Pasta e ceci

After this month's chocolate cake with sticky sweet caramel icingbrown sugar baked apples wrapped in buttery pastry, and pumpkin doughnuts fried and then dipped in a powdered sugar glaze, well, I thought perhaps it was time to give your teeth and tummies a break with something a bit more wholesome, a lot less sugary, and a touch more Italian to shake up the American recipes lately. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: pasta e ceci.

Pasta e ceci (pasta and chickpeas in broth) is a Roman classic, and Italian cuisine at its best -- its simple and straightforward, no fuss or frills, yet still manages to be incredibly delicious and flavorful. Its a dish with endless variations, too -- in the course of my pasta e ceci research, I came across versions that called for anchovies, melted into the olive oil as the first step of the recipe; recipes that included passata (crushed tomatoes); recipes that called for different sorts of pasta, from spaghetti to broken pieces of lasagne. Many recipes left the chickpeas whole, while some recommended they be pureed, and while we're on the topic of the chickpeas, how to cook them?! The majority of pasta e ceci recipes I came across used dried chickpeas left to soak in water for at least 12 hours, then drained and left to cook in more water for another 45 minutes or so. While there's nothing wrong with this method, I'd like to not have to plan so far in advance to have my pasta e ceci fix, especially since this is the sort of dish I want when I'm craving something cozy after a long day at work. I don't know about you, but 765 minutes standing between me and my pasta e ceci seems kind of steep on a weeknight (raise your hand if you're with me!)

And then I stumbled upon this recipe, from Rachel Roddy, expat, blogger, and top authority on Roman food here in the Eternal City, author of two cookbooks with a cooking column in the Guardian to boot. Rachel is also responsible for this stellar lemon, ricotta, olive oil cake, as well as this spot-on tonnarelli cacio e pepe. When it comes to pasta e ceci, well, she seems to have understood my dilemma, providing a recipe for a quicker, more practical version of the dish, one that is more 28-year-old-working-full-time than Italian nonna, with none of the goodness or appeal of the dish lost. This pasta e ceci calls for canned (tinned, as Rachel says -- British English) chickpeas instead of dried ones (no lengthy soaking required!) half of which are pureed along with the other soup ingredients, resulting in a thicker, smoother textured pasta e ceciThe recipe still leaves room for variation, too, proving just how flexible this dish is -- throw in a potato if you'd like, add a pinch of chili flakes if you want some heat, or toss in a rind of Parmesan if you have it. The resulting dish is the most comforting of comfort food dinners, marvelous with a little extra grated cheese and a dash of olive oil over the top to serve. The leftovers, if there are any, are fantastic for lunch the next day, and wait there's more! Unlike the past few recipes I've posted, its pretty nutritious, too (unless we count the apple here as fruit and the pumpkin here as a vegetable...) 

A couple of notes: If you want to take the scenic route to your pasta e ceci, do check out Rachel's other recipe hereThe carrot I listed in the ingredients below is not part of her original recipe, but I happened to have a lone carrot hanging about in my fridge and threw it in to the pot, and I'm happy I did (it added a little color too). If you're skeptical about the use of water instead of broth here, the water makes the soup taste overall lighter and allows the other ingredients to shine, plus lets you control the salt content. Rachel also says you can use lasagna sheets, broken up (about 200 grams of them or nearly 8 ounces) in place of the ditalini or small pasta. 

Looking for other soup recipes? I've got this Chickpea, Sausage, and Kale Soup, this Pasta e Fagioli, this Turkey, White Bean, and Spinach Soup, and this Tomato Basil Soup. Want other recipes with beans? I've also got this Insalata di Tonno e Fagioli and this Hummus.

PASTA E CECI

Ingredients:
(2) 400 gram cans of chickpeas
1 small onion
1 stick of celery
1 carrot, peeled (optional)
1 small potato, peeled (optional)
Salt
6 tablespoons (about 1/3 cup or 84 grams) extra virgin olive oil
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon tomato paste
A small pinch of dried red chili flakes (optional)
5 cups (1.2) litres water
A pinch of salt
A parmesan rind (optional but recommended!)
3/4 cup (120 grams) small dried pasta such as tubetti or ditalini

Black pepper

Directions:
Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Dice the carrot, onion and celery. Cut the potato into chunks. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based pot over medium-low heat, and saute the onion and celery until slightly softened. Add the potato and stir to coat with the olive oil, then add the rosemary, tomato paste, and chili (if you are using it). Stir everything together and cook for a minute. Next, add the chickpeas, stir again, and add your water, a pinch of salt, and the parmesan rind (if you're using it). Bring this mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the soup for 20 minutes.

Using a ladle to help you, remove half the soup from the pan and puree it in a blender -- be careful handling hot liquids, of course! -- or alternatively, pass it through a food mill or use an immersion blender to make it smooth. Return your pureed soup to the pan.

Remove the cheese rind from the soup. Taste the soup and add more salt if necessary. Bring the soup to a boil again and add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is tender, stirring as you go, and adding a little more water if the soup seems thick (I ended up adding another cup or so). Taste the soup again to make sure your seasonings are spot on (now is the time to add a grind or two of black pepper) and serve with some olive oil drizzled over the top. Serves 4.

Recipe from Rachel Roddy, via The Guardian.




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