Thursday, April 2, 2020

Minestra di “cicerchiole” con i ceci

I hope that you and your loved ones are all safe and well.


My state’s Stay Home/Stay Healthy order allows market shopping, but experts advise to limit these outings to once a week. So like many others, I am buying more canned and dried food items. I picked up some dried chickpeas (aka garbanzos beans) and decided to make a bean and pasta soup from Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds: Recipes and Lore from Rome and Lazio (University of California Press, 2013). I find this pantry-friendly dish comforting and, when necessary, adaptable.


Minestra di “cicerchiole” con i ceci features a small, square pasta that goes by different names throughout Italy. Many will recognize the shape as quadrucci and quadretti (“little squares”). A factory-made version goes by the whimsical name lucciole (“fireflies”). But in Lazio, they call the pasta cicerchiole and ciarchiola because its diminutive size approximates that of a local wild pea.


Here’s Zanini De Zita’s recipe for Minestra di “cicerchiole” con i ceci (Soup of chickpeas and homemade pasta).


1 pound (500g) chickpeas, soaked and ready to cook

1 sprig rosemary

1 slice lardo or pancetta

1 garlic clove

1 ladleful tomato purée


5 ounces (150g) cicerchiole (i.e., quadrucci, a homemade pastina)


Bring 2 quarts (2 liters) lightly salted water to a boil in a pot. Add the chickpeas and rosemary and cook over medium heat until the chickpeas are tender; the timing will depend on the age of the chickpeas. Check after 20 minutes and frequently thereafter. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the cooking water.


Chop together the lardo and garlic and sauté gently in a pan over low heat. Add the tomato purée, season with salt, and cook until the sauce is well reduced. Add the cooked chickpeas, the pasta and 4 cups (1 liter) of the chickpea water to a boil. When the pasta is al dente, transfer the soup to a tureen or ladle into individual bowls and serve.


Some notes and thoughts. In my experience, dried chickpeas—at least the store-bought domestic ones sold in the US—rarely cook in 20 minutes. Check after 20 minutes, but let the chickpeas cook until they are truly tender—this may take an hour or even longer—but not so long lest the chickpeas become mush.


If you have lardo, pancetta or some other equivalent meat or fat on hand, then lucky you. With no lardo or equivalent in my pantry, I sautéed the garlic in a couple good glugs—maybe 4 tablespoons—of nice olive oil. In the past, I’ve added diced onion to the garlic, and sometimes carrot and celery, too. Many recipes for chickpeas and pasta soup include anchovies.


In Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds, Zanini De Zita shares a quick and easy way to make cicerchiole:  cut fresh “…fettuccine crosswise at intervals equal to the width of the noodle.” She writes that most recipes for cicerchiole call for an egg dough.


With the flour shortage at my local market and because I own a KoMo grain mill (here), I made whole-wheat pasta mixing one large egg with 50 grams freshly-milled Warthog hard red wheat from Barton Springs Mills and 50 grams Central Milling Artisan Bakers Craft Plus bread flour. (More on milling, blending and bolting flour for pasta here and here.) As it comes out of the mill, Warthog flour strongly smells of cinnamon and baking spice.


If you want to take a deeper dive into cicerchiole, I recommend that you consult Zanini De Zita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta (University of California Press, 2009) and The Geometry of Pasta (Quirk, 2010) by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy. Zanini De Vita covers cicerchiole in the Encyclopedia’s Entry No. 203 for Quadrucci. She writes that the small pasta generally contains wheat flour, eggs and sometimes nutmeg. In central and southern Italy, cooks often make this pasta using just flour and water. In Italy’s Marche region, they mix wheat and corn flour to create their version called quadrelli pelosi. Lazio’s cicerchiole often contain wheat and emmer flour.

Looking at the above regional variations, one might conclude that authenticity springs from necessity and availability. So especially at a time like this, use what you have on hand. And if that’s dried pasta, cook it in salted water then add the pasta to the cooked chickpeas (or beans or farro or barley or lentils).


Back to cicerchiole. The Geometry of Pasta says the small square pasta measure 3mm by 3mm by .5mm. Kenedy writes that the little squares are “…the simplest shape to make, but rather fiddly and so easier to buy.” This may be true in normal times, but these are not normal times.