Faina: Italian Chickpea Flatbread
with Roasted Fennel, Olive & Lemon
(totally wheat-free and vegan pizza)
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Faina (Fah-EE-Na) is a traditional dish here in Argentina with definite Italian roots. It is a chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour flatbread that is also a super simple way to make a vegan and gluten-free pizza (that doesn't rely on nut flours) for dinner any day of the week.
This recipe was the starting point for my gluten-free pizza crust, which we also enjoy. This pure chickpea version is different. It doesn’t claim to be bread at all. It’s very dense, although moist, and is 100% pick-up-able.
I have often thought that it would be a perfect base for appetizers for a party. Maybe cut into little squares or triangles with a creamy spread, an olive, and a toothpick. It makes a great healthy finger-food with a variety of toppings.
All you need to make this easy recipe is the chickpea flour, which you can probably source at a specialty, gourmet or health food store in your area. Chickpea/garbanzo flour is also commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine, so that might help you find a place to buy it if you are living internationally.
Here in Argentina you can find faina at traditional Italian restaurants. From what I gather, a favorite way to eat the faina is on top of pizza. A wedge on top of a wedge. I always order the faina separately and ask them to put some sauce and veggies on top. They might think it’s odd, but Argentines are generally very obliging, and it makes a satisfying wheat-free meal.
Now you have three gluten-free pizza recipes to try: the corn flour mexican pizza crust, mediterranean pizza base, and this chickpea flour flatbread (aka, faina). All three are quite different; so you have options depending on your dietary needs and tastebuds.
Below I’ll also include the recipe for a complete vegan pizza, with the roasted fennel, olive and lemon topping I used in the photos. Fennel is back is season here and made the perfect addition to this simple flatbread pizza.
Recipe for Faina: Traditional Chickpea Flatbread
Makes one 1/2 inch thick, 12” round pizza. Start to finish this only takes 25 minutes, including the 10 minute rest period for the batter.
2.5 cups chickpea flour (aka garbanzo bean flour)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups hot water, plus an additional 1/2 to 2/3 cup hot water
Additional oils for double-greasing the pan (coconut oil or butter, and olive oil)
Heat the oven to hot, don’t skimp on this step. I use 450F (230C).
Heat the pan in the oven. If you’ve got a 12” pizza pan, that would be perfect here.
Boil the water. (I use an electric kettle.)
Combine the dry ingredients and olive oil in a bowl. I find this recipe is easiest mixed by hand.
Add the 2 cups hot water to the dry ingredients in 2 or 3 parts, stirring well with a fork as you go. Blend thoroughly, working out any lumps. (You could use cool water, but the hot water makes it much easier to combine.)
Let this thick batter rest 10 minutes (or longer).
When the oven and pan are hot, and you’re ready to cook the Faina, add more hot water to the batter until it is liquid enough to pour. I used a little more than 1/2 cup additional water, but it could vary depending on your flour. Start with 1/4 cup and blend gradually until loose enough to pour easily, but not runny like water.
Then remove the hot pan from the oven and double grease it. I use about 1 teaspoon coconut oil all over the pan. (Using a paper towel to spread it easily, if needed.) Then I drizzle about 2-3 teaspoons olive oil and tilt to coat the bottom.
Now pour the batter into the pan. Give it a little shake, if needed, to help it spread into one even layer.
Place in the center of the hot oven and bake 12-15 minutes until completely set and starting to turn golden with little hairline cracks forming in the top.
Remove from oven.
At this point you can add pizza toppings (see below); cut it into wedges and serve as a side dish; or cool and store for later. If you add toppings, feel free to pop it back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes or so to get everything nice and hot.
And here’s the complete recipe as pictured above-
Roasted Fennel, Olive and Lemon Pizza
2 bulbs fennel- cut into thin strips
1 onion- cut into think strips
Red pepper flakes (optional)
1-2 cups whole cherry tomatoes
1 large lemon- cut into wedges without any pith (see notes below)
8-10 green olives- roughly chopped (capers are nice too)
1/2 cup fennel fronds- finely chopped
Heat the oven to 400F (175C).
To prepare the fennel, cut off the stalks, wash the bulbs well, and use a knife or peeler to remove any visible damaged parts (or remove the outer layer entirely if required). Cut into thin strips, as you would an onion.
Combine all of the ingredients from fennel to red pepper flakes in a baking pan and toss. Roast in the hot oven 20-25 minutes.
Add the cherry tomatoes to the roasting vegetables and cook another 10 minutes.
Cut off the skin of the lemon and then separate the wedges with a sharp knife.
(Like this, except not with a grapefruit!)
Add the lemon, chopped olives (or capers), and minced fennel fronds to the roasting vegetables and cook a final 5 minutes.
Top your cooked faina with an even layer of the roasted vegetables. (You might have some leftovers you can use in a rice bowl or on a sandwich another day.)
Optional- Put back in the oven for 5-10 minutes until heated through.
Finish off your pizza with a bit of shredded arugula, if you’ve got it. I also like to serve this dish alongside a simple arugula and avocado salad, dressed with olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice.
Cut into pieces and serve! Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator.