All About Ceci Flour

All About Ceci Flour- by Lesa Sullivan

No good Italian cook is without his or her own favorite recipe for preparing beans.  Though ancient Romans considered the pulse to be peasant food, its presence in Italian cookery is considerable. Beans are boiled for elegant soups and rustic stews, whipped up into sweet confections, candied, mashed with olive oil and salt for a spread, roasted for crispy, salty snacks, and milled for flour.

As Marcella Hazan mentions in her book, Marcella Cucina, the preference for a particular kind of bean is regional.  Liguria, in particular, prefers the ceci to other popular Italian beans, like cannellini and borlotti beans.

The History of  the Ceci Beans

The Italian love for the Cicer arietinum (“little ram’s head”) doesn’t stop at the border. Dishes for ceci beans are found in most regions that ring the Mediterranean, as well as other nearby continents.  The  ceci  bean originated in the Middle East and migrated to India, Africa, Greece and Turkey and later to France, Spain and Italy.  Eventually they crossed over into the new world and were cultivated in Mexico.  The bean has made its way up the American continent and now these worldly beans are now cultivated here in the northern US.

Cooking with Ceci Bean Flour

Ligurian fried and baked goods  made from the finely milled flour of the ceci bean, called  farina di ceci.  Italian bakeries draw lines of people  who wait for the first warm bite of  Ceci Bean Focaccia, a baked cake of farina di ceci, olive oil and water.  It is eaten straight out of the pan, or  sliced into pieces, topped with thinly sliced onion or cheese or herbs and broiled. Waverley Root in the book, The Food of Italy, describes a polenta-style preparation called fritura di crema.

It begins with a sofrito of parsley and onions, to which the flour is added along with hot milk or cream.  It is stirred until it becomes very thick.  Egg yolks are beaten in and the mixture is turned out onto a plate to cool.  It is then dipped into the whisked whites of the egg,  dredged in cornmeal and deep fried.

Or try the simpler Ceci Bean Polenta (Panissa) – popular in Liguria region of Italy. Panelle, or farina de ceci fritters, is a favorite snack food southern Italy.  Again, the flour is mixed only with water and oil (or combined with sugar for a sweet treat), making a batter thick enough to scoop up in spoonfuls and fry.  The dough can be refrigerated to allow it to “set” a bit.  Once cooked, the panelle is eaten right away. In southern France, farina di ceci (in French, farine de pois chiches ) is a necessary ingredient in socca, a savory crepe.  In India it is called gram flour or besan, and it is used to make pakora. Shoroe,  a sauce made from chickpea flour and mixed with anise seed, ginger and turmeric, is a common Sephardic dish from Ethiopia.

Here in the US, creative gluten-free cooks  have discovered the joys of this versatile flour.  Combined with other flours such as fava bean, rice and nut flours, it can create a lofty and tender bread or a crunchy cracker. You can try making your own Ceci and Rice Flour Crackers. It is easier than you might think – the hard part is finding the flour. Even if you’re not living gluten free,  farina di ceci is an excellent thickener, and can be mixed with water as an egg substitute, and you can even use it to make a silky version of hummus. The flavor of farina di ceci varies depending on the way it’s used:  when toasted it’s very sweet, when baked in crackers or bread it has a pleasant buttery flavor.  Cooked as a thin batter over very high heat it takes on an egg-like consistency and taste.  Whether it’s used as a substitute for wheat flour or in a traditional chickpea flour recipe, the taste is very smooth and pleasant.

Ceci Bean Flour – A Nutritious Alternative to Wheat Flour

The flour, like the whole beans  themselves, is very high in protein, iron, trace minerals and “good” carbs.  The soluble fiber is very good for stabilizing blood sugar, and its insoluble fiber is excellent for preventing digestive disorders like diverticulitis.  When eaten regularly, it can help lower your LDL cholesterol and lower your risk for heart attack.  But eating this wonderfully versatile flour only for its health benefits is like eating ice cream only to get more calcium; the sheer pleasure of cooking with farina di ceci is its own reward. Click here to find organic  Ceci Beans Click here to find organic Ceci Bean Flour (c)®, 2012

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