Pasta e Ceci
Pasta e Ceci – Garbanzo Beans with Pasta
Two and a half years ago when I started writing I compiled a list of ideas, recipes and foods I wanted to write about. On that list was the chickpea. I even called it the lonely chickpea. Well, it just goes to show you that if you wait long enough everything comes into fashion in the U.S. They are a staple of Italian cuisine where they are left whole or pureed, and used in salads, soups, antipasti, fritters, farinata, main dishes and desserts. We rarely saw them here, especially on the west coast, but now every month I see more and more recipes in magazines, books and blogs, television shows and restaurants. From lonely to ubiquitous, this legume has come a long way.
Cicer arietinum, also known as garbanzo beans or ceci are an ancient food. Their presence has been documented in very ancient Jericho, Neolithic Turkey, and Bronze Age Greece and Rome. Roman tavern keepers and street vendors made cakes of them that were enjoyed by citizen and slave alike. In Roman homes chickpeas were served in the simplest fashion – just boiled and seasoned. From Apicius, ancient Rome’s most famous culinary writer, comes a simple preparation of cooked ceci and green beans tossed with olive oil, cumin, red wine, salt and pepper. They also formed the base for soups and side dishes. Also from Apicius comes a recipe for chickpeas roasted in olive oil and served with white wine, anchovy paste and pepper. These were eaten out of hand, like roasted nuts. Lest you think the recipes of ancient Rome’s culinary master are a thing of the past, take a look at this offering from the March 2013 Bon Appetit magazine. Popping up every where.
The beans themselves are actually pulses, the seeds of a legume. You can purchase them either dried or canned. I prefer dried ceci. When cooked, dried ceci take on a lovely golden hue and hold their shape beautifully. They have a clean pure taste with none of the off or metallic notes or mealy texture occasionally encountered in their canned counterpart. If using canned ceci, rinse them in a colander prior to adding them to the dish. Use either variety well within one year of purchase.
The beans can vary in quality and range in price from less than a dollar up to about $6.50 per pound. My favorite? Umbria’s La Valletta brand. Brother and sister team of Alessandro and Rosalba Cappelletti devote their energies to the sustainable production of grains and native legumes, and their products are of the highest quality. They are available from Gustiamo.com and other fine purveyors.
Dried ceci must be soaked prior to cooking. For best results I recommend soaking for 20 to 24 hours during which time they will double in size and take on their characteristic yellow color.
They must be boiled for about 1 ½ hours, perhaps longer depending on their age. For soup and some stews the cooking may be done in two stages, first in clear water and then finished along with the main ingredients for the dish itself. A note on salting – do not add salt to the soaking water. Wait until the ceci are almost cooked before you add salt. Salt will toughen the skin, and interfere with the cooking process.
Everyone knows Pasta e fagioli, or as we called it in my home when I was growing up, Pasta fazool. It seems every family has its own version. Less well known in the U.S., but just as good, and with as many variations, is Pasta e ceci. Start with a base of aromatics, add vegetable or chicken broth, ceci, pasta and spices for simple, soul satisfying fare.
Pasta e ceci
serves 4 to 6
12 ounces dried chickpeas
1 stalk of celery with leaves, cut in 1/4 inch dice
1 carrot (optional), cut in 1/4 inch dice
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 6 inch sprig of rosemary
3-4 cups brodo di pollo
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon peperoncino
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup small pasta such as pennette, small elbows, or broken larger pasta
Rinse ceci and place in large bowl. Cover with 3 inches of cool water. Soak 24 hours, changing water once. Do not add salt.
Drain ceci and pour into 4 quart pot. Cover with 2 inches cool water. Bring to a boil. Decrease heat to simmer. Cook 45 to 60 minutes until beans begin to soften, skimming and discarding foam. Cooking time will depend on the age of the beans. Drain in colander, and set aside.
Pour olive oil into a low four quart pot. Add diced celery and leaves, carrot (if using), minced onion, garlic and rosemary. Toss to coat with oil. Cover pot and sweat vegetables over low heat until softened, being careful not to let them color, about 12 minutes.
Add 3 cups brodo and drained ceci to pot. Bring to a boil. Decrease to a very mild simmer and cook, partially covered, about 40 minutes or until beans are tender. Remove 1/2 cup of beans and puree with immersion blender or in food processor. Return to pot, add pasta, peperoncino, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and a few twists of black pepper. Cook 10 minutes more or until pasta and beans are done. Add remaining broth, if desired. Remove and discard rosemary stem. Add chopped parsley. Check for seasoning. Serve.
Use your favorite brodo di pollo (chicken broth) or click here for my recipe.
Hungry for more ceci? Check out the Tubettoni Pasta with Chickpeas at Italian Food Forever.
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I have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article.