Saturday, November 17, 2018

Cecina, aka The Little Black Dress of Appetizers

   Growing up in a working class Italian American household, I learned a LOT about not wasting stuff and making ends meet...usually right around the Thursday payday. Boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese, peppers stuffed with whatever was left in the fridge, Jumbo bags of hot dogs from Food For Less, and waffles made with 7 up or sometimes Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer were the norm.

   I started cooking young, of out of self-defense. My mother was from a different background than my father and was not brought up to do housework, so shit got real interesting when she turned her hand to cooking.  She never seemed to realize that preheating the oven was something one had to do to cook food properly, and so we ate half-cooked meats, charred on the outside (because "on" is "on" and who the hell pays attention to those pesky oven dials and what they're saying). She baked lava cakes before their time simply because boxed cake mix was put into the oven and then the oven turned on. It's a wonder we weren't all dead from salmonella.
   My dad's immigrant grandparents on the other hand, were excellent cooks. My mom's parents liked going to the Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel on holidays if dad's immigrant side of the family was going to be attending. I guess they wanted to  make sure EVERYONE was speaking English around the holiday turkey. Considering this picture of those days, I guess they got their wish.

   My dad's family was fun. There were chicken feet boiling in a big pot on their stove (still wood burning) in their old, old, house. There were homemade ravioli, and broddo one could use as a mirror it was so clear. There were pigs feet and other startlements to my mothers old school American relatives when they showed up, and not many of dad's people spoke much English. I thought if I spoke English to them LOUDLY and slowly they'd understand me. I must have been a real pain in the ass to them.
   Mom's side were Republicans, dad's were Democrats and much fighting ensued. One fight ended with the removal of our furniture by my mom's dad who had given them the house...and I guess the furniture too evidently. Anyway, the upshot of all of this is I learned to cook, and I learned to be thrifty.  Which brings me to Torta de Ceci, that wedge shaped thing in the picture at the top of this page.

   Torta  de Ceci  aka Cecina belongs to what is called Cucina Povera, The Kitchen of the Poor. It's very, very easy to fix, costs nearly nothing, and one can dress it up or down, add or subtract. It's a basic, and a great dish to serve as an appetizer to a group.  All one needs for Cecina is a 10 inch cast iron pan and a bag of garbanzo flour. I like serving it on Holidays before my Italian style Thanksgiving, and it's perfect it if your group includes vegans, vegetarians, or anyone who is gluten free. Here's how to fix it.


Here's What You Need:

3.5 oz garbanzo flour
5 Tbs olive oil
300 ml water
salt and pepper to taste

Here's What To Do:

Mix the garbanzo flour and the water in a bowl.
Blend it together well and then cover the bowl and let it sit for a couple of hours.

Coat a 10 inch cast iron skillet  with 3 Tbs of olive oil.
Put the olive oil coated skillet into a cold oven  (too bad mom never tried this one she'd have been a natural) and turn it on to 450 degrees.
When the oven is at 450 take the skillet out of the oven.
Pour the cecina bater into the hot hot skillet, drizzle 2 Tbs of olive oil over the batter then swirl it a bit with a spoon.
Put the skillet back into the 450 degree oven for 15  minutes.
After 15 minutes open the oven and move the skillet to the top rack and raise the heat to 500 degrees. Broil for about 5 minutes or so. This can cook really fast depending on ones oven so do keep and eye on it. When it starts to turn  golden and crusty take it out.

The finished Cecina should  be something firm enough to cut into slices.
Run a silicone spatula around  the edges and underneath the Cecina to loosen it.
Now, place a plate on top of the cast iron pan and turn it over so that the Cecina unmolds. The bottom is now the top! 

Slice it into  wedges. You can serve this topped with ricotta and pea shoots, olive tapenade,  caponata, proscuitto. Plain or fancy, you name it. Cecina is only  limited by your imagination and whatever your guests feel like eating.

So there it is. A simple, easy, warming treat for the holidays. Coming up next, more holiday dishes and how I became a restaurant consulting chef for gluten free dining.

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