Pasta con ceci
31 January 2018
You need a few staples that are quick and easy to throw together, but nevertheless reward even the little time you put in by being better than anything you’d get from a can.
Because I’ve done that - the can thing. In recent years (and certainly before I’d even conceived of doing a food blog, which rather changes your attitude to such things) I’ve had times where I simply got too busy, too task-focused and then it was down to food-as-fuel. In extremis, this can be a ready meal bunged in the oven. Or, even worse, a can of chilli or vegetable curry. Such things have their place. You should have a few such cans in your store cupboard for when the next ash cloud disrupts the transport infrastructure and the supermarkets empty with panic buying - but otherwise there’s real food.
I became interested in this simple dish, pasta con ceci - literally pasta with chickpeas - by reading rave reviews of Victoria Granof’s version. It’s a tiny number of ingredients, and as I cooked it as a meal for two the other day, I was suddenly struck by a little note of panic. This was too simple, surely. It’s just a bunch of pasta with a bunch of chick peas. Anyone’s going to take one look at it, and conclude I’d served up the home-cooked equivalent of that tinned chilli.
But miraculously not so. Actually, it has a lovely rounded flavour, great texture, and is really satisfying. It was one of those revelations you just didn’t see coming.
No wonder it has become one of Rome’s iconic dishes, as Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen describes it. Not that this is the only way to do it - there are lots of variations in the tradition of pasta con ceci. But this is the one I tried, and this is now one of my new staple dishes. Simple as that.
You need to use a small pasta shape. Ditalini is one (tiny short tubes). Annellini is another (like spaghetti O’s). Well, I was in Tesco supermarket and they have no truck with such delicacy. The best I could get were Spirali. Like small spiral macaroni. And these worked just fine. This was the only variation introduced - save for the fact that Granof’s version calls for crushed red pepper flakes for serving - something I simply didn’t have to hand.
You crush three peeled cloves of garlic and then fry them gently in 4 tablespoons of olive oil (it has to be that much - it’s part of what gives the dish its body). Unlike most recipes, you cook the garlic until it has browned, giving it a nutty taste. Then you add three tablespoons of tomato purée, mix it in and fry it for about 30 seconds to a minute. Then add a drained can of chickpeas (keep the chickpea water), pasta and boiling water - enough to cover. Cook until the pasta is cooked and most of the liquid has been absorbed (add a little more water if needed before that point). Season to taste, and serve. The original recipe doesn’t call for any grated parmesan, just a little drizzled olive oil. But the parmesan was - as always - a fine addition.
Food waste notes
This is pretty much food waste free - except for the water from the can of chickpeas. In times gone past, we probably wouldn’t even have counted this as food waste. Because it’s just water, innit? But now we understand that chickpea water is this magical stuff that behaves just like egg whites, and has become so known for it, it is now given a proper name - aquafaba. So, don’t throw it away. Use it to make a chocolate mousse to follow your pasta dinner. And, lo and behold, you have a two course meal that just happens to be plant-based. So there’s a key, delicious component for a meat-free Monday right there.