There’s one thing I love about Eataly, the Italian market in Chelsea in New York, and it’s not the prices. It’s the fact that you can get products that have been imported from Italy, things that you wouldn’t otherwise find, at least not easily.
During one particular perusal of the market, I found cicerchia, an Umbrian hybrid of chickpeas and fava beans. Ceceri means chickpeas, so I imagine that cirechia is a playful word meaning “in the realm of chickpeas.” Italians love playing with their words almost as much as their food.
It’s probably a good thing, though, that cicerchia isn’t available widely. According to Vorrei Italianfood, they contain a neurotoxin and should not be eaten every day over a prolonged period of time (alhough I don’t know what that means.)
I wasn’t sure what to do with them, though, as this was not a common product, at least not in the region where my family is from (Basalicata). Ultimately, I decided to use them in a typical Umbrian dish: chickpea soup.
If you’re able to get your hands on cicerchia, try this recipe—it’s light but filling and scrumptious.
Umbrian Cicerchia Soup
Makes 4 main-meal servings.
1 ½ cups cicerchia
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, thickly sliced
1 cup crushed tomatoes
Fresh herbs (such as rosemary, basil, savory, thyme)
1 cup small pasta (I used whole wheat tubetti)
Freshly ground pepper
Grated cheese (optional)
Place the cicerchia in a bowl and cover with water by 3 inches. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator and let it sit at least 6 hours, or overnight.Drain and rinse the beans in a colander.Place in a large pot with about 6 cups water. Add the bay leaves and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Cover and bring to a boil; lower the heat, cover partially, and simmer until they’re tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.*Heat the olive oil in a wide skillet. Add the garlic and sauté until lightly browned. Add the tomatoes and herbs.With a slotted spoon, scoop out the beans from the water and add them to the skillet.Then with a measuring cup, carefully scoop out 3 cups of the water and add that to the skillet. Bring it to a boil, then add the pasta, the remaining salt, and pepper. Partially cover the pan and simmer over medium-low heat until the pasta is done, about 10 minutes. If needed, add more of the bean water to achieve the consistency you prefer. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if needed.
*Note: At this point, you can scoop out the beans into a bowl and pop them all out of their skins, then place them in the pan. But it’s not necessary. Everyday home cooks really don’t bother popping beans out of their skins, not even fava beans, which have thicker skins than other legumes.