Many of my favorite pastas can't be found in American Italian restaurants. Many menus simply cover the basics; others go well beyond, creating elaborate, labor-intensive pastas whose strands of starchy goodness are infinitely long and are topped with a range of luxurious ingredients from bottarga to paper-thin slivers of trifola d'Alba (Italian white truffles).
I love all of those creations, but recently I've taken an interest in pasta dishes that aren't as common here in the States. Not too long ago, Sergio, my Italian roommate (yes, he is actually from Italy), introduced me to a dish where he cooked pasta with chickpeas. I knew about its cousin, pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans), but this was entirely different, and so much more satisfying. Sergio served me a bowl that resembled something between a soup and a stew: The hot broth was delightfully salty, the chickpeas were entirely creamy and the pasta was still al dente. Within seconds, the food was gone, and I became hooked.
Sergio explained that when he was growing up, his grandmother (of course) would make this dish from leftovers. She would take unused bits of pasta and toss them into a pot of chickpeas and their reserved cooking liquid. He told me that he loved that, for him, the dish combined that immediate pleasure one gets from eating pasta with the warmth broth would give in the blistering cold of winter.
I feel the same way. You will, too.
Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
1 fresh bay leaf
1 garlic clove
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 dried chile de árbol or ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
½ medium yellow onion, finely diced
About 1 cup San Marzano tomatoes (about 4 tomatoes), crushed using your hands
Salt and coarse-ground black pepper, to taste
7 ounces dried short-cut pasta, such as tubetti or garganelli
Grated Parmesan, for garnish
1. Place the chickpeas in a 6-quart saucepan and cover with water by 1 inch. Add the bay leaf, garlic, rosemary sprig, and chile and bring to a simmer, covered, adding ½ cup water as needed if dry, until the chickpeas are soft and creamy, 1½ to 2 hours. Season with salt. Remove and discard the bay leaf and rosemary.
2. In another saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, then season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have thickened slightly, about 8 minutes.
3. Add a ladle full of the chickpea mixture (with the clove of garlic) and puree in a blender until smooth. Add the chickpea puree and the tomatoes back into the saucepan with the rest of the chickpeas and bring to a simmer. Add the pasta and cook, stirring frequently to keep from sticking, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce has thickened, 12 to 15 minutes, depending on which pasta you choose. Season with salt and coarse black pepper. The dish should be creamy and more soup-like than typical pasta with sauce.
4. To serve, divide the pasta between 4 bowls and garnish with Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.