Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)

January 14, 2014

Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home. 

Today: An Italian classic that's part soup, part pasta, and all comfort. 


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Cold winter days call out for comfort food -- and what could be better than this soupy, homely, immensely satisfying southern Italian dish, pasta e ceci? (A little Italian lesson here: "ce" is pronounced as in the first three letters of "checkers" and "ci" as in "ciao.")

It is a strikingly simple recipe, a cousin of pasta e fagioli (pasta with beans) and a staple of households in the center of the Italian peninsula and below. Head to Rome or Naples, and this would be a fixture on many a menu and kitchen table.

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, and those who like it stained vermillion (and then there’s the question of whether you use fresh, concentrated, canned whole, or puréed tomatoes). There are those that purée a portion of the chickpeas (a third, half, or three quarters) and those that leave this dish at its most elemental with whole chickpeas -- alla romana, for example. 

Then there’s the argument over whether to cook the pasta with the chickpeas or separately -- and then, finally, whether to use short or long pasta. Ditalini (short, round tubes of pasta) are the classic short pasta for this dish, but you could also use pasta mista -- broken up pieces of pasta in a mix of shapes -- or rombi, a frilly ribbon pasta cut short into diamond-shapes, which is what I’ve used in the photos.

So rather than a strict recipe, let’s say this is just one way you could prepare this wonderful dish. All the variations have their merits!

This version does not involve a soffritto (chopped carrot, celery and onion) at the start; it just uses garlic, rosemary, and a touch of chili. A heavy-handed dose of tomato –- probably a bit more than “normal” –- in the form of chopped canned tomatoes adds color, and about a third of the chickpeas were puréed (but I could easily sway to using half). For me, when you have this soupy sauce that wants to be eaten with a spoon, short pasta is the way to go with pasta e ceci. If you’re not intending on keeping this a vegan or vegetarian dish, you could also add some chopped pancetta (fried crisp separately, then scattered on top) or melt some anchovies together with the garlic.

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.

Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)

Serves 4

7 ounces (200 grams) of dried chickpeas, or about 14 ounces (400 grams) of canned chickpeas, plus liquid from cooking
1 fresh bay leaf (if using dried chickpeas)
1 whole garlic clove
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Fresh or dried chii, 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 above)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
Salt and pepper

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here. 

Photos by Emiko Davies

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The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.


fhp January 16, 2014
Thanks for keeping this recipe pure and unadulterated.
For me the trickiest part is getting the dried chickpeas properly soaked and cooked until they are not grainy. I have drifted towards the school of a little bicarbonate of soda in the soaking water. For years I withheld but I think I now subscribe to the method.
Kenza S. January 15, 2014
One of my all time favorites especially when it is cold outside! Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe. I like to prepare it with chicken as well (Pollo con pomodori e ceci). I'll post the recipe on Food52 if anyone is interested. Thank you!
Kathryn January 15, 2014
My husband is from Puglia, and there they fry a portion of the pasta in advance, and then mix it into the final product- SO GOOD!! And they puree a portion of the chickpeas.
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Emiko January 15, 2014
Yes, they call it ciceri e tria - it's an absolutely wonderful dish, one of my favourite Pugliese meals, great textures, influenced by Arabic cuisine from centuries ago.