The traditional cuisine of Umbria is rustic and simple, making the most of very few but quality ingredients. Minestra di Ceci is typical of the 'cucina povera' style of cooking we enjoyed one lunchtime at Fontanella di Porta Sole in Perugia, where the humble chickpea is enormously popular, especially for soups. A staple in the Mediterranean basin for hundreds of years, though common throughout Italy, chickpeas are primarily grown in the south because they require high temperatures during the summer months. Once harvested, they're hung up to dry, and the seeds are then gathered and set aside.
Apart from a few readily available ingredients — a little onion, celery, garlic and carrots used to develop the flavour base — the chickpeas are the primary ingredient. Some of the ceci are puréed in the soup which creates a rich, thick and satisfying soup, with most of the whole cooked beans added back into the soup, which creates its unique texture and character. To serve this soup, all it really needs is some cracked black pepper and a drizzle of Rosemary Olive Oil and a little grated pecorino. Minestra di Ceci freezes well, and actually improves in flavour over time, for a taste of Perugia all year long.
Minestra di Ceci
2 cups dried chickpeas
2 tbsp olive oil
1 carrot, diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced 4 cups beef broth
Maldon sea salt
2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated Pecorino cheese, optional
7 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 small sprigs fresh rosemary
Soak chickpeas in cold water and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Soak overnight, then drain the next morning. Place the beans in a pot of fresh water, covered by at least 2-inches, then simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until they're tender but not mushy. Drain and let sit in a colander while you prepare the soup base.
Combine 7 tablespoons of olive oil and rosemary in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring just to a simmer to infuse the olive oil. Remove from heat, discard the rosemary and set aside.
In a large soup pot, heat the oil and then add the carrots, onion, celery and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until the vegetables are tender. Remove about 1 1/2 cups of the chickpeas and set aside until later. Return the rest of the chickpeas to the pot with the vegetables and cover with the broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and slowly simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes or so to develop and meld the flavours. Season with salt and pepper.
Purée the soup with a light touch, until you reach a desired consistency, adding additional broth as needed. Fontanella di Porta Sole didn't purée the soup at all!
Return the soup to the heat and stir in the remaining chickpeas that had been set aside earlier.
Serve the soup in warmed bowls with a drizzle of some of the remaining rosemary oil and sprinkle of parsley, black pepper and some grated pecorino if you wish.