We live in times where simple ingredients are often ignored. Memory and custom are fragile – traditions can be lost.

Even the humblest of seeds such as the chickpea can be overlooked, but as we discovered in Puglia recently, there is still a food tradition that harks back to an era of culinary necessity.

 Farinella is a flour milled from roasted chickpeas, with the addition of barley and salt. It’s an ancient food that is still produced in the town of Putigano in southern Puglia. Here it is known as Farinella di Putignano and those with a care for the traditions of their land are its natural ambassadors.

Farmers used to carry their farinella in a little sack called u volz, and would sprinkle it onto dried figs whilst working in the fields. At dinner they used it as a topping on the Pugliese speciality macco (a mash made of dried broad beans and bitter green chicory), in order to thicken the dish.

In noble houses the farinella was used as a flavouring for dishes of pasta with tomato sauce, soups, salads, olives, or fresh figs and fruit. Sometimes, when mixed with sugar it became a dessert. Farinella was frequently used to thicken liquids, effectively making them more filling. Most importantly it was eaten and enjoyed for the way it enhanced any ingredient to which it was added.

We came across farinella, at Piermarino Notarnicola’s little shop in Noci, set in the commune of Bari in Puglia, an area we know as the ‘heel’ of Italy.

Now I use it often, frequently discovering both new and traditional food combinations. With its underlying roasted flavours, combined with the taste of dried chickpeas, it works well as an addition to tomato sauce, as a topping on potatoes or pickled olives, but the best way by far is the custom of topping fresh, giant figs.

The intense sweetness of a perfectly ripe fig with the roast flavour of the farinella is a sublime combination. What begins as a mellow sensation on the palate, intensifies with the sweetness of the fruit, so the final taste leaves a glorious combination of sweet and salty.

In the library of Putignano documents can be found that date from the late 18th century that talk about a black farinella made of ground and roasted black chickpeas (ceci neri). Although now making a modest comeback in Puglia and Basilicata, black farinella becomes harder to find with each passing year.

The town of Putigano is also famous for one of the oldest and most beautiful festivals in Europe, now in its 670th year. The principal symbol of the festival is a jester, traditionally clad in a multi coloured harlequin suit with twin pointed hat bedecked with bells. His role is to poke fun at figures of authority and renown. His name – Farinella.