There’s nothing so satisfying yet so quick and simple than the combination of pasta and some sort of legume–beans, peas or, in this case, ceci (chickpeas). And, as you probably know, the combination makes for a complete protein with plenty of fiber and no cholesterol. This kind of thing is a stand by weekday dinner in our house, especially in the cooler months.
- 1 clove of garlic, slightly crushed
- 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
- Olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pot)
- 2-3 canned tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1 large can (ca. 500g/1 lb.) of chickpeas
- 200g (7 oz.) ditalini or other small ‘soup’ pasta
- 250 ml (1 cup) water or broth, or enough to cover
- Salt and pepper
- 50g (2 oz.) pancetta, cubed
- 1 peperoncino (or chile de árbol)
- A small handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
- Grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
Sauté the garlic clove in olive oil with a sprig of rosemary—and if you want, the chopped pancetta, red pepper and/or parsley. (Each of these adds another layer of flavor.)
When the aroma of the garlic and rosemary begins wafting about, add the tomato (add more if you like, depending on how ‘red’ you want the dish) and simmer for a few minutes. Add the can of ceci, well drained and rinsed, and allow them to insaporire (absorb the flavors of the tomato and aromatics) for 5 minutes or so.
Then add water or broth to cover the ceci, simmer for another 5 minutes. To thicken the soup, either crush some of the chickpeas against the side of the pot or, for a more refined effect, scoop up about a third of them and pass them through a food mill back into the pot. They will ‘melt’ into the liquid and thicken the soup.
Then add the pasta, which you should boil separately until slightly underdone. I usually use ditalini (also known as tubetti) but other small ‘soup’ pastas will also do fine (see below). Simmer for a minute or two more.
When the pasta is cooked al dente, turn off the heat (adding a bit more water if needed) and cover the pot and allow it to rest for 3-5 minutes. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil or a good grinding of black pepper–or both. Some folks like to add grated cheese on top.
You can use any type of pasta that suits your own taste, but to my mind short, stubby (but not tiny) pasta shapes work best. Ditalini or conchiglette (small shells) come to mind. Typical with all kinds of pasta and bean combinations is to use bits and pieces of different leftover pastas that have been broken up to a more or less uniform size. (I put the pasta in a bag and bang it with a meat pounder or the back of a heavy skillet.) Broken pieces of linguine or spaghetti will also do fine. For a more elegant dish, a pasta all’uovo like maltagliati would be nice. How much pasta should you use? I would suggest using either a 1:2 or 1:1 pasta to chickpeas ratio by weight, depending on the effect you want.
Of course, the dish will be even better if you cooked the ceci yourself. This will require quite a bit more time, however, as they need to soak for a long time–a full 24 hours–and then require a simmering of several hours. To be honest, I rarely bother as I find the somewhat subtle difference in taste does not justify the extra time and effort.
Pasta e ceci can be served very thick, more a pasta dish than a soup, or as a true soup. Just adjust the amount of water you use and, as mentioned, the ratio of pasta to chickpeas. Remember that the pasta will continue to absorb water as it cooks and even during the final resting, so calculate accordingly. But no need to worry too much, you can always just add a bit more water just before serving to ‘loosen’ the dish if it’s thickened too much–in which case it is best to reheat it quickly before serving. But even as a soup, the dish should not have a thin or brothy quality–the pureed ceci should provide a nice liaison.
For a more ‘refined’ version of this dish, use only a bit of tomato and omit the red pepper altogether, and after you’ve let the chickpeas simmer a bit to insaporire, remove about half and process or blend them with water to form a cream. Add that back into the pot, then add water to thin the whole to a smooth creamy soupy consistency. Boil broken up pappardelle, maltagliati, tagliatelle or, popular in Campanian cooking, laganelle, separately, then add to the soup for a few minutes for the flavors to meld. Add more water if need be to produce a smooth creamy result.
The dish can also be made entirely in bianco–without any tomato–and it is also very good that way. There is a closely related Neapolitan version of this dish called lampi e tuoni (thunder and lightning–a humorous reference to the effect of the chickpeas) that I will blog about some day soon.