Cacciucco di ceci (Tuscan Chickpea and Swiss Chard Soup)

Frankprimi piatti, Soups, Toscana33 Comments

Cacciucco di ceci

Those of you who know a bit about Italian cooking may recognize the name cacciucco. A speciality of Livorno in the region of Tuscany, cacciucco is one of the many fish soups that you’ll find up and down the Italian peninsula, and one of the most famous.

I’ve been meaning to present that classic dish for some time now, but in the meanwhile, I recently discovered via YouTube this landlubber’s cacciucco made with chickpeas and Swiss chard. The recipe surprised me. Although both namesakes share a lightly spicy tomato base, the similarities end there. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been too surprised. The dialect term cacciucco, simply means ‘mixture’, so it can refer to any rustic dish using multiple ingredients.

It isn’t perhaps the most photogenic dish, so it might not be the kind of thing you’d want to serve for an “important” dinner. But whatever it might lack in the looks, cacciucco di ceci is undeniably tasty and very healthy indeed. And if you use canned chickpeas, which I do without hesitation, it’s also very quick to make. A great choice for a last minute meal. Usually classified as a first course, with some crusty bread to go with it and some fresh fruit to follow, I think it could make a perfectly lovely light dinner.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 400 g (14 oz) chickpeas, pre-cooked (see Notes) or one large can
  • 1 bunch of Swiss chard trimmed of the stems and shredded
  • 400g (14 oz) tomatoes, canned or fresh, crushed or milled
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 2-3 anchovy fillets (optional)

Toppings (optional):

  • Olive oil
  • Freshly grated black pepper
  • Grated parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino

Directions

In a large pot, sauté the onion in a generous pour of olive oil over gentle heat, until it becomes soft and translucent. Add the garlic and let that, too, sauté until it just begins to give off its fragrance. (Add the anchovy at this point, too, if using, and let it ‘melt’.)

Now add the shredded Swiss chard and give it a good turn so it is completely coated with the soffritto. Season with salt and pepper. Let the chard simmer for a few minutes, until it has wilted.

Add the chickpeas, drained of their liquid. (If using canned, rinse them as well.) Give them a turn and then add the tomatoes. Turn up the heat a bit to bring everything to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, topping up with water (or the chickpea cooking liquid if you’ve boiled them yourself) as needed.

Serve while still warm, with a drizzle of best quality olive, along with a good grinding of black pepper and freshly grated pecorino if you like, along with toasted slices of crusty bread, preferably homemade.

Cacciucco di ceci
Cacciucco di ceci (Tuscan Chickpea and Swiss Chard Soup)

Notes on Cacciucco di ceci

If you’re cooking the chickpeas yourself: Take 150g (5 oz) dried chickpeas, soak them overnight (up to 12 hours) in enough water to cover them by a good 7-8 cm/3 inches. When you’re ready to cook, drain and rinse the chickpeas, then bring them to a simmer in water to cover. Cook until tender, usually about 90 minutes, topping up if need be with more water. They can also be cooked in a pressure cooker, in which case they should take only about 30 minutes. Salt them only when they’re almost done.

The tomatoes can be fresh if you can find flavorful ones—especially this time of year—or otherwise canned will do just fine. Spinach is also a fine choice, in which case reduce the simmer time to, say, 15 minutes. Tuscan kale, in my opinion, wouldn’t be amiss either, in which case you may need to increase the simmer time a bit.

As for toppings for your cacciucco di ceci, I’m always partial to a drizzle of best quality olive oil. A grind of black pepper is also nice. And for those who like it, some recipes call for grated cheese, although in my personal opinion this dish doesn’t need or want it.

Variations

As usual, there are lots of variations on cacciucco di ceci. The anchovy, as indicated, is optional. It’s there for the umami it brings to the dish, not any fishiness. Leave is out, of course, if you’re eating vegan. You can add onion (especially red onion, as we’re in Tuscany) instead of, or in addition to, the garlic for your soffritto. For a deeper flavor, use broth, either meat based or vegetable based, instead of water. A few recipes go much lighter on the tomato, some call for just a dab of tomato concentrate, while still others omit it entirely for a cacciucco di ceci in bianco.

This ‘soup’ is always served quite thick in the typical Tuscan manner, almost more a stew than what most people would call a soup. My version of cacciucco di ceci is more on the stewy side as you can see, but just how brothy you like your cacciucco is really up to you. Just add more liquid for the simmer.

As a number of readers have pointed out, this dish is strikingly similar to a Ligurian dish called ceci in zimino. (The word zimino indicates a dish that’s been stewed with greens like this one.) But there are subtle differences: ceci in zimino starts with a soffritto of onion, carrot and celery, isn’t typically spicy and, probably most significant of all in terms of its taste profile, usually includes dried porcini mushrooms.

Italian Cooking Shows on YouTube

As mentioned, I found this recipe via YouTube. One of the best things about this virtual age we’re living in is the ability to reconnect with Italian cooking shows without traveling to Italy which is, as we all known, sadly impossible at the moment. I was a big fan back of the “Gambero Rosso” channel when I was living in Rome, and missed their cooking shows a lot when I moved to the US. Now I can enjoy them once more. They’re always relaxing and entertaining. And even after forty plus years of studying Italian cookery, I’m still discovering new dishes, like this recipe for cacciucco di ceci.

These days, in fact, there are more shows than ever. I watch quite a number, including my old favorite Gambero Rosso, as well as other major channels like the professionally produced Giallo Zafferano and Cookaround. But one rather less well known “homemade” channel that I really enjoy is Mollica’s Street Food, hosted by a feisty and charming Tuscan gal. Here’s her making cacciucco di ceci. It’s in Italian, of course, but it should be easy enough to follow along:

Other Italian food themed YouTube channels worth checking out include Mimmo Corcione, a musician by trade who presents Neapolitan dishes in the most charming manner imaginable, and Sfizi di Calabria, which as the name implies showcases the cuisine of Calabria. Both are also in Italian.

Italian cooking shows in English I really like include the fascinating and popular Pasta Grannies hosted by Vicky Bennison, who visits the homes of Italian nonne from all over Italy who prepare local pastas fatte in casa, and Vincenzo’s plate, hosted by the cheery Vincenzo Prosperi, born in Abruzzo and now based in Sydney.

Cacciucco di ceci

Tuscan Chickpea and Swiss Chard Soup
Course: Primo, Soup
Cuisine: Italian, Tuscan
Keyword: simmered, vegan, vegetarian

Ingredients

  • 400g 14 oz chickpeas pre-cooked or one large can
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard trimmed of the stems and shredded
  • 400g 14 oz tomatoes canned or fresh, crushed or milled
  • 1 small onion thinly sliced
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic minced
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 2-3 anchovy fillets optional

Toppings

  • Olive oil
  • Freshly grated black pepper
  • Grated parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino

Instructions

  • In a large pot, sauté the onion in a generous pour of olive oil over gentle heat, until it becomes soft and translucent. Add the garlic and let that, too, sauté until it just begins to give off its fragrance. (Add the anchovy at this point, too, if using, and let it 'melt'.)
  • Now add the shredded Swiss chard and give it a good turn so it is completely coated with the soffritto. Season with salt and pepper. Let the chard simmer for a few minutes, until it has wilted.
  • Add the chickpeas, drained of their liquid. (If using canned, rinse them as well.) Give them a turn and then add the tomatoes. Turn up the heat a bit to bring everything to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, topping up with water (or the chickpea cooking liquid if you've boiled them yourself) as needed.
  • Serve while still warm, with a drizzle of best quality olive, along with a good grinding of black pepper and freshly grated pecorino if you like, along with toasted slices of crusty bread, preferably homemade.

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33 Comments on “Cacciucco di ceci (Tuscan Chickpea and Swiss Chard Soup)”

  1. You know, I’ve never really gone into the world of Italian cooking shows on YouTube. You’ve inspired me to check ’em out as soon as I have a free minute. I love learning new recipes, and it’s awesome that you keep discovering new recipes yourself. I look to you as my expert on all things Italian cooking, and this soup/stew certainly doesn’t disappoint. It looks perfect for these early Autumn days when there’s a bit of chill in the air!

    1. They’re definitely worth checking out. Opens up a whole world. I should check to see if any of them have subtitles, but even if not since it’s cooking as I said anyone should be able to follow along and get the gist.

  2. What a wonderful recipe! I made this last night and substituted capers for the anchovies to get a little briny flavor while keeping it vegan. It was simply delicious! Thank you:)

  3. I thought I had left a comment, but maybe not, so here is mine: that I love the Pasta Grannies and this soup. I had planned to make it tonight, but other things got in the way. This weekend, for sure. And it is photogenic in my opinion.

  4. Hi Frank — Thanks for sharing this recipe. I love rustic soups like this because there is so much opportunity to customize them to what you have on hand. But at the same time they are distinct to a particular region or even family. I think ceci beans in a soup are great. Oh – and this is totally photo worthy! Your image is so appetizing!.
    — John

  5. Thanks for posting this Frank. I have all the ingredients I need (including fresh Swiss chard from my dad’s garden) and plan to make this in the next day or two. Thanks also for the Youtube recommendations. I am familiar with Pasta Grannies and love it, and even bought the book as a result. Now I have to try some of the others you mentioned.

  6. Definitely going to bookmark this tasty, hearty soup for more chillier days. Soups are not top of mind just yet, but winter will be here soon enough. I love the option of the kale because kale in soup is my absolute favourite! In Canada there seems to be a lot of salt added to canned legumes so I generally pre-soak and cook batches of legumes and freeze them for future use.

  7. Frank – first, this dish photographs beautifully, and you proved it. Really – it made me want a bowl immediately, and that doesn’t always happen with soups! Second, in my humble opinion, every meal is an important meal, whether it is soup and bread or Boeuf Wellington. The company is what always makes it special. This is really coming soon to my table – glad to see canned chickpeas are okay with you. Makes it much easier!

    Oh, and I love the pasta grannies. I have learned to make so many pasta forms from them – some successful, some not.

    1. Thanks for the kind words about the photo. And yes, canned chickpeas are a real convenience and, in my humble opinion, not much of a sacrifice in terms of taste and texture in you know how to handle them. Even fooled some Italian friends once when I served them pasta e ceci. But don’t tell them, they still don’t know… And yes, some of those homemade pastas take a lot of practice and patience. I’m currently perfecting my pici technique for an upcoming post. Harder than it looks!

  8. I love those pasta grannies. I have a couple of German YouTube cooks tha I really like. Anything with anchovies is fine with me.

  9. Thank you for your recipe . . . using chickpeas as often as I do this is already on its way to the kitchen – anchovy is a definite and the onion will be a large one 🙂 ! To me an ‘important dinner’ is one of carefully prepared good food . . . why can this not be served . . . ?

  10. Chickpeas are the only dried and legume that I use on a regular basis that I never cook, always use the canned version. The flavor is pretty similar, and so much more convenient (can’t say the same about the white bean family. This looks like a terrific recipe. Swiis chard is one of my favorite dark greens, and I’m always looking for new ways to use it. And we love soup — one of those thing we make a couple of times a week, at least, once fall weather rolls in. Good stuff — thanks.

  11. Frank, go back to your seppie in zimino recipe–this is actually ceci in zimino. I wonder if the You Tube link had it wrong. I’ve never heard of cacciucco di ceci–though there are a lot of things in the culinary world that I’ve never heard of. But ceci in zimino is a well-known dish from Livorno.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Nancy! You may well be right, but I did a bit of looking into this dish after I saw it on YouTube, and it would appear that cacciucco di ceci is its own legitimate dish, albeit very similar to ceci in zimino. As I’m sure you know, ceci in zimino usually starts with the typical soffritto italiano of onion, carrot and celery, includes dried mushrooms and isn’t typically spicy. Also understand that ceci in zimino is from Liguria, while this dish is Tuscan.

  12. That looks fantastic and I have a friend who’s growing some beautiful Swiss chard. No doubt I’ll be told to come round and cook it for her! Thanks for the Pasta Granny link – I love Nonnas with traditional recipes.

  13. Frank, I love watching Pasta Grannies and learn a lot from them as well. Your Cacciucco di ceci looks wonderful and plated in your colorful bowl makes it look even more inviting. Your soup is now on my must make soup list.

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