Cicerchie are legumes from southern Italy. High in protein, they kept the agricultural communities of the province of Basilicata (and other parts of Italy) alive during the chaos of World War II. They are curious beans and irregular in shape: a cross between a chickpea and a pebble.
Italian pumpkins are a revelation of beauty and taste. Not so with American pumpkins, which are mainly raised to carve up at Halloween. In some places in the USA you can find edible pumpkin but in this recipe I used butternut squash as the season is perfect for this vegetable. Here is my recipe for an Italian-style autumn meal.
Zuppa di Cicerchia & Zucca ~ Cicerchia Soup with Butternut Squash
Soak 500 grams (1.1 lbs) dry cicerchie in lots of cold water for 24 hours.
Drain, rinse and put the beans in a pot with a handful of whole sage leaves, a whole head of peeled garlic, a half dozen whole Italian pear tomatoes or a small can of the same.
Cover everything with fresh cold water (plus an inch) then bring to boil and place them in an oven pre-heated to 350 degrees F. After 30 minutes check to see if they are just tender. When done, pull the cooked cicerchie out of the heat and let cool in the liquid.
Turn up the heat in the oven to 400 degrees F.
Seed the butternut squash or pumpkin and cut into bite-sized pieces (after cooking the pieces will become smaller); put them in a Pyrex or other heat resistant dish. Add two cloves of chopped garlic (garlic takes on very different flavors depending on how it is cut and how it is cooked). Sprinkle with two crumbled Italian peperoncini or red chili flakes and add a handful of fresh thyme with the stems removed.
Top with coarse grain sea salt and some of the best extra virgin olive oil to coat the pieces and mix with your hands.
In a separate Pyrex, put 3-4 Italian sausages (spicy or regular) and pop the squash and sausages into the oven to bake for around 30 minutes (turn the sausages when you are pulling out the cooked squash). The squash, which will bake quicker than the sausages, should be brown around the edges and caramelized. When done–say 10 minutes later–slice the sausages and combine everything in the big pot of cicerchia soup.
Clean and chop large pieces of Italian cavolo nero–or that overly popular American kale–and add it to the soup. Simmer over a low heat for twenty minutes and the broth will be thick and orange.
Serves 8-10 happy people.
Photos by Kevin Walz