Winter has finally arrived in Rome. The sun is still shining and the sky is still blue but the temperature has dropped and a sharp, December wind has arrived. It is time for soup.
I recently shared one of my favorite Roman soups which is perfect for a light supper or when you’re just coming downwith a cold. But what if you want something heartier? Something with peasant origins? That could be an entire meal in itself? Pasta e ceci is the perfect answer to a cold wintry day.
Though its name means “pasta and chickpeas,” the dish is actually a thick soup. Chickpeas are of Turkish origin but have been in Italy since the Bronze Age and are now commonly grown in the central parts of the country. In Rome pasta and chickpeas was traditionally eaten during Lent and on Fridays, days when the Catholic church discouraged the eating of meat. Most Romans have now fallen away from such restrictions but in traditional trattorias, like Armando al Pantheon, you’ll still find pasta e ceci served every Friday.
Pasta e ceci is found throughout Italy, but the Roman version has a few particularities. The most notable is the addition of anchovies. If you or someone you love has a prejudice against anchovies, as so many Americans sadly do, you can replace the anchovies with a grating of parmesan just before serving. But I encourage you to try it with the anchovies – they had a light salty snap that livens up the stew.
I’ve had pasta e ceci served with every type of pasta imaginable: fettucini made with egg, jagged-edged squares of maltagliati, the small round tubes of cannolicchi, broken up pieces of spaghetti. Make it with whatever pasta you happen to have on hand – my personal favorite is with the small round tubes of cannolicchi.
One final note – do use dried chickpeas rather than those from a can. It makes a difference, I promise.
PASTA E CECI
1 1/4 c. (about 200 grams) dried chickpeas
2 stalks rosemary, 1 whole and the other chopped fine
3 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 anchovy fillets, salted and preserved in oil
7 oz. pureed tomato (half a 14.5 oz can)
8 oz. pasta of your choice
1. The night before, place the dried chickpeas in a bowl with water to cover.
2. When you are ready to begin cooking, drain the chickpeas. Place them in a pot with water to cover. Add the whole stalk of rosemary. Cook over medium heat with pot covered for around 3 hours, or until chickpeas are firm-tender.
3. Turn off heat. Remove rosemary. Add salt to taste. Pass half of the soup through a food-mill or give it a whirl in a blender, leaving the other half whole.
4. In a separate pot, heat the olive oil. Sautee the garlic, the chopped rosemary, and the anchovy. The anchovy will begin to melt in the oil.
5. Add the tomato, the pureed chickpeas, and the whole chickpeas to the pot. Stir to mix and add enough water to boil the pasta. Bring the mixture to a boil and add the pasta. Cook the pasta for 1 minute less than the amount of time specified on the package. Remove from heat and let rest for 2-3 minutes before serving.
Serve with good bread and a robust red wine. Buon appetito!