Here’s a simple dish from Puglia, and more specifically from the Salento, at the very heel of the Italian boot. If you had to sum it up in a couple of words, you’d say ciceri e tria was pasta and chickpeas. And you’d be right, but you’d also be missing out on what makes this dish distinctive.
Tria is the name for a local ribbon shaped pasta, much less known than orecchiette or cavatelli but equally treasured by the Pugliesi. Made from semolina flour and water, tria is often translated as “tagliatelle”, but they are actually quite different. You make them without eggs and cut them into ribbons rather thicker, wider and shorter than tagliatelle. In a word, tria is more “rustic”, with a chewier and more substantial mouthfeel and a pleasantly nutty flavor.
But what makes ciceri e tria really stand out is the cooking technique which is, as far as I know, unique in Italian cookery. You take some of the pasta and, instead of boiling it, you shallow fry it until golden brown. You boil the rest as usual and mix it with simply cooked chickpeas. Then you place the fried tria on top for decoration. The diner mixes things everything together as they tuck into the dish.
The combination of textures—the creamy chickpeas, the chewy boiled tria and crispy fried tria—is a real knock out. No wonder the Pugliesi treasure ciceri e tria as an icon of their regional cookery. What’s surprising is, the dish is so little known elsewhere.
Ciceri e tria are traditional for St. Joseph’s Day on March 19, but it’s a dish you can happily eat year round. It’s just that good.
To cook the chickpeas:
- 250g (1/2 lb) dried chickpeas
- A medium onion, cut in half
- 1-2 carrots
- 1-2 stalks of celery
- A bay leaf
- A sprig of thyme
To make the pasta:
- 300 g (10 oz) finely ground semolina flour (semola rimacinata)
To finish the dish:
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, slightly crushed and peeled
- 1-2 peperoncini or a pinch of red pepper flakes
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- A few cherry tomatoes, split in two (optional)
Soak the dried chickpeas overnight, ideally 12 hours or more. Drain.
Put the chickpeas in a large pot (traditionally it would be a tall terracotta pot called a pignata) and cover with water by about five fingers. Add the rest of the listed ingredients . Bring to a simmer and cook over gentle heat until the chickpeas are tender. (In the alternative, cook under pressure for 20-30 minutes and let cool naturally.)
Mix the flour and salt, then add in enough water to make a pliable but firm dough. Knead for a good five minutes until you have a perfectly smooth ball of dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
Uncover the pasta and roll it out, but not too thinly, into a sheet or sheets about 3mm thick. (If you’re using a pasta machine or attachment, this corresponds to the 3 setting.) Set aside to dry. When the pasta has dried out enough that it has lost any stickiness, cut the sheets into strips about 10-15 cm/4-6 inches long.
To finish the dish, in a large braiser or sauté pan, gently sauté the garlic and hot pepper until the garlic is just beginning to brown around the edges. If using the cherry tomatoes, add them now and let them melt a bit in the scented oil.
Then, with a slotted spoon, transfer the chickpeas to the scented oil, and turn them to coat them well with the oil. Simmer for a few minutes. Add enough of the chickpeas’ cooking liquid so that the chickpeas are just covered. Continue simmering, crushing some of the chickpeas against the side of the pan so they melt into and thicken the liquid. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
While the chickpeas are simmering. take about 1/3 of the tria and fry them until golden brown in abundant olive oil, in a skillet wide enough to hold them all in a single layer. If need be, proceed in batches. As they brown, transfer the fried pasta to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
Take the remaining pasta and cook it briefly in well salted water, in the usual manner. Drain the boiled pasta and transfer it to the pan with the simmering chickpeas. Mix everything well, adding another ladleful of the chickpea cooking liquid if things look a bit dry.
Serve, topped with the fried pasta, and serve right away.
Notes on Ciceri e tria
Regular readers know that I don’t object to convenience foods, whether it’s canned beans or frozen vegetables or store bought pasta. But this is one dish you’ll want to make from scratch. Since they have minimal seasoning, the chickpeas themselves need to really shine. And, as you will have read, their cooking liquid is an important part of the condimento for the pasta.
I’d strongly recommend the pasta, too, be homemade. Much of the charm of ciceri e tria lies in the nuttiness and chewiness of the semolina, and you won’t get that from tagliatelle or other store bought pastas. To make the job easier, I use a standing mixer for making the dough, then use attachments for rolling it out and cutting it up into strips. The fettuccine attachment works well, even if fettuccine is a bit narrower than tria typically is. (See my post on homemade pasta for details.)
Speaking of the pasta, be sure to use the finely ground semolina flour called semola rimacinata di grano duro in Italian. Most semolina flour sold here in the US is rather coarsely ground. It’s what you want for making gnocchi alla romana but it’s not ideal for pasta, lending an unpleasant gritty texture to it. I never did understand why it caught on as a pasta flour. Whatever the reason, as a consequence finely ground semolina flour is exceedingly rare to find in stores. Fortunately, you can buy it from amazon.com an outlet like gustiamo.com.
While most well known Italian dishes come in variations, the number of variations on ciceri e tria is truly mindblogging. To begin with, the aromatics you cook the chickpeas with. Some recipes call for onion only, others for onion and celery, others like this one the whole “trinity” of onion, celery and carrot, plus herbs. In some cases, a bit of oil is added too. Tomato is optional, as indicated, but bear in mind if you do tomato, use just a bit. Most renditions of ciceri e tria are entirely in bianco.
In many recipes, probably the more traditional ones I surmise, you add the pasta—the portion you don’t fry, that is—directly to the pot where you’ve simmered the chickpeas and finish the dish from there. You do save dirtying two additional pots, but personally, I like this recipe. It lets you flavor the chickpeas in a soffritto while eliminating the excess starch by parboiling the pasta separately before mixing them with the chickpeas.
The ratio of chickpea to pasta varies enormously. And, as mentioned, recipes will also vary on how much of the pasta gets fried vs boiled. It can be as little as just a handful or as much as half. And you can decide how much of the fried pasta you mix with the rest of the dish and how much you reserve as topping. In some recipes, all the fried pasta gets mixed in, in others a portion and in yet others (like this one) all the fried pasta gets placed on top. And then, the tria itself can vary a bit in length and width and thickness. And finally in some recipes, the pasta you plan to fry gets made extra wide, then twisted into pretty spirals, a bit like chiacchiere, and placed on top of the pasta. Extra pretty!
Ciceri e tria
To cook the chickpeas
- 250g 1/2 lb dried chickpeas
- 1 medium onion cut in half
- 1-2 carrots
- 1-2 stalks of celery
- A bay leaf
- A sprig of thyme
To make the pasta
- 300g 10 oz finely ground semolina flour (semola rimacinata)
To finish the dish
- 1-2 cloves of garlic slightly crushed and peeled
- 1-2 peperoncini or a pinch of red pepper flakes
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- A few cherry tomatoes split in two (optional)
- Soak the dried chickpeas overnight, ideally 12 hours or more. Drain.
- Put the chickpeas in a large pot (traditionally it would be a tall terracotta pot called a pignata) and cover with water by about five fingers. Add the rest of the listed ingredients . Bring to a simmer and cook over gentle heat until the chickpeas are tender. (In the alternative, cook under pressure for 20-30 minutes and let cool naturally.)
- Mix the flour and salt, then add in enough water to make a pliable but firm dough. Knead for a good five minutes until you have a perfectly smooth ball of dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
- Uncover the pasta and roll it out, but not too thinly, into a sheet or sheets about 3mm thick. (If you're using a pasta machine or attachment, this corresponds to the 3 setting.) Set aside to dry. When the pasta has dried out enough that it has lost any stickiness, cut the sheets into strips about 10-15 cm/4-6 inches long.
- To finish the dish, in a large braiser or sauté pan, gently sauté the garlic and hot pepper until the garlic is just beginning to brown around the edges. If using the cherry tomatoes, add them now and let them melt a bit in the scented oil.
- Then, with a slotted spoon, transfer the chickpeas to the scented oil, and turn them so they are well covered with the oil. Simmer for a few minutes. Add enough of the chickpeas' cooking liquid so that the chickpeas are just covered. Continue simmering, crushing some of the chickpeas against the side of the pan so they melt into and thicken the liquid. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
- While the chickpeas are simmering. take about 1/3 of the tria and fry them until golden brown in abundant olive oil, in a skillet wide enough to hold them all in a single layer. If need be, proceed in batches. As they brown, transfer the fried pasta to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
- Take the remaining pasta and cook it briefly in well salted water, in the usual manner. Drain the boiled pasta and transfer it to the pan with the simmering chickpeas. Mix everything well, adding another ladleful of the chickpea cooking liquid if things look a bit dry.
- Serve, topped with the fried pasta, and serve right away.
Frank, can you shed some light on which regions might or might not serve a grated cheese as a condiment for soups? Our Marchegiani family in Houston served Parmesan with both passatelli and a butterbean/vermicelli soup my grandmother made in the traditional soffrito way. What are your observations?
As far as I’m aware, it’s more a matter of whether the specific soup calls for grated cheese rather than the region in general. Certain kinds of soups really don’t go with cheese, such as creme (veloutés) and many of the bread soups called zuppe. And of course, individual tastes vary, too.
The type of cheese tends to change per region, with Parmesan dominant in the north while pecorino or caciocavallo more prevalent in the south. At least traditionally, as these days regional variations tend to get blurred. And in the south, for some pastas (not so much soups) grated cheese gives way to sautéed breadcrumbs. That’s not something I’ve seen in northern pasta dishes.
Thanks so much. I’m new to your food site, and I absolutely love your attention to the regional particulars of Italian cooking. That’s hard to come by and crucial to respect. Thank you!
Just when I thought I couldn’t love pasta more, then you tell me that it can be pan fried raw?!?!?! I am totally intrigued by this recipe. I think I even have semolina flour and dried chickpeas!!! I do have a pressure cooker but I just got an induction range and unfortunately it doesn’t work on it so I was going to donate it. But, I think I’ll keep it so I can make this dish (using a metal converter disk).
Hope you like it, Eva! And by the way, assuming you have the counterspace, I’d heartily recommend an electric pressure cooker. I love mine (a Breville) and hardly ever use my stovetop pressure cookers any more. Cool that you got an induction range. I’ve been curious about induction for a while now.
Wow, now that’s a new one on me, but ever so intriguing with the combination of textures. At first, I thought I was looking at those fried things they sometimes give you at Chinese restaurants! LOL! Thanks for introducing me to a new dish.
Funny, I thought of that comparison, too!
We know mlinci but this sounds equally tasty. Must take out my pasta machine ! This week end !
I think you’d enjoy it. 🙂
I have never cooked this one, I really should try (considering its iconic status). Another unusual pasta, from the North, is mlinci: a polenta flour egg pasta that is first toasted and then boiled – equally curious (and delicious)(in my blog, somewhere)
Yes, I do remember that post. If I remember correctly, the pasta is toasted then briefly boiled? Intriguing idea…
Sounds delicious – I’d be tempted to get the pasta machine out right now if I hadn’t just had lunch!
Ha! Well, there’s always dinner… Thanks for stopping by!
I think I will be always amazed by how many pasta shapes and recipe variations Italian cuisine offers! While I’ve tried the combo of pasta and chickpeas, frying pasta for a crunchy topping is something new to me. Delicious!
The variety is amazing, Ben. They say there are at least 350 different types and shapes of pasta, so the list goes on and on… Thanks for stopping by!
What a unique dish, Frank! This one is new to me, although that’s not surprising given your notes in this post about how this is a well-kept secret of Puglia. Frying that pasta trying is different, and I can see how that would bring different textures and taste to this recipe. As always, you’ve got my mouth watering for Italian food…and it’s only 7am here. Thanks for sharing this one!
Ha! Well I’ve been known to eat pasta for breakfast so I’m not surprised, lol! Thanks for the comment, David. Hope you give it a try.
What an amazing dish! Using the same kind of pasta to add texture is just brilliant! People used to be more resourceful back in the days in order to make their everyday lunch resulting to a more creative cuisine. Thus making local signature dishes that last to these days! A huge respect to these people! Thank you for another great post dear Frank 🙂
Absolutely! This is a prime example of the ingenuity of Italian home cooks, who managed to come up with an incredible variety of dishes from a fairly limited number of humble ingredients. I never ceased to be amazed.
Have never put pasta and chickpeas together in a hot dish and never made pasta quite like this – two reasons to be curious and put the recipe atop my kitchen pile to try the first wet weekend 🙂 ! Did not think a dish so different could present so ‘new’ . . . . .
If you’ve never had chickpeas and pasta, Eha, you really do need to try it right away! It’s a match made in heaven, if you ask me. And this variation is particularly enjoyable. It is amazing how much variety there is in Italian cookery in general, working with the same or similar ingredients in different ways.
Well, Frank, I wish I had seen your post before I posted the version from Milk Street. This is exactly why I don’t like the magazine – they dumb it down and said to use tagliatelle. Had I known that a.) this was called Ciceri e Tria and b.) it called for “tria” and not tagliatelle, I would have looked further. Mark says I have ot make this again AND make the pasta!
I’d be curious to hear how you like the original version, David! But heck, even if the Milk Magazine rendition was dumbed down, as you say, chances are you did enjoy it. And that’s the important thing.
I really love all you posts. I am Kosher and a Pescatarian so I don’t make everything you
send out. But I still like to read about the different foods. i love Italian Food, so diverse.
About the new recipe Ciceri e tria. I don’t have a pasta machine and don’t really have time
to make the pasta. Can I use dried wide pasta and still saute some of it and boil the rest?
Thank you so much for your kind words, Dolores. Of course you can use wide dried pasta if you don’t have time to make the pasta. Not durum wheat pasta, mind you, which will be too hard. You’ll need to use packaged fettuccine made with eggs. As I explained, it has a different taste and texture but no doubt you’ll have made a nice pasta dish.
Wow, this is such a unique dish for sure! Reminds me of tortilla soup with the crispy pasta on top. I’m all about crunch and texture in otherwise soft foods (hope I never lose all my teeth!) Would love to try this dish, and of course, going to Puglia to try it would be even more amazing!
Yes, that would be amazing, once things open up again…
Wow. What a dish! I really like combing pasta with dried legumes or pulses, and this pairing looks spectacular. What I don’t do, though, is fry some of the pasta to use as a topping. Such a wonderful idea! Really neat recipe — thanks.
You’re welcome! It is a nice way to mix up the usual pasta and legume routine a bit.
I must get a pasta machine! To quote Sophia Petrillo, “Picture it, Fort Lauderdale, 2010. A young peasant boy with eyes the color of chestnuts makes up for being held up at the office to his Christmas Week guests tells them, ‘Pick a recipe, any recipe, & I’ll make it after I get done at work.’ The friend chooses hand-torn pasta made with semolina. They laugh, they dance, they drink vino, then they go to the recipe. They mix, they chill in the fridge, then the guest reveals to the host ‘Oh, I don’t think this recipe is really hand torn. We need a pasta machine! Or else roll with a rolling pin.’ There was neither pasta maker or rolling pin. A bottle of wine had to be used instead of it. The host, smiling but angry, went along with the fiasco. The end product looked like small, thick cornflakes; they rested in the stomach like lead. That peasant boy was me, & that guest was his publisher to whom he couldn’t say no.” 😂😂😂
Hilarious, Sebastian! Pretty ingenuous to use a wine bottle, it would never have even occurred to me. 😆
Lately, Ive had trouble getting my dried chickpea to cook through enough to be considered “soft and creamy”. I sometimes let them soak for as long as 24 hours! Ive also noticed the chickpeas available in the USA are smaller than those in Italy where I know many are imported from the Americas. Do you have any info on sourcing good Ceci online. Thanks
Chickpeas can be very hard. I think it’s more a matter of age than type. The longer they’ve been sitting around, the harder they will be. And in this day and age when few people bother to make their beans from scratch, dried beans (of any kind) will sit on the shelf for quite a long time. One traditional method for softening chickpeas that may be past their prime is to add a pinch of bicarbonate of soda to the soaking water. (NB: I haven’t tried this myself.)
But to get to your question, I usually get my chickpeas from gustiamo.com. Here’s the link. A bit pricey but you won’t have any trouble cooking them. And they have great taste.
if you have it, try and cook them in the pressure cooker- they always end up creamy. On bicarbonate of soda: personally I dislike it, but there is also many people who swear by it (I did try it few times and I was always able to taste it in the end). I soak my ceci for 24 hours in salted water and I then pressure cook them for 15 minutes. I
Thanks, Frank; a most interesting example of resourceful, creative use of otherwise humble ingredients.. culinary alchemy! It brings to mind a similar recipe incorprating the key ingredients… lagane (a broad noodle about as wide as pappardelle) and ceci (or “ciceri” in dialect).
Thanks, Al! Yes, it is indeed a very similar dish, with the key differences of course, being the frying of the pasta here and the lagane, as you say, being a wider noodle than tria.