Minestra del Ceci delle Mie Due Nonne
Every year, just before Christmas Eve, I’ve shared a recipe for seafood, often mentioning the Feast of the Seven Fishes when doing so. To that end, next week’s post will feature another such dish. (See Coming soon to a monitor near you.) Not all Italian families, however, prepare a feast on Christmas Eve. We certainly didn’t when I was very young. My family’s tradition of enjoying a seafood feast didn’t start until a few years later, when Dad would leave the restaurant early, bringing the seafood with him. Prior to that time, our Christmas Eve dinner was nothing special, although always meatless because, being Catholic, meat was not allowed. “Upstairs”, in Zia’s home, baccalà was the main course, with “Nonna”, also, serving today’s soup, garbanzo bean.
Whether you call them garbanzos, chickpeas, or ceci, this bean is a good one to have in your pantry. Very low in fat and high in protein, garbanzos are becoming more popular as gluten-free and vegetarian diets become more common. Most readily available dried or in cans, garbanzos can be used in any number of ways and, when ground, the resulting flour is a viable substitute for gluten flours. In a country where meat was reserved for special occasions, garbanzos were one of several beans Italians used to supply protein to their diets.
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Today’s soup was 1 of the 4 dishes that I prepared for Zia during my last visit. To be honest, she was the dish’s mastermind and I her dutiful sous chef. As you’ll soon see, mine was an easy job. At some point she mentioned that “Grandma”, Mom and Zia’s Mother, also cooked garbanzo bean soup and in the same way as did her Mother-in-Law, “Nonna”. This recipe is a gift from both women, “due nonne“. I’m not certain, however, if this soup is a traditional Marchigiani dish. Yes, both women were from Marche but this soup is quite basic and could very well have originated anywhere in Italy — if not somewhere else. (Perhaps our friend and expert of all things Marchigiani, Mariano Pallottini, will be able to shed some light on this for us.)
As is the case with most of the Bartolini recipes from back in the day, this soup is simple to prepare and relies on a few, commonplace ingredients. As you can imagine, the most important thing you’ll put in your stockpot, therefore, is the stock itself. Here, because the soup was served on Christmas Eve, a day when Catholics were forbidden to eat meat, a vegetable stock is used. Feel free to use whatever type of stock you prefer, though you’ll want to use a rich, full-flavored stock for a soup you’ll be serving on so special a night.
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My Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup Recipe
- 2 cups dried garbanzo beans/chickpeas, inspected to remove stones and the like (see Notes)
- 2 quarts vegetable stock (see Notes)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- salt & pepper to taste
- grated Pecorino Romano cheese for serving – omit if vegan
- At least 8 hours or the night before, place the beans in a large bowl and cover with water that is at least 2 inches above the beans. Before use, pour off the water, rinse, and set aside to drain. Do not allow to dry out.
- Heat the oil and butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over med-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent — about 5 minutes. Do not allow it to brown. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
- Add the stock and chickpeas to the pot and stir. Bring to a boil before reducing to a simmer.
- Continue to simmer until the beans are as tender as you like. (See Notes)
- Check for seasoning before serving with plenty of grated cheese at the table. (Omit or use soy cheese if vegan.)
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The homemade stock used here was prepared using vegetable odds & ends that I’d been keeping in my freezer. The ingredient list will vary each time the stock is made.
- In a large stockpot over med-high heat, add 2 tbsp each of butter and olive oil.
- When hot, add broccoli stems, cauliflower cores, carrot peelings, and asparagus stalk trimmings, as well as a quartered large onion, 3 roughly chopped carrots, 3 roughly chopped celery stalks (leaves included), and a few cloves of smashed garlic. Sauté until the vegetables begin to color.
- Add a handful of parsley, a quartered tomato (“for color”), and 1 bay leaf before adding enough water to fill the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
- Continue to cook for at 2 hours, allowing the stock to reduce and the flavors to intensify. Occasionally skim the stock of the film that may coat the its surface. If the stock reduces too much, add water to compensate.
- Season with salt and pepper if you intend to use the stock to make vegetable soup. If the stock is to be used in other recipes, best to leave it salt-free and season it when used.
- Once cooled, refrigerate for no more than a few days or store, frozen, for up to 1 month.
When using dry beans, you must take a few minutes to inspect them, looking for small stones and/or beans that are discolored or otherwise spoilt. Discard them.
We’ve found that 1 cup (200 g) of dried beans per quart (950 ml) of stock will yield a soup with just the right “beans to stock ratio” in every bowl. You may wish to add more or less stock to suit your own tastes.
Cooking times will depend upon the type of bean — canned or dried — that you use.
- If dried, the longer they are allowed to soak, the less time needed to cook. Even so, they will take at least 60 minutes — more like 90 — to cook fully.
- If canned, rinse before using and they should be ready to eat once they are heated through. Taste before serving to ensure that they meet your preferences.
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It’s déjà vu all over again …
No listing of traditional Italian dishes served on Christmas Eve would be complete without mentioning eel. Yes, eel. Served on Christmas Eve almost exclusively, live anguille, eels, can be found in tanks at the largest and best-equipped Italian markets beginning around December 15th. You can learn how my family prepared the slippery devils by clicking HERE.
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Coming soon to a monitor near you …
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