Pasta e Ceci

Preparation info

    • Difficulty


Appears in

Keep it Simple

By Alastair Little and Richard Whittington

Published 1993

  • About

This is the dish which Elizabeth David said is called Thunder and Lightning’ and if you don’t throw away the water in which you have soaked the chickpeas you will discover why. By the way, this is essential practice when soaking all dried beans and pulses if the ‘F’ in fibre is not to be writ large (and loud) on the latter part of your meal and to the chagrin of your guests.

The point about this dish is that, while essentially a soup, its texture is closer to a vegetable stew. Take care to cook the chickpeas slowly. I have found that, simmered rather than boiled, chickpeas can take anything up to 4 hours to cook. Be sure to stir from time to time to prevent any sticking or burning. You would do well to buy Spanish chickpeas for this dish, for Spain produces some of the best in the world.

Note also the reference to ‘passata’, by which I mean peeled sieved tomatoes. Fine if you find yourself smothered with cheap flavourful tomatoes, but it is also worth remembering that there is some excellent commercial passata now being imported from Italy. Similarly, while you can use fresh chilli, commercially dried chilli flakes are perfect for the dish and allow you to be consistent in your spicing. Unless you use the same kind of fresh chilli every time, you will find wild fluctuations in the heat A widely available brand like Schwartz is fine for the job.

I use ditali (mini macaroni for soup) for the pasta, but any small commercial dried pasta like fusili will do. Cooking the pasta to the right texture takes a little practice - it needs to be al dente verging on the dente, as it will continue cooking after you have drained it and stirred it into the chickpeas. You want the pasta nearer half-cooked than cooked when it comes out of the water, so that it will then absorb any remaining liquid as the dish stands and finishes.

I think this dish tastes better if cooked with a ham bone or piece of pancetta. Our Italian delicatessen in Soho keeps the ends of pancetta which are too small to slice and sells them for a fraction of the cost of a whole piece.

It is quite common in Italy for the Parmesan cheese to be stirred into the dish along with the additional olive oil just before it is brought to the table, but I think it is nicer for people to be able to help themselves to suit their personal taste. The golden colour of the Parmesan on the top of each serving and the green gloss of the oil make a pleasing visual contrast to the otherwise rather uniform colour of the dish.