The “ceci ripieni”, literally “chickpeas filled” are traditionally prepared in the area of Sulmona during the Christmas festivity period. The peculiarity of their unique flavour and taste is mainly given by an unusual combination of ingredients. In particular the filling made of chickpeas and chocolate represents an amazing taste discovery. This strange union of ingredients comes from the past when chocolate was an expensive food for the local rural community. So they had the smart idea to blend it with mashed chickpeas, cheaper and more available, to increase the filling volume and to reduce, at the same time, the necessary amount of chocolate. This was particularly true considering that every family was used to prepare dozens of these sweets. In fact they were not only consumed within the family but also donated as a gift to friends or offered to the people visiting the house during the festivity.
This fantastic ingredient introduces an amazing bouquet of fragrances making refined every recipe. It is traditionally prepared during the grape harvest. In particular it is prepared boiling for almost one day the raw juice squeezed from the grapes. When the partially caramelized liquid reaches a proper level of concentration it is subsequently cooled down and bottled for preservation. The cooked grape must represents also the main raw ingredient of the typical Italian Balsamic vinegar. The use of the cooked must is fundamental, however since it could be difficult to source it can be replaced by honey. However be aware that the recipe will lose its tradition and the taste will significantly change.
To make the “ceci ripieni” recipe gluten free just replace the wheat flour with a gluten free one (e.g. ⅓ Rice flour, 1/3 Tapioca flour and 1/3 Potato starch) adding a proper amount of xanthan gum (i.e.1 gr every 100 gr of flour).
The traditional recipe illustrated in this post is a typical formula, however each family, and sometime also members of it, is proud of its own nuances or modifications. To make the best “ceci ripieni” becomes a real competition!
Weigh the dried chickpeas and keep them in a bowl completely covered by water for one night. The day after remove the water, wash them and put all into a stockpot. Heat, cover the pot and bring it to a gentle boiling till they become tender. Depending on the chickpeas type it will need 1 or 2 hours of simmer.
Once ready cool down the chickpeas to mash them and grate the dark chocolate or gently melt it. Subsequently mix together the mashed chickpeas with the dark chocolate, the cocoa powder, the sugar, the cinnamon and the candied cedar. The latter must be finely chopped in small cubes. This ingredient is optional and depends on the individual preferences. Eventually, to properly combine all the ingredients add the cooked must and mix everything vigorously. You can use a stand mixer to help. It is important to obtain a filling which is not too dry or too wet, so add the cooked must gradually and stop when the proper texture is reached.
Mix the flour with the sugar. Traditionally these ingredients were put on a big wooden board called “spianatúr” making a shape of a small volcano. It can be similarly arranged on a clean table. Break and put the two eggs in the crater of the flour and sugar mix volcano and start to beat them with a fork. Add the lemon zest. This ingredient is optional. Gradually add the flour and sugar mix from the border of crater. When the dough is solid enough, work it with the hands adding gradually the white wine and finally the olive oil. Depending on the type of flour you could have to add some milk to obtain the proper texture. A stand mixer can be used to help.
Divide the dough in smaller parts and make thin sheets properly using a rolling pin. A good thickness is in a range of 2 ÷ 4 mm. However this is the part of the process where the experience becomes important. Create circles from the sheets using a dedicated tool or with a small bowl as an alternative. When all the dough has been used put a proper amount of stuffing on each circle. Subsequently, one by one wet the border with milk or water and close the pastry making an half moon shape. Press the borders to seal and remove the air trapped inside. Heat the oil up to about 170°C. Depending on the oil it is important to be close to the oil smoke point without exceed it. Deep fry the “ceci ripieni” until they reach a “golden” color. Put them in a bowl with absorbent paper layer to remove the oil and spread raw sugar before to move the final container.