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quick pastas punched up with simple twists

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quick pastas punched up with simple twists

Pasta e Ceci: The Iconic Roman Dish

Pasta e ceci (pasta and chickpeas) is one of Rome’s most iconic dishes, the kind of recipe that shows up not just once, but twice a week on the informal meal calendar. And while there’s no single way to make it (a great excuse to spend as much time in Rome as it takes to try them all, if you ask me), the general principles remain consistent: a sautéed base of garlic, maybe onion, celery and carrot too, seasonings, chickpeas, water or chickpea cooking broth, and pasta. Some are more broth-y like a soup, some blend some chickpeas for a thicker base, some are more herby with rosemary or sage, some are light and others are heavy on tomatoes.

But then came Victoria Granof’s version that took the internet by storm a few years ago, as word of it trickled out from her Chickpeas cookbook (which goes so far beyond hummus in ways that only a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef and famous food stylist would think of) in the lovely Short Stack single ingredient cookbook series. You might think this means it’s complicated, but it’s actually the opposite – Granof’s version has just 5 ingredients, all of which you probably already have in your pantry, and takes just 20 minutes to make. No wonder it quickly spread from Food52 to Dinner: A Love Story. We all need more 20-minute dinner magic in our lives.

A Few Simple Twists

So you might think, why mess with perfection? But I did find a couple little things along the way. The first is that the first time I decided I wanted to make it, I discovered I didn’t have any small pasta around except for little rings familiar to anyone who ate or wished they got to eat (me!) Spaghetti-Os growing up, the little Os are an official pasta shape called annellini. Did I originally buy them with vague aspirations of reverse engineering the canned stuff? You betcha. But after I saw how quickly my children gobbled this similar-looking dish up (and it’s so great in a thermos for lunch too, so go ahead and double it), I’m glad I hadn’t gotten to it yet.

The second thing is a little extra finish that I do when I have a minute or two more to spare. Rather than just drizzling olive oil on top, as is traditional, I love to heat it with some additional chopped garlic, minced rosemary leaves, salt and pepper flakes for a minute for a nutty, flavorful, slightly crispy, and dramatically sizzling finish, an alternative to the usual parmesan or pecorino, which is not unwelcome here, just not nearly as dynamic.

The Pasta Shape That Turned Heads

So let’s talk more about those annellini. As I mentioned, they reminded me of the canned Spaghetti-Os of my childhood, which I loved (and wish I could replicate!). But beyond the nostalgic factor, the shape is perfect for trapping the chickpeas, almost like they’re wearing little chickpea hats. It’s a delightful textural contrast, and one that my kids absolutely devoured.

Of course, if you can’t find the annellini, any small pasta shape will work – ditalini, tubetti, orecchiette, even little shells or elbows. The important thing is that the pasta is small enough to complement the chickpeas. You want each bite to have a nice balance of pasta and beans.

The Finishing Touch

Now, let’s talk about that finishing oil. As I mentioned, I like to take a minute to infuse some olive oil with garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper flakes. This takes the dish from good to great, adding a layer of nutty, herbal flavor that really makes the whole thing sing.

The key is to heat the oil gently, just until the garlic is starting to turn golden. You don’t want it to burn, which will make the oil taste bitter. Once the garlic is fragrant and just beginning to color, remove the pan from the heat. The residual heat will continue to cook the garlic without taking it too far.

Drizzle this oil over the top of the pasta e ceci just before serving. The sizzle and aroma are absolutely mouthwatering. It’s the perfect final touch to this simple but deeply satisfying dish.

A Roman Staple with Endless Variations

Pasta e ceci is a staple in Roman cuisine, with no two versions exactly alike. Some are more broth-y, some are thicker and more stew-like. Some are heavy on tomatoes, others are lighter. But they all share that core of pasta, chickpeas, and aromatic vegetables.

One of my favorite things about this dish is how endlessly versatile it is. You can tweak the herbs, the type of chickpeas, even the shape of the pasta, and end up with something delicious and unique. It’s the kind of recipe that feels familiar and comforting, but also open to endless interpretation.

The Importance of Chickpeas

Of course, at the heart of this dish are the chickpeas. They provide bulk and substance, turning a simple pasta dish into a hearty, protein-packed meal. But beyond that, they contribute a rich, creamy texture that’s just so satisfying.

When you cook chickpeas from dried, they develop an even creamier, more velvety texture than canned. But canned chickpeas work beautifully too, and are a great pantry shortcut. The key is to not overcook them – you want them tender but still holding their shape, not falling apart into a mushy mess.

Embracing the Simplicity

One of the things I love most about this recipe is its simplicity. With just a handful of humble ingredients – pasta, chickpeas, garlic, tomato paste, and water – you can create something so delicious and comforting. It’s the kind of dish that feels almost too easy to be this good.

But that’s the magic of it, really. By highlighting just a few quality ingredients and letting them shine, you end up with a dish that’s so much more than the sum of its parts. The chickpeas become creamy and luxurious, the pasta offers the perfect textural contrast, and the garlic, rosemary, and pepper flakes provide layers of flavor.

It’s the kind of recipe that feels almost too good to be true. But trust me, it’s very, very real. And it’s the perfect antidote to those nights when you want something hearty and satisfying, but don’t have the energy for a complicated meal.

So next time you’re craving a comforting pasta dish, give this pasta e ceci a try. It might just become a new weeknight favorite.

The Endless Possibilities

As much as I love the classic version of pasta e ceci, I also love experimenting with different variations. One of my favorite riffs is to add a handful of baby spinach or kale at the end, letting the heat of the pasta wilt the greens just slightly. It adds a lovely pop of color and extra nutrition.

You could also try swapping in different types of beans – cannellini or even lentils would be delicious here. Or play around with the herbs, using thyme or sage instead of rosemary. Finish it with a sprinkle of parmesan, or a dollop of ricotta on top.

The possibilities are endless. And that’s part of what makes this dish so special. It’s the kind of recipe that you can return to again and again, each time putting your own spin on it. It’s endlessly customizable, but always comforting and delicious.

So don’t be afraid to get creative. Treat this pasta e ceci as a starting point, and let your imagination run wild. You might just end up with a new family favorite.

The Joys of Pantry Cooking

One of the things I love most about this recipe is how accessible it is. The ingredients are all simple pantry staples – pasta, chickpeas, garlic, tomato paste. Things that most of us have on hand at all times.

That makes this dish the perfect solution for those nights when you want something hearty and satisfying, but don’t have the energy (or the inclination) to go to the grocery store. It’s the kind of recipe you can throw together in a matter of minutes, with ingredients you already have.

And let’s be honest, those are the nights when we need a comforting, delicious meal the most. When we’ve had a long day, and the thought of cooking anything complicated feels downright exhausting. That’s when a recipe like this pasta e ceci really shines.

It’s the kind of dish that feels like a hug in a bowl. Warm, nourishing, and incredibly satisfying. And the best part is, you can have it on the table in no time, with minimal effort on your part.

So the next time you’re feeling uninspired in the kitchen, or just plain tired, remember this pasta e ceci. It might just become your new go-to weeknight wonder.

A Dish Fit for a Roman Holiday

Of course, as much as I love this pasta e ceci for its simplicity and convenience, I also love the sense of history and tradition that it carries. As I mentioned, this is a staple in Roman cuisine, a dish that’s been enjoyed for generations.

And when you taste it, you can really feel that connection to the past. There’s something so comforting and timeless about the combination of pasta, chickpeas, and aromatic vegetables. It’s the kind of dish that feels like it’s been nourishing people for centuries.

In fact, one of the things that inspired me to start experimenting with this recipe was reading about the work of Rachel Roddy, a British food writer who has spent years immersed in the culinary traditions of Rome. Her Guardian column and books are a treasure trove of information about the history and evolution of Roman cooking.

After reading Roddy’s accounts of the different versions of pasta e ceci she’s encountered, I knew I had to try my hand at it. There’s something so captivating about the idea of this dish being a part of the everyday fabric of Roman life, served up in homes and trattorias alike.

And when you taste this pasta e ceci, you can almost feel the weight of that history. It’s a dish that connects you to a culinary tradition that stretches back generations. And that’s a pretty special thing.

So whether you’re planning a Roman holiday, or just looking for a little taste of la dolce vita in your own kitchen, this pasta e ceci is the perfect dish to transport you. It’s a delicious reminder that sometimes, the simplest things in life are also the most satisfying.

Conclusion

In the end, that’s really what this pasta e ceci is all about – simplicity, satisfaction, and a whole lot of flavor. It’s the kind of dish that reminds you that you don’t need a million ingredients or a ton of fussy techniques to create something truly delicious.

All you need are a few humble pantry staples, a little bit of time, and the willingness to let the inherent flavors of the ingredients shine. With those elements in place, you can create a meal that’s not just nourishing and comforting, but also utterly craveable.

So the next time you’re looking for a quick and easy dinner that still feels special, give this pasta e ceci a try. It might just become your new weeknight go-to. And who knows – it might even inspire you to book a trip to Rome, to explore the rich culinary traditions that gave birth to this iconic dish. Either way, I can guarantee you’ll end up with a bowl of pasta that’s truly worth savoring.

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