And leave it to those clever and resourceful Italian contadine to have thought to marry the humble likes of pulses and grains, beans and pasta—for the sake of necessity—tuning their union into wonderfully nourishing, satiating-to-your-belly, and "story-telling"-on-your-palate dishes.
Of course it all starts with il soffritto [if you prefer, mirepoix in French]: a mixture of finely diced carrots, onion and celery, in its simplest form, gently sautéed for a spat of time. Gentle being the secret here so as to coax from the vegetables their innermost fragrance, all the while persuading them to surrender to translucence and tenderness. Therein lies the fragrant foundation to many an Italian dish. The big no no in Italian kitchens is to let your soffritto start browning... that brings pouts and the end of any sweet fragrance.
|zuppa di ceci e farro|
ZUPPA di CECI e FARRO :: serves 4 - 6
variation on una ricetta shared by Maurizio Tuliani [specialist of medieval history]
200 gr | 7 oz dried chickpeas [garbanzo beans]
150 gr | 5.25 oz farro [einkorn—triticum monococcum, if possible, otherwise emmer—triticum dicoccum]
8 - 10 gr | 0.3 oz kombu [edible kelp]
60 gr | 2 oz red onion, finely diced
60 gr | 2 oz carrot, finely diced
60 gr | 2 oz celery with a few tender leaves, finely diced
2 - 3 garlic cloves, cut in half, sprout removed, very coarsely chopped
300 gr sweet green cabbage [pointed cabbage, Loirent cabbage—exquisite, savory cabbage, chou de Pointoise], the ribs removed, the leaves thinly sliced lengthwise
7 tasty black pepper corns, very coarsely ground [best done with a mortar 'n pestle]
1 fresh bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh sage
Extra virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea salt
||| Soak the chickpeas over night. Rinse, generously cover with fresh water in a large pan, cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, add the bay leaf and cook covered anywhere from 40 - 90 minutes or more, depending on your chickpeas. Add the kombu approx 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time and, with the lid a bit ajar, continue to cook at a very slight simmer, until the chickpeas are quite soft. Add more water if needed, you'll be in need of that cooking water. Remove the kombu and set aside. Add a few generous pinches of sea salt to the chickpeas and set aside in their cooking water.
||| Soak the farro, if not pearled, for 8 hours. Rinse, bring to a boil in water to slightly cover and cook for approx 30 minutes—the grains should be al dente. Season with sea salt to taste and set aside in the cooking water. [If your farro is pearled, follow the directions on the package.]
||| Pat the kombu dry and cut into bite-sized pieces.
||| Sauté the onion, carrot and celery [il soffritto], along with the sprigs of rosemary and sage in a generous couple drizzles of olive oil over medium-low heat for 10 - 15 minutes, until the onion is translucent, stirring frequently—so as not to let the onions burn. Add half of the chopped garlic for the last couple of minutes. Discard the rosemary and sage sprigs and transfer to a plate.
||| Drain the chickpeas, returning the cooking water to the pan. Set one third of the chickpeas aside whole. Pass the other two thirds through a food mill and return to the cooking water [or use an immersion blender directly in the cooking water]. Add il soffritto, the whole chick peas, farro, ground pepper and cook at a low simmer for 10 - 15 minutes. Add a ladle or two or three of water or vegetable broth if the mixture seems dry—you're looking for a creamy consistency here. Add a pinch or two more of salt if needed.
||| While the soup is simmering, heat a drizzle of olive oil—in a cast iron skillet if possible. Add the kombu and cook over medium heat until turning crisp, 10 or so minutes. Add the other half of the chopped garlic a couple minutes before the end; it should also crisp up. Season with a pinch of sea salt. At the same time, sauté the cabbage leaves in a generous drizzle or two of olive oil and a couple splashes of cold water over medium-high heat until lightly browning, 7 or so minutes. Immediately season with sea salt.
||| Place a couple ladles of soup in each bowl. Give a very light sprinkle of ground cinnamon. Garnish with the cabbage then the kombu-garlic mixture. Give a generous drizzle or two of olive oil to each bowl of soup and serve.
note : no need to discard the cabbage-leaf ribs, cook 'em up nice and soft in water to cover, pass 'em through a food mill and return to the cooking water. Season with a slight pinch of sea salt and a drop or two of olive oil, and sip it on down—just to keep your motor nicely running.