The Best Pasta Topping Besides Cheese? More Pasta, But Fried.
Meat was once scarce in the southern Italian region of Puglia — but that didn’t mean that its classic dishes lacked in heartiness.
Just look at ciceri e tria. In true cucina povera fashion, the Pugliese enriched the flavor and mouthfeel of this brothy pasta dish, consisting of fresh tagliatelle and whole and mashed chickpeas, with what they had on hand: more pasta — this time, deep-fried into crispy, golden-brown ribbons called frizzuli. These fried filaments contrasted with the chewy pasta and smooth chickpea sauce so satisfyingly that the primo piatto is famous to this day.
The frizzuli are just one tasty component of this wholesome dish, which is believed to be Arab in origin. Two clues are the name and the cooking process itself (tria likely derives from itriyah, an Arabic word for pasta, while ciceri means chickpeas in Pugliese dialect). Arabs have long been known to preserve grains by drying them and frying them in animal fat — and they’re the ones who introduced dried semolina pasta to Italy by way of Sicily as early as the 1100s.
The dish is old and its flavor can best be described as ancient. The chickpeas, simmered slowly with rosemary, celery, and other aromatics, taste sun-baked and earthy, while the golden color of the frizzuli evokes the terracotta pots once used to prepare the dish (some nonne still use them today, which you can fall into a rabbit hole watching on YouTube).
Ciceri e tria is traditionally served on March 19 in celebration of Saint Joseph’s Day, when families in the Salento area of Puglia set their tables with food for the hungry. Inexpensive and widely available, the pasta and chickpeas combine to form a complete protein without any animal products — and they keep you full for hours. It’s a dish for the poor that doesn’t leave you wanting, which must be why it can now be found year-round on nearly every menu in the Salentina city of Lecce.
The chewiness of the pasta, made by hand with warm water and durum flour, is delightful. Each soft strand, whose thickness falls somewhere between tagliatelle and pappardelle depending on the cook, is like absorbent silk that swipes up the velvety chickpea sauce. Making the tria is actually one…