– Recipes and stories such as this are the heart and fun (and taste!) of Anne’s U.S. Cooking and Lecture Tour “Feast of Umbrian Rural Cuisine” home events this February and March! Not to be missed, book this extraordinary Italian food evening at your home now!
With a subtle flavor – almost a culinary marriage between fagioli borlotti (Italian variety of a a dried bean) and chickpeas – la cicerchia has a vaguely quadrangular shape and a characteristic irregular form. You’ll never find two cicerchie alike. The expression, “just like two peas in a pod,” doesn’t apply for this legume.
Peppa might not know that cicerchie (translated as “chicklings” or “pulses”) were cultivated in Mesopotamia as early as 8000 BC for use in breads, focacce and soups and that this protein-rich legume – over twenty varieties – is now officially recognized by the Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture as a “a product of Italy’s traditional agriculture.” But she certainly knows how to cook them: her zuppa di cicerchie (“cecere” as she calls them in Umbrian dialect) has no rival.
On a recent visit to Peppa, a pot of the soup was simmering on her wood stove, the pot encircled by slices of bread, toasting for bruschetta. As a side dish, wild cicoria Peppa had foraged in the fields was sautéeing in her family olive oil with garlic from her garden.
Peppa added a pinch of salt to the zuppa, broke up the toasted bread into our bowls, drizzled olive oil over the bruschetta, and then spooned on the zuppa di cicerchie, rich in potatoes, seasoned with sage and garlic, a splash of homemade tomato sauce. As we shared the savory soup, Peppa reminisced about her life on the land as a child of poor farmers. Like most of our rural neighbors of her age, her schooling ended in third grade: the labor of everyone was needed on the land.
“We ate a lot of cicerchie in those days. Mamma made us filling soups for our breakfast at about 9 o’clock – and avevamo tanta fame (“we were so hungry”): we’d all been working the fields since dawn.” The rural breakfast soup was always a legume: fave, lentils, fagioli, chickpeas – or cicerchie. Central Italy’s farmers once cultivated le cicerchie in abundance as this “poor man’s” legume needs no fertilizer, resists parasites and survives in droughts.
Peppa will be eating cicerchie fairly often this winter: the wood stove is fired up daily and the stovetop is perfect for simmering soups. And Peppa affirms that the rule to good health is legumes three times weekly. She no longer has to eat her legume soups in the morning, though, for the energy needed for the fatiguing day ahead; nowadays, her zuppa di cicerchie turns many a pranzo or cena into a gourmet feast.