Cucina Povera, the food of the poor, is a recurring theme in regional Italian cooking. With the limited availability of meat as a source of protein, Italians relied on other viable sources to sustain themselves. With the burgeoning popularity of all things Italian, one sees a trend in making these recipes widespread in popular foodie culture. Vegetarian culture has also contributed to bringing this type of recipe to the forefront.
Pasta and bean dishes of many types have always been Italian mainstays. Ceci beans, more commonly referred to as garbanzo beans, are a staple throughout Mediterranean countries. Depending upon personal preferences and regional influences, pancetta might be used as part of the soffritto for Pasta e Ceci. Some families enjoy a more soupy style of Pasta e Ceci, while others, like our family, rather have this as a pasta dish. Often meat broth is included when preparing this as a minestra or soup, however vegetable stock could be substituted.
Dried beans are so easy to prepare and the taste and texture cannot be compared with canned beans. A little planning is all that needed in order to adaquately soak the beans overnight prior to cooking. Using dried beans allows you to infuse the cooking liquid with aromatics such as bay leaves, rosemary and garlic. Now there are those times when just getting dinner on the table is a miracle, so by all means have some canned ceci beans in the pantry ready to go.
Ditalini is generally the pasta of choice in this dish but any short type pasta will do. Since I was opting for an imported Italian whole wheat pasta, elbow style was all that was available. When using any whole wheat pasta, I find that more often than not the Italian brands are far superior; always reduce the recommended cooking time as whole wheat pastas tend to become overcooked rather quickly.
Pasta e Ceci is wonderful on one of those long, dark winter’s evenings with a nice glass of vino. The leftovers are perfect to take for lunch the next day.
- 1 cup dried ceci beans, rinsed well, covered with 3 inches of fresh water, and soaked overnight
- or 2 cups of canned ceci/garbanzo beans drained and rinsed well
- 2 rosemary sprigs, 1 bay leaf and 1 clove of unpeeled garlic
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 1 medium onion, minced
- 2 medium carrots minced
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 tsp dried crushed chile pepper
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 1 cup of canned San Marzano tomatoes
- 2 cups of vegetable stock if using canned ceci beans
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound of imported Italian regular or whole wheat small tubular pasta such as ditali, ditalini, tubetti
- Freshly grated Parmigiano
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil for drizzling
- If using dried ceci beans: You will notice that the beans have expanded in size after soaking overnight. Drain the ceci beans and rinse well with fresh water, place in a heavy duty medium sized saucepan, cover with 3 inches of water. Place the rosemary sprigs, bay leaf, and garlic in the pan, bring to a boil over medium high heat. Once the ceci have come to a boil, reduce the heat to allow for a strong simmer, partially cover the pan and cook for 45 minutes or until the beans are tender but not mushy. This can be done a day in advance, cooled and set in the refrigerator.
- Place the ⅓ of olive oil in a large heavy duty saucepan over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the minced onion, after about 3 minutes add the rosemary sprig which will become extremely fragrant adding much flavor to the dish. Continue to saute until the onions are lightly golden.
- Once the onions are golden adjust the heat to medium and add the crushed chili pepper, stirring for about 1 minute. Add the minced carrots and cook until the carrots have softened. Add the minced garlic, stirring to incorporate thoroughly. Season with kosher salt.
- Once the soffritto is ready, add the San Marzano tomatoes, breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon, simmer the sauce for about 5 - 6 minutes. Remove one cup of the cooking liquid from the prepared ceci beans and add to the sauce, simmer for 1 minute. If using canned ceci, substitute 1 cup of vegetable stock.
- Take ⅔ of the prepared (or canned) ceci beans, which have been drained and add them to the sauce, simmer for 5 minutes more. Reserve any remain cooking liquid or vegetable stock.
- Puree the remaining ceci beans with a litte of the reserved cooking liquid or vegetable stock, depending on which type of ceci you use. Add the puree to the sauce and cook for an additional 5 minutes. The sauce should be creamy in texture however not too thick; you can loosen it by adding some additional cooking liquid or vegetable stock ¼ cup at a time. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed. The sauce is now ready and can be set aside until it is time to prepare the pasta, or refrigerated to use the next day,
- Warm the pasta sauce over low heat while you are heating the pasta water. Remove the sprig of rosemary which by this time resembles a leafless branch.
- Have pasta bowls warming in a low oven. Grated Parmigiano and Extra Virgin Olive Oil should be close at hand.
- Bring a large pot of cold water to a roaring boil over high heat. Add a handful of kosher salt to the boiling water along with the pasta, give the pasta a good stir. Cook the pasta checking the package directions, however drain after about two-thirds of the recommended cooking time has elapsed and place directly into the simmering ceci sauce. Stir the pasta well to incorporate it into the prepared sauce.
- Spoon the Pasta e Ceci into the warmed serving bowls, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and garnish with the grated Parmigiano. Pass additional grated Parmigiano at the table.