Minestra di cicerchie
Preparation - Medium/Difficult
Cicerchie are small dried beans that look like miniature broad beans or fave, but they are said to be an older, more primitive form of chick-peas. They have long been associated with la cucina povera. Until recently, cicerchie had almost disappeared in Italy except in a few pockets of rural Umbria, the Campagna outside Rome, and in Puglia. Like many similar foods, they have been rediscovered and lent a certain costly chicness by restaurant chefs. It's not likely that you'll find cicerchie in this country, but the soup is just as tasty made with ceci (chick-peas), fagioli (dried beans of any sort), or fave secche (dried broad beans). Like most bean soups in Puglia, this one may also be served over slices of stale country-style bread, lightly toasted and brushed with a little garlic if you wish.
8 oz (1 cup) dried chick-peas or other dried legumes
1 garlic clove
1 medium yellow onion, cut in half
3 or 4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded, or 2 cups drained canned tomatoes
1 stalk celery, including the top green leaves
1 bay leaf
1 small dried hot red chile pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
a little extra virgin olive oil
a little finely minced flat-leaf parsley
Put the chick-peas in a bowl, cover with cool water, and set aside to soak for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Then drain and place in a soup kettle with fresh cold water to cover to a depth of one inch.
Put the kettle on medium-low heat and when the water commences to boil, lower the heat, cover the kettle, and simmer until the chick-peas are half-cooked-about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the age of the beans. Add simmering water from time to time, if needed. When you judge the chick-peas to be half-cooked, coarsely chop the garlic, onion halves, tomatoes, and celery and add to the pot, along with the bay leaf, chile pepper, salt, and pepper.
Continue cooking, adding boiling water as necessary, until the chick-peas are tender. Remove the bay leaf and chile pepper.
Serve immediately, garnished with the olive oil and parsley.
Variations: Brown 1 coarsely chopped red onion over medium heat in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 1 t red wine vinegar and serve.
Saute 2 oz diced pancetta (or bacon that has been blanched 2 minutes in boiling water) in 1 t olive oil until crisp. Scatter the bacon over the minestra just before serving.
Flavors of Puglia
Nancy Harmon Jenkins