Throughout my childhood, my Italian Grandmother always tried to get me to eat chick peas. On salads, in soups, anywhere she could fit ‘em. It wasn’t enough for her that I ate nearly anything else she put in front of me, in fact, she just used that as ammunition (“But you eat smelt sandwiches!” she would cry.) No matter what she did, or how she presented them, chick peas remained my one culinary hold out (luckily she never tried to get me to eat cottage cheese – I am still holding out on that one till this day).
Twenty years later, and enter a very-Italian boyfriend and his Mother. It mattered not a lick to these people that I was part Italian (“But I’ve been to Italy!” I would cry, “I make my own sauce! My Grandma’s maiden name is Santamaria!!”) It was all for naught. My hair was too red, my eyes were too blue, my skin was too fair, my name too…not-Italian. Thus, very-Italian boyfriend’s mother took every chance she could to teach me the ways of these mysterious Italian people and their culture.
Did I know that Christmas brought the feast of the Seven Fishes? (Yes)
Did I know to drop the “a” on every Italian word imaginable, like “Mozzarell“, and “Ricott“? (Well, that’s actually more of an Italian-Americanism, but I’ll give it to you)
Did I know that in some parts of Italy, salad is often served after the meal? (Yes, cause I have been there. Have you?)
It was only be a matter of time before these people tried to make me eat chick peas.
They sat on the kitchen table of his Nana’s house. In a small little bowl, accompanied by wafer-thin crostini. “Aren’t you going to try the Ceci Beans, Kitty? They are pronounced Cheeeee-Cheeee…” (I know). These people came from an era where it was still a grand insult to your host to not eat what was put in front of you. There stood the dreaded chick peas, ironically enough, as the true test of my Italian heritage. Nana fixed a tiny plate for me, I held my breath, and took a bite.
A bite, as it turns out, of Chick Pea Nirvana. I didn’t know they were so nutty! And smooth on the inside! Or how perfectly they went with the intense taste of raw garlic, the zingy lemon, the crunch of the thinly sliced celery! I ate with abandon. Nana had to get more bread. That lemony olive oil that sat at the bottom of the dish couldn’t be wasted, I sopped it up with whatever that woman would put on the table.
“I like her”, Nana told very-Italian boyfriend. “Good appetite.”
Kitty’s Ceci Bean Salad
serves 1 hungry girl
1 fourteen ounce can chick peas
1 clove garlic
juice of 1/2 large lemon
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 quarter English cucumber (optional), chopped
really good olive oil
kosher salt & black pepper to taste
Drain and rinse the chick peas. In a bowl, grate the raw garlic using a microplane grater, getting every last bit you can (but not cutting your finger). Add the juice of the lemon, and a few generous glugs of olive oil (this is a salad, so use the best olive oil that you have, it really will make a difference). Whisk together, add the remaining ingredients, and toss. Chick Pea Nirvana.