Peppa’s Zuppa di Cicerchie
Peppa might not know that cicerchie (translated as “chicklings” or “pulses”) were cultivated in Mesoptamia as early as 8000 BC or that this legume is now recognized officially by the Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture as a “a product of Italy’s traditional agriculture,” but she certainly knows how to cook them: no one makes a zuppa di cicerchie to rival Peppa’s. A pot of the soup was simmering on her wood stove when I arrived recently for lunch, slices of bread for bruschetta near the pot of simmering soup. Wild chicory 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 – a hearty soup was breakfast about 9 o’clock – after we’d 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. With a subtle flavor, almost a cross between fagiolo (Italian variety of a a dried bean) and chickpeas, la cicerchia has a vaguely quadrangular shape – and very irregular form. You’ll never find two cicerchie alike. The expressions, “just like two peas in a pod” can’t be used for this legume!
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. But she no longer has to eat her legume soups in the morning for the energy needed for the fatiguing day ahead…
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