Tag Archives: Sicilian Vespers

VESPERS and a celebration of chickpeas in BACCALÀ CON CECI alla fiorentina (Salt Cod with Chickpeas as cooked in Florence)

Both my grandmothers always added baking soda (bicarbonato) to the soaking water when cooking chickpeas (ceci in Italian). Mind you, they also dissolved bicarbonato in water to help their digestion.


Old habits die hard: just because her mother had done this, my mother also did this, but by the time I was old enough to cook chickpeas these unnecessary habits stopped.

Evidence found in archaeological sites all around the Mediterranean indicate that chickpeas have been around for a very long time – since Neolithic times and in the early Bronze Age. These legumes were important food sources in countries like in Cyprus, Iraq, India Turkey, Egypt, Crete and Southern Italy – they were grown in Pompeii to feed the Roman empire.

Chickpeas are mentioned in the Iliad by Homer and by Pliny, and continued to be a popular food source in all of these countries.

In more recent times ceci  have a prominent place in Sicilian history. On Easter Monday, March 30, 1282 in Palermo, Sicilians were waiting to attend Vespers (church service). Here occurred the beginning of a rebellion which had been brewing for a long time – Sicilians were against the rule of Charles I of Anjou, ruler of Sicily and they took the opportunity to use a trivial event to massacre the Frenchmen who were identified by their inability to pronounce the word for chickpeas without their inevitable lisp.

Below, the Arno River. Featured image, the Arno in the snow.


On the anniversary of this Sicilian Vespers event it is time to celebrate another recipe for chickpeas, this time not with a Sicilian recipe, but one from Florence – baccalà e ceci.

This dish of course of is also be suitable for Good Friday – a day of fasting and abstinence in the Catholic Church.

And why a recipe from Florence? This came about because my brother and sister in law visited Spain last year; we recently discussed how they particularly had enjoyed eating bacalao in Spain with chickpeas and how many of the Spanish recipes seem very similar to the Italian ones.

I was in Florence a couple of years ago and ate baccalà in a small trattoria; it was not the usual baccalà alla fiorentina which is made with tomatoes, parsley and garlic and of which different variations exist and with different names, all over Italy and not just in Tuscany.

There are a number of particularly similar Catalan and Florentine recipes of salt cod and chickpeas; the following recipe is from Florence and although there are many variations in the cooking of baccalà con ceci, the following has the flavours that work for me. It is also a complete course and pretty balanced.


Thick pieces of salt cod (cut from the centre) are best. Leave the skin, but cut away fins and obvious bones. Cut into pieces (7- 10cm). Rinse well in running water before soaking for 36-48 hours (over soaking will not spoil the fish, especially if the pieces of baccalà are thick). Keep it covered in a bowl in the fridge. Change the water at least 4-5 times.

Baccala while soaking

1 k of baccalà serves 4-6 people.
Soak the chickpeas in water overnight for 8 – 12 hours. Cover the chickpeas with fresh water, cover and bring them to the boil, Cook until tender.

baccalà ,1k  pre-soaked
chickpeas, 500g, cooked
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
freshly ground, black pepper and maybe a little salt
leeks, 3, sliced into rings
sage, rosemary,  (use fresh if possible), a few sprigs
chillies 1-2, chopped
garlic, 2 cloves
white wine, 1 cup
red tomatoes, 400 g, peeled and chopped
silver beet (chard) or spinach, 500g, pre-cooked
Drain the cod and squeeze out excess water. Skin the fish and pat dry. Cut it into serving pieces (5cm each).
Add some oil to the pan and lightly fry the cod on both sides. Remove from the pan and discard the oil.
Soften the leeks and the herbs in the rest of the oil – use a thick bottom pan that will hold all of the ingredients.
Add the tomatoes, chillies, garlic, and wine and stir these ingredients to incorporate the flavours.
Add the cod and pepper and cook slowly for about 20 mins.
Add chickpeas, taste for salt and add it if necessary.  Cook slowly for another 20mins. At this stage the cod should be cooked and the sauce and chickpeas should have a creamy consistency. Cook for longer and add more liquid if necessary.
Add cooked and drained silver beet (chard) or spinach or serve the baccalà and chickpeas with a separate contorno of spinach (first blanched and then tossed in some hot oil and garlic or hot oil, toasted pine nuts and a few pre-soaked sultanas).

See also:
Sicilian Vespers and Minestra di ceci (chickpea soup)

Panelle (chickpea fritters)

Chickpeas soup with wild fennel




Pulses for sale in Palermo (chickpeas on the left)
Giuseppe Verdi composed the music for the opera I Vespri Siciliani (Sicilian Vespers) and along with the common operatic themes of love, guilt and duty; it commemorates the Sicilian revolt, which began at Easter in 1282, when the citizens of Palermo rose up against their oppressive Angevin (French) rulers. The French were massacred and Sicily was presented to Peter III of Aragon.
It is said that the revolt began when the church bell was rung to indicate to the worshipers that it was time for the evening service. The church was the Chiesa di Santo Spirito in Palermo (the church is now also called Chiesa dei Vespri). In the Catholic Church, the evening ritual is known as Vespers (a series of chants, litanies and prayers held each evening and  that are especially popular for the Easter Vigil). Whether it happened on the Easter Saturday, Monday or Tuesday is uncertain – I have read so many different accounts.Later the revolt become known as the Sicilian Vespers.
The Sicilian for chickpeas (ciceri, riciri cicirri) is a difficult word to pronounce correctly if one is French. Whether it is myth or fact, it is said that Sicilians held up a chickpea and asked those suspected of being French to tell them what it was. Those who were able to pronounce the word correctly were spared and those who mispronounced the word were unmistakably French and slaughtered.
It is a time to eat chickpeas and to celebrate Sicilian solidarity.
Rosetta who lives in Ragusa uses rosemary to flavour a very simple, but wonderful wet pasta dish she makes with chickpeas.
Ceci is the Italian word for chickpeas. The soup or wet pasta dish is fairly dense.
chickpeas (dry), 500g,
pasta, 200g
rosemary, several sprigs
extra virgin olive oil, to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Soak chickpeas in cold water overnight – they will swell so it is important to immerse them fully in water.
Drain the water and change it (optional). Place sufficient water to cover them, add rosemary and bring slowly to the boil. Cook the pulses until soft but preferably still whole.
Drain the chickpeas and return the water to the pot. Add more water if necessary. Add salt and when the water has started to boil again, toss in the pasta and cook till almost to your liking (do not overcook).
Add the chickpeas, a good slurp of your best extra virgin olive oil and freshly, ground black pepper and serve.
Earlier posts containing chickpeas are:
PANELLE  (chickpea fritters – photo above = Antica Focacceria di San Francesco, Palermo)
MINESTRA DI CECI CON FINOCCHIO (Chickpea soup with wild fennel)