Legumes and traditional recipes, Italy’s peasant cuisine made of excellences
Let’s explore the different varieties of Italian legumes, the interesting facts about their history and the traditional recipes that enhance them when cooking.
Legumes have always been an integral part of Italian cuisine, a rich and varied tradition expressed in the many nuances of the most typical regional dishes. These little nutritional treasures not only provide a valuable source of protein, but also introduce us to certain hidden qualities of Italian cuisine and certain almost forgotten roots, which are made up of simple but valuable ingredients. Since ancient times, people appreciated their nutritional properties (vegetable protein, fibre and a wide range of vitamins and minerals), it is no wonder that legumes are one of the pillars of the Mediterranean diet.
The chickpeas of Liguria
In Liguria, chickpeas are a staple of the region’s cuisine. They are used for the famous farinata, whose origins date back to 1200, but also for the panissa (a farinata without olive oil, fried). There is no shortage of soups like the mesciua, a chickpea and cereal soup of very poor origins, the zimino genovese, whose recipe calls for chickpeas, chard, tomato purée, onion, celery, and carrots. For the gourmands, then, there are the cuculli, chickpea meatballs with herbs, naturally fried.
The borlotti beans of Emilia
Pisarei e fasò: a typical dish from Piacenza, but popular throughout Italy. Pisarei are a special pasta format, small gnocchi made with stale bread, water and flour. Fasò are borlotti beans used to create this first course that fits perfectly into the typical gastronomic tradition of Emilia Romagna. To make the sauce, in fact, in addition to the beans and tomato puree, tradition also calls for the use of pistà ‘d grass, a very typical minced lard.
Umbrian lentil soup
Lentils, rich in iron, are particularly popular in Umbria.
Here, the extraordinary display of flowering lentil meadows in Castelluccio di Norcia from May to July has become a real attraction for tourists and gourmets. After the harvest, which takes place in summer, lentils become the main ingredient of Umbrian lentil soup, a warm and hearty dish made with lentils, tomatoes, and local herbs.
The Marche cicerchia
Cicerchie, chickling peas, are an ancient legume – attested as early as 800 BC. – once widespread in central and southern Italy and then long forgotten. A small variety was rediscovered in the Marche region and is now cultivated with low environmental impact techniques. A typical dish is chickling soup, made with dried chickling peas, tomatoes, celery, and pancetta. This dish is an example of how Italian cuisine enhances ingredients that are often overlooked.
Beans are a hallmark of Tuscan cuisine. The famous Florentine dish called ‘fagioli all’uccelletto’ combines cannellini beans (but, as usual, there are local variations using other types of beans) with tomato, garlic, sage and olive oil to create a hearty and delicious flavour. A truly traditional and historical recipe, so much so that it is featured in the famous book La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well) written in 1891 by the gastronome and ‘father’ of Italian cuisine Pellegrino Artusi.
Lazio and pasta e ceci
Chickpeas are back on the scene in Lazio and are combined with pasta to create an iconic dish: pasta and chickpeas. This dish has always been served on the tables in Lazio and throughout Italy, and it is now a typical Christmas Eve dish in the area to be eaten on the day before Christmas when Catholic tradition dictates that one abstains from eating meat. This simple but tasty dish is a classic comfort food, often enriched with a sprinkling of Pecorino Romano cheese.
Sicilian broad beans
Broad beans are a very popular and widely consumed legume in Sicily, and ‘maccu di favi‘ (broad bean soup) is one of the most popular traditional recipes. Looking at the origins, we probably need to go back to the time when Sicily was part of Magna Graecia. This thick and fragrant soup is made with dried broad beans, olive oil, garlic, and local herbs. Often served with bread croutons.
The black beans of Puglia
In Apulia we continue in the tradition groove, dusting up various recipes for many legumes in farmers’ homes. Impossible not to love ciceri e tria, a delicious pasta and chickpea dish, especially because the pasta is first boiled and then fried. In fact, the word ‘tria’ means fried pasta. While chickling peas (in this case, the Murgia ones) are used for the tolica salentina, beans are instead one of the key ingredients of a first course that combines land and sea, pairing beans with mussels and cavatelli pasta.