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Dinner in 10 Minutes: Velvet-Smooth Chickpea Soup (Calamari Optional)

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It's true what Italians say about a good sugo or ragu, that the most important ingredient is time: The longer you cook it, the better it is.

While I have a great love for slowly-cooked, lovingly-prepared meals that begin in the middle of the day, realistically, I only have time to make them on the weekends. So I often rely on good options for a speedy, nutritious, and satisfying dinners—pasta carbonara and that tin of sardines in the pantry, you are my saviors—and this recipe (along with its variations), is another high on my list of favorites.

Vellutata di Ceci con Calamari (Creamy Chickpea Soup with Seared Calamari)
Vellutata di Ceci con Calamari (Creamy Chickpea Soup with Seared Calamari)

Vellutata is a beautiful Italian word to describe a creamy, puréed soup that comes from the word velluto, for velvet, and, in turn, Latin's vellum, for soft. That's exactly how I would describe this chickpea soup, a peasant dish that you might still find in the most traditional Florentine trattorias (and one of my favorite recipes from my cookbook, Florentine).

It's also a wonderful blank canvas of a dish that you can leave as simple as can be or that you can riff on for different variations. Make it as smooth or as rustic as you like—some blend about three-quarters of the chickpeas and leave the rest chunky for texture. Spice things up by adding some chile, fresh or in the form of dried flakes. And ifyou don't have chickpeas, make this same dish with white cannellini beans.

Italian totani (flying squid)
Italian totani (flying squid) Photo by Emiko Davies

To make this dish a little more substantial (and also worthy of offering to guests), add some flash-seared squid, which take about one minute to cook. Just heat up the grill until it's screaming hot, add some olive oil, and sear. The key to tender squid is to either cook it for a very short amount of time (for a fresh, delicate taste) or stew it for a long time (for a greater depth of flavor). Anywhere in between and you will be looking at tough and chewy results.


Right about now—springtime in Italy—the freshest option is totani (also known as “flying squid,” as they are known to glide out of the water), which have a mahogany tone and are so small that they would fit in your hand. They are very similar to calamari, which are more commonly fished during the cold months of autumn and winter, and which, at this time of year, you usually find only frozen.

You could also use scallops, flash-seared the same way so they remain tender and cut like butter.

Photo by Emiko Davies

Want another idea? Jacob Kennedy has a wonderful recipe in The Geometry of Pasta for chickpeas and clams with ditalini pasta that reminds me of this soup recipe: He blends three-quarters of the chickpeas, then tosses the al dente pasta through the creamy, soupy purée along with just-opened clams. Clams would go very well in my soup recipe in place of the calamari (and calamari would go very well in the pasta in place of the clams).

All in all, this meal takes about 10 minutes to make if you use good quality, pre-cooked canned chickpeas. Of course, if you have time to soak and cook dried chickpeas, you'll get even better results (and you can find this version in Florentine). But don't feel guilty if—or more like when—you want to make this in a pinch.

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Vellutata di Ceci con Calamari (Creamy Chickpea Soup with Seared Calamari)

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Serves 4
  • 5 to 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving, divided
  • 3 garlic cloves, whole
  • 3 to 4 fresh rosemary sprigs, leaves picked
  • 1 pound (500 grams) tinned chickpeas, drained
  • 10 1/2 ounces (300 grams) cleaned baby calamari or squid
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 slices ciabatta or country bread, grilled or toasted, for serving

What's your best 10-minute meal? Share with us in the comments!

Tags: Italian cooking, regional Italian food, Tuscan, chickpeas, legumes, soup, seafood, calamari, squid