Big Little Recipes

A Spicy, Hearty Soup You Can Make in 15 Minutes Flat

March 10, 2020
Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop stylist: Amanda Widis. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog.

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re rethinking pasta e ceci.


I have a lot of favorite Genius Recipes, like banana-avocado toast, caramelized-cream eggs, cobbler with hot-sugar crust, but perhaps the simplest—the one I turn to on the tiredest of weeknights—is Victoria Granof’s pasta con ceci.

This dish looks like SpaghettiOs, which I mean in the nicest way, and comes together almost as quickly: You crisp garlic in olive oil, stir in tomato paste, add drained chickpeas, itty-bitty ditalini, and boiling water, and ta-da, you just made dinner. More olive oil and chile flakes come in at the end. Maybe you pour yourself a glass of red wine.

Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop stylist: Amanda Widis. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog.

But the tomato paste is the ingredient to pay attention to. Though this pantry staple is already concentrated, caramelizing it (which happens almost instantly) super-charges its umami flavor. Which got me thinking: What other ingredients are paste-like and chock-full of umami?

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Top Comment:
“So So So tasty, and you are right, the chili crisp makes it! There were 3 spoonfuls left in the pot and I took a taste (didn't want it to go to waste), and the taste was good...but then I scooped some of that crisp into the remains and Voila! Absolutely fantastic. (ps, my grocery stores didn't carry ditalini, so I used small shells...no issues whatsoever). ”
— Heather G.
Comment

Miso. When you swap this ingredient into Granof’s recipe, you end up with a just as easy but entirely different result—halfway between miso soup and pasta e ceci. Like tomato paste, miso becomes more complex once stir-fried.

With respect to type: White miso works best here. Not only is its lighter color easier to caramelize (going from dark brown to darker brown can be tricky to judge), but its mellower, sweeter flavor compliments (and doesn’t overpower) the pasta and chickpeas. I love Miso Master, whose Organic Mellow White Miso is delicious enough to eat by the spoonful, which I may or may not have done once or twice in the testing of this recipe, but who’s to say?

And instead of garlic and crushed red pepper flakes, I turn to one ingredient that gets both jobs done: Lao Gan Ma’s spicy chili crisp. A year-ish ago, I wrote about how this is “good on everything,” and, you know, it’s still true. This spicy, oily condiment has chiles, of course—but also crunchy soy nuts, onion, and garlic. It's perfect slicked across the broth, where it adds even more umami (thank you, MSG!) and a sunset-red hue.

In a moment when everyone is stock-piling pantry staples (you can read more about practical steps to prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak here), this is the comforting, nourishing recipe I make, from ingredients I always have around.

What’s a pantry dish that you love? Share in the comments below.
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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

16 Comments

LULULAND March 24, 2020
Can I sub the miso for something else, and the chili crisp, in isolation at the moment? thanks
 
Author Comment
Emma L. March 24, 2020
Hi! You can definitely play around with this template depending on what you have. That was actually how I developed this recipe—by making ingredient substitutions inspired by this Genius recipe: https://food52.com/recipes/66790-victoria-granof-s-pasta-con-ceci (which uses tomato paste, garlic, and chile flakes).
 
LULULAND March 27, 2020
Thank you, I think maybe just salad macaroni would work too!
 
Heather G. March 14, 2020
Holy Macaroni!! So So So tasty, and you are right, the chili crisp makes it! There were 3 spoonfuls left in the pot and I took a taste (didn't want it to go to waste), and the taste was good...but then I scooped some of that crisp into the remains and Voila! Absolutely fantastic. (ps, my grocery stores didn't carry ditalini, so I used small shells...no issues whatsoever).
 
Author Comment
Emma L. March 15, 2020
Thanks, Heather—so glad you enjoyed!
 
Bday March 11, 2020
Can't wait to try!! Both versions 😜
 
Maggie S. March 11, 2020
Forever grateful you alerted me to the heavenly existence of chili crisp Emma! I cannot wait to try this ASAP. <3
 
Author Comment
Emma L. March 11, 2020
Just call us Club Chili Crisp.
 
Susan P. March 10, 2020
I hardly ever use this website. Big pain. Where's the easy to find print recipe option. Am I missing the obvious. I don't want the blather!
 
Heather G. March 11, 2020
Simple...click on view recipe (it shows the entire recipe...not just the ingredients) and the option to print is listed right below the photo... PS...this website ROCKS!!!
 
TrevorC March 10, 2020
You’ve said how important the tomato paste is, but I don’t see it in the ingredient list. How much do we use?
 
Heather G. March 11, 2020
Her point is that when you sauté tomato paste, it ups the umami flavor...it is the same with the miso in this recipe... :)
 
TrevorC March 11, 2020
I see now. Thanks!
 
Heather G. March 14, 2020
No problem..I was a little confused at first as well :)
 
Awilba March 10, 2020
What is deltalini? I never heard of, your turning a grocery trip into a search and rescue. Will this deltalini and tomato paste really rescue my recipe?
 
Deborah1654 March 12, 2020
It's ditalini. It's found in most grocery stores. It's a tiny tube shaped pasta, translating to "small thimbles".