Chow Town

Discovering Italian street food in Livorno, Italy

Torta de Ceci
Torta de Ceci

Sometimes you just happen to discover a place for street food that you would never ever imagine finding without a little help from a friend.

On a recent trip to Livorno, Italy, with my friend Judy, the Divina Cucina, and Slow Food KC convivium members, the Diva took us for a wonderful tour of the central market in Livorno where we discovered many local vendors selling everything from local eggs to fresh rabbit, some of the most beautiful vegetables in Italy and fresh fish that I have never even seen before.

Our group strolled the market for over an hour and then Judy took us down a side street to a building with a beaded entry as a front door with no name but just an address. Seriously, I had no idea where we were but I knew we were in Livorno discovering one of the many delights found there.

The room was not 500 square feet and contained a wood-burning oven and a showcase counter with just a few stools.

I later found out the name of the place was Antica Torteria al Mercato da Gargarin.

A Livornese women behind the counter was holding a round pan with what looked like a big thick pancake. It was called a Torta de Ceci.

It is prepared with chick pea flour, water, olive oil, salt and pepper.

I will describe it as a thin pancake: It was very crispy with a light smoky flavor, seasoned with salt pepper and olive oil. So flavorful.

As history tells us, The dish was invented accidentally when a boat with prisoners from Pisa collided in the port. The chick pea flour was covered in water and like all Tuscans, there was no way they would throw this away so they made a batter out of it and cooked it for the prisoners. It has been noted that the dish became so popular it has spread to other sea port cities along the Mediterranean and throughout Italy and France. But the people in the region of Liguria, especially the port town of Genoa, claim that it’s their dish.

As with all street food, it is very inexpensive. I cut mine into quarters because I thought I would only want to taste a little, but within 10 minutes I finished the whole sandwich. Believe me when I tell you this is one the most delicious “street foods” I have experienced in Italy.

The pancake is sold by weight, and is traditionally eaten in bread like a focaccia as a 5&5 or Cinque e Cinque, which refers to the original value of the bread and the torta (5 old liras of bread and 5 of torta). It is also sold Francaise style in a baguette.

Here is the recipe that was given to the Divina Cucina and our group on a card while visiting Antica Torteria al Mercato da Gargarin. I do hope you enjoy as much as I did.

Torta de Ceci

2 1/2 cups chick pea flour (farina di ceci)

1 litre water

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste

Mix everything together to make a smooth batter and let stand for at least two hours (this is really important to the success of the recipe).

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Oil a shallow pan and pour in the batter. It should look like a pancake.

Real Torta di Ceci is very thin. Cook for 30 minutes until the surface is golden. Serve with extra pepper in a roll or ‘schiacciatina’ to make an authentic ‘Cinque e Cinque’.

Antica Torteria al Mercato da Gargarin (Via del Cardinale, 24, Livorno. Closed Sundays), a hole in the wall shop outside of Livorno’s Central Market

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 62-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.