Ciceri are chickpeas. Tria are tagliatelle, in the dialect of Puglia. Combined, they make Ciceri e tria a distinctive dish from the baroque city of Lecce.
“The recipes are the real traditional ones from Lecce,” Cinzia says in a recent e-mail. “We inherited them from my nonna and we teach them at our school.” Nonna ‘Nzina, short for Vincenza turned 95 in May, looks like she’s 70, and cooks every day.
“She is super well,” says Cinzia. “For her, the most important thing is food. She gets mad if my mother does not buy her the best ingredients. She spends the whole day cooking-maybe just four hours for a minestrone!”
Cinzia, who holds an MBA from Harvard University and Marika, a practicing cardiologist, are passionate about passing on their nonna’s culinary legacy and the culture that it represents. “Our cooking is based on which town you are in, which season it is, and peoples’ taste. In general, we never cover ingredients’ flavors,” Cinzia says.
In preparing Ciceri e tria, the first ingredient required is time. Dried chickpeas are soaked overnight and then simmered until tender with aromatic vegetables. The tagliatelle noodles are prepared from scratch by combining water and salt into golden durum wheat, the hardest type of wheat, which is also high in gluten. Durum is a major agricultural product of the Tavoliere plain in northern Puglia.
After the noodles are rolled and cut, a portion, about one-quarter, of them are deep-fried in olive oil. (These fried noodles make an irresistible pre-dinner nosh sprinkled with salt and Parmesan cheese!)
The remaining tagliatelle are cooked with the chickpeas. (When I tested the recipe, my first batch of tagliatelle turned gummy when I added them to the chickpeas. I had better luck boiling the noodles separately and then draining them before adding them to the chickpeas but this is NOT Nonna “Nzina’s method.) The three elements are stirred together just before serving and garnished with fresh parsley and hot red pepper to taste.
“You can use either fresh or dried peperoncino piccante but don’t make it too spicy!” Cinzia says.
Ciceri e tria (chickpeas with tagliatelle)
Makes 6 servings
1 pound dried chickpeas
1 small red onion, halved
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 rib celery, coarsely chopped
3 cherry tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
2/3 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 pound (3 1/2 cups) durum wheat flour, divided (see note)
Extra-virgin olive oil (for deep frying)
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Red pepper flakes
To prepare the chickpeas: Place the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover generously with cold water. Soak for at least 8 hours.
Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Place them in a large heavy pot and cover with fresh water. Add the onion, carrot, celery, tomatoes, bay leaves, and garlic. Set over medium heat and bring the water to a boil. Add the salt, cover the pan and lower the heat so the mixture just simmers. Cook for about 1 hour, or until the chick peas become very tender. (Cooking time may be longer depending upon how old the chickpeas are.) Add more water from time to time, if needed.
Meanwhile, to prepare the tagliatelle: In a measuring cup, dissolve the salt in the water. Put 2 1/2 cups flour on a work surface or in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center. Slowly add the salted water very slowly while mixing constantly with a wooden spoon. After a few minutes move the dough to a work surface lightly floured with some of the remaining 1 cup flour. Knead, working in small amounts of the remaining flour as needed, for about 10 minutes until the dough gets very smooth and soft but not sticky. Cover the dough with an earthenware bowl. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.
Divide the dough into 4 pieces. With a rolling pin or a hand-cranked pasta roller, roll the pieces about 1/8-inch thick (next to last narrowest setting on the pasta roller.) Lightly dust the sheets with flour and cover with a cloth for about 1 hour before cutting. Cut each sheet into tagliatelle and wrap into small nests set on a floured cloth or drape over dowels. Allow to dry for several hours.
To serve: Keep the chickpeas hot over low heat. Remove the bay leaves from the chickpeas and discard.
Set a large covered pot of salted water over high heat.
Meanwhile, fill a deep pot filled with 3 inches of olive oil. Set over medium high heat. Heat to 350°F. Carefully place about one-quarter of the noodles into the oil, separating the strands as much as possible. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, flipping once with tongs, until crisp and brown. Remove the noodles to a paper towel-lined tray.
When the water boils, carefully add the remaining tagliatelle, separating the strands as much as possible. Stir with a wooden fork. Bring back to a boil. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until just tender. Drain.
Add the boiled tagliatelle and fried tagliatelle (reserve a few fried noodles for garnish if desired) to the chickpeas. Stir gently. Stir in the parsley. Season to taste with red pepper. Serve immediately.
Durum wheat is available on-line from King Arthur Flour.