Precious legumes of a thousand varieties, are a surprising resource for Mediterranean cuisine
The ancient history of chickpeas
Perfumed, with an aromatic and intense taste, i chickpeas they have an ancient and interesting history: cultivated since the Bronze Age in the area of Iraq and the Middle East, they were highly appreciated, eaten fried, already by Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Among the latter, curiously, it was customary to nickname "cicer"(the Latin name of the chickpea) who had a small protuberance on the face: the great speaker, philosopher and writer Marco Tullio Cicero, for example, owes the familiar name, of which he was proud and which he never wanted to abandon, to an ancestor with a wart. Another episode linked to the small legume dates back to Middle Ages, at the time of Republics Marinate, when in the battle between Genoa and Pisa in 1284 some Tuscan prisoners were locked in a hold without water or food. Here the Pisans found some bags of dried chickpeas and they ate it by bathing them with sea water to make them attractive: it was in this way that they managed to save themselves and, according to legend, the cecina was born, also called "gold of Pisa". The chickpeas were the protagonists during the Sicilian Vespers of 1282: in Palermo, to find the French spies, the insurgents made them pronounce the word "ciceri" which the transalpines used to say with the initial "s" and with the accented "i", unmasking themselves.
Rustic with personality
Chickpeas are among the most energetic and nutritious components of the legume family one of the first crops domesticated by man; today they are the third most consumed legume in the world, after soy and beans. Until recently, the cultivation of chickpeas was alternated with that of wheat and other cereals, bringing a high percentage of proteins. Although they belong to the same group of legumes that it counts beans, Fava beans And peas, chickpeas grow in pods that contain only one seed or, at most, two.
Variety made in Italy
The shrub, with very deep roots, does not fear drought and it grows in poor, arid, even stony soils. The different varieties are often linked to local production. The seeds can be rounded And smooth, or wrinkled And rostrati ("ram's head", says the Latin name, cicer arietinum) like the Cicerale variety.
The most popular colors are the cream or the light yellow, both in a wrinkled version like the Teano chickpea and smooth like that of Navelli (all Slow Food Presidia), which unusually also has a second type with red skin in the same area, traditionally intended for home consumption. In Italy there are ancient colored species very dark, resistant and able to adapt to the most adverse conditions: typical of the Center and South, i black chickpeas they are found in particular in Tuscany, Umbria and Puglia, where a particularly valuable variety is grown in the area around Bari, the "Murgia karst", also a Slow Food Presidium.
Tasty for the palate and rich in proteins
Tasty and substantial, once cooked the chickpeas reveal one buttery texture, perfect for making soups and creams, savory and even sweet. In the kitchen, they give life to preparations of all kinds, often making them a single and complete dish: we find them in salads, with pasta; in soups or creams; with fish or cold cuts. The best combination is with cereals, thanks to which the legume proteins are better absorbed by the body, to the point of guaranteeing a protein profile similar to that of meat: green light, therefore, to the union with rice, spelled, buckwheat, barley and pasta, as evidenced by many regional recipes. Bay leaf, added to the cooking water, makes them more digestiblei, while salt should be avoided: if you put it during cooking, it hardens them. Herbs such as rosemary, oregano, thyme and sage give a truly unique aroma to preparations such as farinata, cecina, focaccia. Paprika (sweet, spicy or smoked) added to hummus, a Middle Eastern chickpea-based cream, gives an even tastier flavor, while cumin seeds, whole or chopped, smell like that of falafel, Egyptian meatballs prepared with our legumes.
A curiosity for vegans and intolerants
The cooking water of chickpeas, called acquafaba, is a very valid alternative to whipped egg whites in the preparation of desserts, such as meringues. Tradition and territory The recipes in which these legumes enter are the most diverse and often ancient. Ciciri and tria (fried pasta and chickpeas), the typical Salento recipe, is mentioned by the poet Horace as early as 35 BC. The Virtues of Teramo, a complex single dish, have been prepared every May 1st since the 14th century. Tradition binds them to Ligurian and Tuscan cuisines: as testified by the cuculli, panissa And farinata (typical of Genoa), the chickpeas flour pie Pisan, the cake of chickpea flour of Versilia, the many variations of soup rustic. There are also there fainè Sassari, the help nicoise and the panelle Sicilian.
Pasta and chickpeas are divided region by region
Thick or soupy, flavored with chilli, tomato, bacon and even anchovies. The pasta shape changes: in Rome they use striped ditalini, in Emilia-Romagna maltagliati, in Campania as in Basilicata and Calabria the lagane, wide and short pappardelle. Abroad? Besides ahummus and falafel, chickpeas are found in Moroccan stew and harira, Madrid cocido, and many Lebanese and Greek dishes.
by Francesca Tagliabue, photos by Felice Scoccimarro
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