? Cookbooks — these days — are not about need; they are about desire. Gordon clearly has no inkling of the frenzied thrall that grips a foodie’s mind when passing the cookbook shelves at their local Exclusive Books.
The sheer pleasure of bringing home a new one, still crisp-smelling and splatter free, ensconcing oneself on the couch with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and something to nibble (NEVER read a cookbook on an empty stomach), is one of the greatest I know.
I could scold myself for not making more use of the multitude I already own, but I actually do make use of them. I can quite happily spend an entire morning paging through each one, getting reacquainted. Faced with the if-your-house-was-on-fire-what-would-you-save? scenario, I’d probably go for my grandmothers’ jewellery, but I would pause for one last mournful look at my cookbooks, with deep regret.
I own not one, but four River Cafe cookbooks, and the thought of picking a favourite is unthinkable — a bit of a Sophie’s Choice (aha, okay, let’s not get carried away) — but, if pressed (and you are pressing me, right?), I would have to say that the latest, the River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook, is my favourite.
It came out about two years ago, and contains all the authors’ favourite recipes, with a little note on where and how they discovered each dish. If I feel like a quick trip to Italy (in my head), I open this book. But I am not going to do a review here and now. Perhaps another time.
I would, however, like to share with you a beautifully simple recipe from it that is quite breathtaking in its simplicity, and just plain scrumptious. The only catch is that you’ll have to get hold of some chickpea flour, but this should be available at a good deli or health shop. I got mine from Wellness Warehouse.
It’s basically a thick, savoury chickpea pancake, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Ideally served as a snack before a meal with a good red in winter, or some fizz in summer. Plus it makes your kitchen smell wonderful.
Faranita con rosmarino
Chickpea faranita with fresh rosemary
1 litre warm water
300g chickpea flour
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
approx. 200ml extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1. Pour the water into a large bowl. Sieve in the chickpea flour and whisk until the mixture has a smooth consistency. Add one tablespoon of salt and one teaspoon of black pepper and stir to combine. Cover with a cloth and leave to rest in a warm place for at least two hours.
2. Preheat your oven to 250C, or as high as it will go. Skim the foam from the surface of the batter and stir in 100ml olive oil. Pour one tablespoon of oil into a faranita pan, or a frying pan with an oven-proof handle, and place in the hot oven for about five minutes, until the oil is smoking.
3. Give the batter a good stir, then pour just enough into the pan to make a layer approximately 1cm thick, tilting the pan to spread it evenly. Sprinkle a little rosemary over the top, and return the faranita to the oven to bake for about 20 minutes. The top should be brown and the pancake should have a crisp texture, but be soft in the centre. Slice into wedges and serve immediately as an appetizer, with a glass of Prosecco, while you get on with making the rest of the pancakes. This amount should make three.