Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)

By • January 11, 2014 15 Comments

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Author Notes: As with many of the best, home cooked favourites, there are many different ways to prepare pasta e ceci, tweaked to perfection over generations according to regional or family preferences. There are those who like it without (or with very little) tomato, those who like it stained vermillion with tomato – and of those there’s the option of fresh, concentrate, canned whole or pureed tomato. There are those that puree a portion of the chickpeas (whether it’s best a third, half or three-quarters) and those that leave this dish at its most elemental with whole chickpeas – alla romana. Then there’s the argument over whether to cook the pasta with the chickpeas, or separately, adding them once cooked, and finally, whether to use short or long pasta. So rather than a recipe, let’s say this is a suggestion of one way you could prepare this wonderful dish, as all the variations have their merits.

This is a version that does not involve a soffritto (chopped carrot, celery and onion) but has just garlic, rosemary and a touch of chilli accompanying the chickpeas. Tomato – and quite a bit of it, probably a bit more than is “normal” – is added in the form of chopped canned tomatoes and about a third of the chickpeas were pureed. For me, when you have this pureed, soupy sauce that calls for eating with a spoon, short pasta is the way to go with pasta e ceci.

If you like and you’re not intending on keeping this a vegetarian dish, you could also add some chopped, crisp pancetta or melt some anchovies together with the garlic. My husband cannot resist putting vongole, clams, with chickpeas. Somehow the earthy, silkiness of chickpeas with briny, sea-salty, chewy clams are a match made in heaven. Try it.

I think it goes without saying that with any dish as simple as this one, the quality of your ingredients goes a long way – I cannot stress how important this is for the chickpeas and olive oil in this dish, especially.

"Ditalini" (short, round tubes) are the classic short pasta for this dish, but you could also use "pasta mista" – mixed, broken up pieces of pasta – or "rombi", a lovely, frilly ribbon pasta, cut short into diamond-shapes, which is what I’ve used in the photos (those who prefer long, wide noodles to tubes or other short pasta will like these).

Serves 4

  • 7 ounces (200 grams) dried chickpeas (or a 14 ounce/400 gr can of cooked chickpeas), plus liquid from cooking
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 1 whole garlic clove
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 fresh or dried chili, chopped (optional)
  • about half a 14 ounce can of peeled, chopped tomatoes
  • 7 ounces (200 grams) of short pasta such as ditalini, pasta mista or rombi (see notes)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. If you’re using dried chickpeas, put them in a bowl covered with plenty of fresh cold water the night before and leave them to soak in the fridge. The next day, drain the soaked chickpeas and place them in a saucepan, cover with fresh water, add a bay leaf and simmer for a couple of hours or until the chickpeas are soft. Add salt to taste at the end. Don’t throw away the cooking liquid – this is gold and you’ll need it for the sauce. If using canned chickpeas, skip to next step.
  2. In another saucepan, gently heat a smashed garlic clove, a sprig of rosemary (minus the twigs, or remove them before adding the chickpeas) and the chilli in a few tablespoons of olive oil. When the garlic begins to get fragrant and soften, perhaps even slightly colour, add the tomato and let sizzle for a few minutes.
  3. Add a ladle-full of the chickpea liquid (if you’ve used canned, use the liquid in the can) and about two-thirds of the chickpeas. Puree the remaining chickpeas before adding to the saucepan to create a creamy, thick sauce. There are some who remove the lump of smashed garlic before adding the chickpea puree – but I leave it in.
  4. Add more of the chickpea liquid (or water or stock) to the sauce until it is quite watery, then add the pasta and cook until the al dente and the sauce has reduced. If you choose to use a long pasta, you may want to cook it separately in a pot of water then simply add it to the ready sauce.
  5. By the time the pasta has cooked, the sauce should be creamy, not watery, but not too thick either. Like a creamy soup. Season with salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper. Ladle into shallow bowls, pour over your very best extra virgin olive oil, more freshly ground pepper and then let it sit for a moment or two before serving as it will be piping hot and it needs to cool a little to be best enjoyed. Grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese is entirely optional. Serve this pasta dish with a spoon.

More Great Recipes: Beans & Legumes|Pasta|Entrees|Soups|Soup

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Comments (15) Questions (0)


6 months ago Natalie Stevens

I like to make mine with shell shaped pasta, since some of the garbanzos fit naturally in the shells.


8 months ago Joe

If I'm not mistaken, should you add enough chili this dish is also known as "Thunder and Lightning" ;-)


11 months ago Dexter'smum

when i put the pasta in, do i boil it? thanks!


11 months ago Emiko

When you add the pasta to the chickpeas, you'll already have a simmering quite liquid sauce so the pasta will cook directly in the sauce. By the time the pasta is cooked the sauce should be creamy. As mentioned in step 4, if you use long pasta instead of short, you may like to pre-boil the pasta and simply add it to the sauce when it's ready.


11 months ago anna

you could use the same recipe and you could use potatoes with the chick peas
as a side dish with fish and cooked scarola once boiled just fry with garlic & salt


over 1 year ago lena16

Thanks for the recipe. I've been looking for this one since having tasted the dish in a Campagna trattoria and being amazed at what the simplest of ingredients prepared the right way can do.


over 1 year ago cate

Any recommendations on the "best" canned chickpeas?


over 1 year ago Kendra

So delicious! I tried this to use up some leftover canned chickpeas, which I supplemented with canned cannelini beans. Dried rosemary instead of fresh, a dollop of harissa paste instead of chili. Really easy to assemble from pantry ingredients, and so silky and rich from the pureed beans. We tend to have meat for dinner, but this dish was completely satisfying and will definitely be in regular rotation.


over 1 year ago mainecoon

Regarding those three bags of dried beans, cook them and then freeze them in small batches to be added to other dishes along the way. The beans do not mind at all. Remember to add some of the cooking liquid to each portion.


over 1 year ago Madeline

Definitely going to cook this week. More pressing to me though is, where is that pretty napkin from!?


over 1 year ago Emiko

Haha, I bought it at the gorgeous shop Merci Merci in Paris :) http://www.merci-merci...


over 1 year ago Madeline

Merci :)


over 1 year ago Sheryl

This is basically a good basic recipe. I am still looking of something to do with chick peas; one that would use more than a few ounces. Having them in the bag, dried, it becomes a hassle looking for something aside from say 'Calico baked beans' to use them in. I would have to triple the recipe given to make a dent in them! I am inventive although would love any thoughts on using 3 bags of dried beans ... Sheryl


over 1 year ago Katora

Sheryl, here is another recipe with chick peas.


over 1 year ago thirteenJ

1)add them to kale (50/50 ratio)that has been sauteed with olive oil, crushed red pepper, Tons of garlic, a little nutmeg. 2) Make hummus