Fall

Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)

by:
January 11, 2014
16 Ratings
Author Notes

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.

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, 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 (those who prefer long, wide noodles to tubes or other short pasta will like these).

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.

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.

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. —Emiko

  • Prep time 12 hours
  • Cook time 20 minutes
  • Serves 4
Ingredients
  • 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
In This Recipe
Directions
  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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • erinrae
    erinrae
  • Trevor Newman
    Trevor Newman
  • Jenny Russell
    Jenny Russell
  • Hollis Ramsey
    Hollis Ramsey
  • littlelemon
    littlelemon

40 Reviews

erinrae December 29, 2020
Doubled the recipe to feed more people (16 ounce bags of chickpeas and orechiette)--turned out really well, simple, hearty and vegetarian (easily made vegan without cheese). I cooked a bit of extra onion, celery and smashed garlic in the chickpea broth, which added more depth and richness to the dish in the end.
 
Trevor N. November 20, 2020
Very easy, very tasty. Buonissimo 👌
 
T September 8, 2020
I've never heard of this dish before! So, I was intrigued...garbanzo beans and pasta?
Made it with dried beans. Best eaten right away. Leftovers absorbed all the liquid. Was surprisingly good and flavorful! A comfort food for sure!
 
prash.cant.shush July 28, 2020
The recipe is great but the author says in the intro: "A little Italian lesson here: "ce" is pronounced as in the first three letters of 'checkers' and 'ci' as in 'ciao.'"

I don't think the latter part is correct. Who pronounces the "i" in "ciao"?! The pronunciation is "chay-chee", isn't it?
 
Agnieszka February 20, 2021
I'm sorry, but how do you pronounce ciao without i? I agree with the author, although I agree there's not much difference between the c sound of "ce" and "ci" and maybe the both c in ceci sounds like the "ch" from checkers.
 
Jenny R. May 17, 2020
This is an excellent, easy, delicious version of pasta e ceci. Thank you!
 
Jennifer February 3, 2020
Amazing. Always amazing. With canned chickpeas--amazing. Dried chickpeas--more amazing. I've followed the recipe as written and experimented with variations, and I think it's hard to go wrong. One comment--I am always surprised by how much liquid the dish absorbs (I cook the pasta in the sauce), I do like to keep it brothy, at least a bit. If you cook your own chickpeas, use lots of water. If you have some homemade chicken stock to use up, pour it in. (Or, you know, a quarter carton of the store-bought stuff.) Sometimes I forget about this recipe for a few months and when I remember, I think, where have you been...
 
Hollis R. March 9, 2019
i'm going to try this with orzo, chicken stock, maybe a few chopped anchovies in the hot oil. no EVOO this time; just knobs of unsalted butter + handfuls of grated parm melting into the impromptu stew. lemon (zest + juice) would be nice here. and a nice handful of dried chilies (Thai or Sichuan, ma or la or both).
 
icharmeat March 7, 2019
I made this tonight for myself and my two teenagers. I was shocked at just how good this recipe tastes. Sure, it looks like it should be good and it couldn't be easier but I was unprepared for just how delicious and satisfying it is. There is a rich, meatiness to it. Preparing it, I mostly stuck to the script although I chopped the rosemary and I added an anchovy with it and the red pepper flakes after the garlic sizzled in the olive oil a bit and just began to turn straw colored. Followed recipe again until I added the pasta. I had about 10 oz of orecchiette and didn't want to store the little bit left so added it all. Had to add a few more ladles of veg broth. Needed salt so I gave a couple of shots of good fish sauce and some truffle salt. Good. Added rest of tomatoes. Back to following the recipe. Served with an added sprinkle of parsley and grated parm plus black pepper and the drizzle of oil. I'm pretty sure my wife would like this dish even though she doesn't care for chickpeas.
 
littlelemon March 6, 2019
I booked-marked this recipe years ago and finally got around to making it today. I loved the look of rombi pasta, though it was harder to find. I was skeptical as it was cooking, as the sauce stuck to the pot a bit, but I added add'l liquid and it turned out great. It topped it with a good bit of salt, pepper, parmesan, and sage infused olive oil. I think I'd use the entire can of tomatoes in the future and add more liquid.
 
prash.cant.shush January 25, 2019
A great recipe but desperately in need (for me at least) of some lemon at the time of serving.
 
Author Comment
Emiko January 25, 2019
Not traditional but sounds delicious!
 
prash.cant.shush January 26, 2019
Sorry if it came across as a dis! I just love acidic flavours. I wonder if they might use lemon if they were making it in Amalfi....
 
Hollis R. March 9, 2019
online social media are allowing We the People to frame our portraits as we please, *in our image* (so to speak). THIS is how "traditional" approaches will be determined from now on ... until the next *new way* comes along.
 
lgoldenhar March 7, 2018
I love this recipe! Fast, easy, uses stuff I have in the pantry, and only one-pot used. I will definitely make this again.
 
Courtney C. January 25, 2018
This was so good. I love pasta e ceci and I've been playing around with different recipes. I have to say that this one was awesome. Simple and tasty and comforting. Will definitely make again. Thanks for sharing.
 
Author Comment
Emiko January 26, 2018
Thanks for the feedback!
 
poetcomic1 December 29, 2016
Ditalini and chickpeas with 'olive oil and pepper. There is no more vulgar dish than this. They even used to serve it in the Italian army back in the 1950's. It is poor folks food, keep it plain and eat it when you are REALLY hungry.
 
KellyBcooks December 6, 2016
Finally made this last night an I am so glad I did! I'm always looking for a new bean recipe to use and this will become a staple in my kitchen. I used whole grain pasta shells and love the way the chickpeas (cooked dried beans) fit snug in the shells. Red pepper flakes instead of dried chili's, and frozen tomatoes from the garden instead of canned. This dish was satisfying and warming. Simple dish, but really good flavor. Thanks!
 
Emily L. November 13, 2016
I made this tonight and it was delicious, and took all of 30 minutes! I also subbed pepper flakes for the chili and used the entire 14 oz. can of tomatoes (and just cooked the sauce down a bit). I cooked my pasta separately for better leftovers throughout the week.
 
Marghet November 12, 2016
Thumbs up! Used long pasta and substituted red pepper flakes for the chili pepper and fava beans for chickpeas, and it came out wonderfully.
 
littlelemon January 1, 2016
I love the beautiful rombi pasta. Where do you buy it?
 
Tilly October 8, 2015
I have recently embraced veganism and CAN'T get enough of this dish. So warming and nourishing. Thank you x
 
Jenny September 16, 2015
This was AMAZING! Such an incredible recipe. I made it with a thick trottole cooked in the sauce, and substituted some zucchini noodles for about 1/2 the pasta, which I added after it was cooked. Amazing dish and lots of leftovers!
 
Natalie S. March 19, 2015
I like to make mine with shell shaped pasta, since some of the garbanzos fit naturally in the shells.