E Is for E Ceci

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Kelsey McClellan)

Ceci, the Italian word for chickpea, is something I came to know and love during my time in Italy. Beans are treated with as much care as pricy cuts of meat in the country and form the base of many traditional dishes. If you’re still skeptical about the power of chickpeas, I guaruntee that the Italians will change your opinion.

La Cucina Povera

Chickpeas are just one of the many staples of la cucina povera, which directly translates to “the poor kitchen.” It refers to the style of cooking of poor peasants in Italy (many in Tuscany and Southern Italy, but really all over the country), who made use of the few, cheap ingredients they had to create humble yet delicious dishes. Beans, like chickpeas, were one of these common ingredients. And because quality meats and salumi were out of the question, they became their best source of protein. Dishes like zuppa di ceci, a puréed chickpea soup, were hearty, satisfying, and cheap. The same with pasta e ceci, a thick, stew-like pasta dish. With a little love, extra garlic, and olive oil, these chickpea dishes were so rich and flavorful that they are still cooked up frequently today.

These little beans weren’t just used for savory dishes either. In the central region of Abruzzo, they were mixed with chocolate as a filling for sweet cookies because chestnuts were too expensive. For many in Italy and abroad, making these cookies is still a tradition, particularly around Christmas time.

Ceci Flour Too

The Italians also know their way around chickpea flour. In Sicily, they’re famous for panelle — the chickpea flour is cooked like polenta until it’s a thick porridge, cooled until firm, cut into pieces, then fried. There it’s eaten as a snack or even tucked into a roll as a sandwich. There is also farinata, which originates in the coastal region of Liguria and is the Italian equivalent to socca, a thin pancake-like flatbread made from chickpea flour.

Do you have a favorite Italian chickpea dish?