Insalata di Ceci
There is nothing that tickles all of the senses like an Insalata di Ceci – or Chickpea Salad, especially when it includes fresh aromatic ingredients like oranges and fennel (finocchio), two of my favorites. The scent of the oranges permeates the kitchen when you prepare this dish, along with the unmistakably lingering anise aroma of the fennel. The vivid colors tempt the eye, and the flavor of every component is distinct, each with its own level of crunch while at the same time combining together in harmony to bring the taste buds to crescendo.
Where best to enjoy this splendid mix of color and flavor? I choose outdoors! On the patio or al fresco is undeniably my favorite place to dine. There is something about the fresh air, balmy breezes if you’re lucky, and good company of the birds and bees around you. It reminds me of of those outdoor meals, alive with chatter, in Italy served on long tables in the open air, perhaps on the loggia, that go on for hours.
As a family, we often took meals together this way on our patio in Binghamton, NY, when the weather permitted, and usually frequently in the summertime. Italians don’t know the meaning of “a quick bite”. These events often lasted all afternoon on a summer Sunday, a bottle of vino rosso on hand, and about nine of us, including family members and several “strays”, all trying to out-shout each other over seemingly endless courses of flavorful food. Even with the cacophony, I am bound to that memory. Perhaps that is why I continue to seek any opportunity for dining outdoors – to recapture those moments. In the South, there are many nights offering just such a perfect temperature and setting, and I take advantage of every one.
The grill: Very often, on these evenings, my husband, Tom, takes to the grill with all proper utensils and does the “man thing” with a great steak or firm piece of fish. It is always my task to come up with an interesting side dish. Tired of green salads with all the usual suspects, chickpeas or “ceci” as Italians call them offer an interesting canvas on which to paint something different for the occasion. I love chickpeas! You can do almost anything with them – adding them to soups, stews, throw them in salads etc.
With grilling season about to launch in a major way, much scouting will begin for that different and fresh dish that is beautiful to look at and will also marry perfectly with seared and char-broiled meats and fish. Along with your grilled favorite, this Chickpea Salad is truly “ un matrimonio fatto in paradiso!” ( A marriage made in heaven!)
About Chickpeas: Read all about the health benefits of eating chickpeas at The World’s Healthiest Foods.
By any other name: Italians love ceci – not to be confused with Cheechi, Ciccio, or Cheech – your Italian buddy’s godfather. In almost every story about the Mafia, there is always a Cheech, and every true Italian knows at least one person with that name. Rather, the ceci we entertain for today’s dish are plump, round little beans with a soft but not mushy consistency. Known also as chickpeas or garbanzos, biting into ceci properly cooked is similar to biting into a soft nougat. They combine well with endless varieties of flavors. They are available in cans or in dried form. I like using the dried whenever possible, as they tend to maintain their substance, firmness, and full flavor. The canned are good “in a pinch” but, to me, are never as satisfying to cook with as the dried. They seem to lack the distinctive flavor, and run the risk of “mushing up” when tossed. Have you ever tried the dried form of these beans? Give it a shot! It is definitely worth the extra effort.
Today, we have Insalata di Ceci! This dish is not only delicious but also very fresh tasting. It makes a great side dish for your barbeque as well as that dish you promised to bring to Zia Maria’s christening party for her cousin’s daughter’s new baby. It just seems to go with everything. You can put it together a day ahead, and it will be the most attractive offering on the table. Troppo Bella! To illustrate how delicious this is, the last time I made it, my husband ate the leftover salad for breakfast.
Let’s begin now because we first must give the Ceci an overnight swim!
Insalata di Ceci
1 c. dried Chickpeas – soak in water to cover overnight – then drain
Place the soaked chickpeas in 2 1/2 qts of water with 3 cloves of garlic each cut in half, and 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt. Bring to boil and then simmer for a couple of hours. You will see a white foam form on the surface of the water. You can skim that off. Stir occasionally and add more water if getting dry. Drain the chickpeas and set aside.
Prepare 2 medium or 1 large fennel bulb as follows:Cut off the base and feathery green fronds. Peel outer layer.
Slice the bulb vertically and cut out the inner core.
Facing one half bulb downward toward the cutting board, slice horizontally across. Repeat with the other piece or pieces until completely sliced.
Grate the zest of 1 orange and put aside for the dressing.
Peel the orange and divide into single sections, cutting each section in 1/2.
In a bowl combine:
9 Peperoncini (these come in a jar)- sliced into rings with seeds removed or about ½ c. presliced Peperoncini rings
1/2 purple onion sliced thinly
1 c. pitted black olives or Kalamatas (amt. depends on how much you like black olives!)
5 Campari or Cherry tomatoes – cut into quarters
1/3 c. roughly chopped fresh basil
A little extra chopped fresh basil for the top of the salad for garnish
Add the chickpeas and toss.
1/3 c. Extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. Orange juice
Zest of 1 orange
1 clove garlic – chopped very finely
1 tsp. White Vinegar
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch Red Pepper Flakes
Whisk above ingredients, add to chickpea salad and toss well. Taste and correct seasoning to taste if required. Refrigerate until serving time.
Chickpea Salad can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. NOTE: if making ahead, taste and see if it needs re-seasoning before serving. Sometimes when the salad sits, it absorbs some flavor and needs a refresher.
See you on the patio!
PARLA COME MANGI!
Also: See the RECIPE OF THE MONTH on
Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography