Chickpeas or ceci have long been a staple in the Italian diet. Growing up, I remember calling them garbanzo beans. I don’t recall eating too many dishes with chickpeas except for the occasional hummus or maybe a few tossed on top of a salad from a salad bar. However, that all changed when I moved to Italy. Italians use chickpeas in so many different ways – from soups to fritters to a simple and delicious flat bread called farinata or panella (depending on the region), main dishes, and even desserts. Happily, they are now a staple in my diet.
Chickpeas are generally cultivated in the central regions of Italy. The Romans, in fact, cultivated several different varieties. Apicus, Ancient Rome’s famous culinary writer describes a recipe for roasted chickpeas, olive oil and served with white wine, anchovy paste and pepper and they were eaten out of your hand like roasted nuts.
The name for chickpea in Italian is ceci. The name is actually linked to an important period in Sicilian history. During the 18th century, Sicily was under the control of the French Angiò dynasty. In 1282, there was a revolt in Palermo that is known as the Sicilian Vespers. During this revolt, the Sicilian rebels came up with a cunning technique for rooting out the Frenchmen who were trying hiding in the bushes and foliage. When the Sicilians thought they had found someone trying to escape they would ask them to pronounce the word cicero (chickpea in local Sicilian dialect). The French, more often than not, could not pronounce this word properly. However, if they were able to pronounce it, they were released, believed to be Sicilian.
One Italian dish made with chickpeas that I adore is pasta e ceci or pasta and chickpeas. You can find this rustic dish throughout Italy and each region, undoubtedly, has their own twist on it. Some make it with a clear broth and flavor it with rosemary like they do in Rome while others use a tomato base like they do in the Campania and Calabria regions. Some recipes tend to be more liquid or loose and others are creamier. There is no version that is better than the other, they are all delicious in my book, but I do tend to prefer the ones that are creamier and tomato based.
The recipe that I am sharing with you, is what I had at our friends mother’s house this summer while we were on vacation in Calabria. Rosa is a firecracker to say the least and she loves to cook and teach. She showed me how to make her tomato based version that is creamy and delicious. I wanted to go back for seconds and thirds! Italians truly understand simplicity and balance of ingredients to create humble, healthy and super delicious dishes. What I really love about this dish is that you can make it with pantry ingredients you probably have on hand.
The trick to making this dish creamy has nothing to do with adding cream or milk. You first cook the vegetables, tomato sauce and chickpeas and let it bubble away for about about fifteen minutes or so.
Then, you take a third of this tomato chickpea mixture and blend in your food processor or blender.
Then stir it back into the remaining mixture in the pot until it is well incorporated. If you want a looser mixture, you can add some of the starchy pasta cooking water to thin it out a bit.
The end result is a rich and velvety creamy broth that coats the pasta beautifully. In my book, this is the perfect comfort food and it’s pretty darn healthy so you can’t beat that!
Pasta and chickpeas is a rustic and simple dish that you can find throughout Italy. This southern version combines chickpeas, tomatoes and pasta..the perfect healthy comfort food!
- 450 grams (15 ounces) of canned chickpeas
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 small onion diced
- 1 carrot, finely diced
- 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
- 1/2 cup of water or broth
- 425 grams (20 ounces) passata (fresh tomato sauce)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary (optional)
- 320 grams short pasta (I used broken-up pipe rigate)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Saute carrots and onion in a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Once almost cooked through, grate in the clove of garlic an cook and oregano for another minute.
- Add the tomato passata or sauce, water. Stir to combine
- Add the chick peas and mix together.
- Simmer for about 15 minutes
- Blend a third of the mixture until it is a smooth paste and add it back into the pot and stir until well combined. Let it simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta al dente. It is important you don't overcook the pasta or the finished product will be mushy.
- If needed, add a little of the pasta water to loosen up the chickpea mixture.
- Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add immediately to the chickpea sauce. It you want more of a soupy texture, you can add more of the pasta water.
If you can't find passata you can certainly used regular tomato sauce.