There are few things more comforting than a steaming bowl of pasta and peas/lentils/beans, or as I like to call it, carbs-on-carbs. Pasta and chickpeas are both staples in Italian cuisine, and everyone has an opinion on how this dish should be prepared. Countless versions of pasta e ceci exist and, depending on who you ask, it is referred to as a soup, a stew, or a pasta dish.
In my family, this would definitely classify as a pasta dish - we tend to use equal amounts of pasta and chickpeas and simmer until you are left with very little broth. I love the creaminess of chickpeas and I usually reserve a small portion of them, which I then puree and mix again into the sauce base to give the dish body and creaminess.
I like to use egg pasta - pasta all'uovo in Italian - for this dish, and for any lentil pasta dish. It's not a must, but I just love the taste and consistency of egg pasta, whether dried or fresh. In this case, I chose a shape called sorpresine (lit. "little surprises").
I used a variety of chickpeas called Etna, as they are grown on the slopes of the Etna volcano. Introduced to our island from Turkey, chickpeas have been cultivated in Sicily from the sixteenth century, and are used in some of our most traditional dishes, like pane e panelle - a street food typical of Palermo consisting of chickpea flour fritters in a bread bun.
The ingredients in this pasta are simple and are commonly used in my hometown and province of Ragusa.
Ingredients (for 4)
320g egg pasta, dried. Choose a small shape, like sorpresine (what I used) or small bowties
350g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil + 1 tbsp to drizzle on top
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh (but dry will do just fine)
1 onion, diced finely
1 carrot, diced finely
1 small celery stalk, diced finely
100g tomato polpa (chopped tomatoes)
1 large clove of garlic "in camicia" (i.e. whole, slightly smashed but with the skin on)
1 tsp rosemary, dried or fresh
A small handful of chopped wild fennel or dill leaves
1/3 tsp red chilli powder
Salt and pepper to taste
After soaking the chickpeas overnight, drain them and set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a deep pot and add the bay leaf, followed by the finely diced onion, carrot and celery. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, until the onion starts to brown, then stir in the rosemary and wild fennel.
Add the tomato and garlic. Smash the garlic with the side of a chopping knife and add it to the pot whole and with the skin on. It will release flavour into the sauce and can then be removed at the end, along with the bay leaf.
Season the sauce with salt, black pepper and chilli powder, and add the chickpeas. Stir well, then add enough water to cover the chickpeas by two fingers. Cover with a lid and simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the chickpeas are fork-tender.
Remove half a ladle of the chickpeas and blend to a cream with a food processor. Return it to the pot, mixing it in and adding a little more water if the soup is too thick.
Now it's time to add the pasta. Cook according to packaging timing, then serve with a drizzle of the remaining olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.