Ciceri are chick-peas and tria is an old-fashioned word, derived from an Arabic original, for pasta - further evidence of an Arab connection in the spread of pasta traditions in Italy. This is a dish right out of thecucina povera('cooking of the poor') of the Salento. Hard to believe that anything so simple could be so tasty, but it's the added inventive fillip of fried pasta as a garnish that makes all the difference. When I made this back home for a vegetarian friend, she insisted that the fried pasta was actually bacon!
Ciceri e tria is always prepared with homemade semolina pasta. Could you make it with commercial pasta, I asked Concetta Cantoro, since she makes the best ciceri e tria I've ever tasted. She looked aghast and drew herself up to her full five feet: "Absolutely not!" she said. "Then it's just pasta e ceci."
Put the chick-peas in a bowl and cover with cool water to a depth of about 1 inch. Set aside to soak overnight.
Next day, drain the chick-peas, place them in a deep saucepan, and cover with fresh water to a depth of 1 inch.
Add 1 of the garlic cloves, the onion, bay leaves, and celery to the pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer very gently for 1 to 2 hours, or until the chick-peas are very tender-time depends on their age and size. Add boiling water from time to time as the chick-peas absorb what is in the pan. There should always be about 1 inch of water over them; as they cook, the liquid will become thicker and more soupy.
While the chick-peas cook, make the pasta:
Dissolve 1 teaspoon salt in about 2/3 cup very warm water.
Put the semolina in a mixing bowl and slowly turn the salted water into the flour, a little at a time, gradually mixing until most of the water has been thoroughly incorporated. (You may need a little more warm water or a little more semolina, depending on ambient temperature and humidity.)
Knead the pasta in the bowl for a few minutes. As you knead, you'll feel the semolina granules begin to soften and relax. Once the dough is well amalgamated, turn it out onto a board. If the dough feels stiff, brush a little water on the board with your fingers; if, on the other hand, the dough feels loose and wet, scatter 1 tablespoon or so more semolina on the board. Continue kneading on the board until the dough has reached a soft, silky texture, then set it aside, covered with a cloth, to rest for about 30 minutes.
Using half the pasta at a time, roll it out on a very lightly floured board into the thinnest possible sheet. (If you are using an Atlas or Imperia pasta maker, roll the dough out to the #5 opening.) Cut the sheet into long noodle strips about 1/2 inch wide (more or less, but more is better than less). Drape the pasta over a rack or a char back covered with a clean dish towel and leave to dry slightly-15 to 30 minutes is plenty.
To a saucepan or deep-frying pan about 10 inches in diameter, add olive oil to a depth of 1 inch. Add the remaining crushed garlic clove and the chile pepper, broken in two, and set over medium heat. As the oil warms, the garlic will start to brown. Before the garlic is fully brown, remove it and discard. Adding a few strips at a time, rapidly fry about a third of the pasta in the hot infused oil until crisp and brown. Remove and set aside to drain on paper towels.
By now the chick-peas should be very soft. Remove the bay leaves, raise the heat under the chick-peas to medium-high, adding more boiling water if necessary to keep them covered to a depth of 1 inch. Gently stir the remaining pasta into the chick-peas and let cook until the pasta is done-about 5 to 7 minutes. When the pasta is al dente, remove from the heat, and serve immediately, without draining, garnishing each bowl with a generous handful of fried pasta.