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.

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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.

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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.

INGREDIENTS
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
PROCESSES
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


 
 

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