This is pure southern (Italian) comfort food and almost embarassingly easy to make. Chickpeas are one of the few canned items that I keep in my pantry and perhaps the only beans which I prefer canned over fresh. The reason is that fresh chickpeas are unpredictable–they can sometimes be tough and not ever soften. They need to be soaked overnight but even then, depending on their age (which you have no way of knowing)–they can take an hour to cook or three–and still be tough. Unlike other canned beans which become overly soft, chickpeas maintain a nice crunch and bite.
The first of today’s two recipes is my mother’s. Since my mother canned her own tomatoes every fall (and still does), she would often make a simple tomato sauce by sauteing a bit of onion, adding the tomatoes, then adding the can of chickpeas with a bit of their liquid. She would simmer the sauce while the pasta (always ditalini) cooked. She would sometimes add some chopped dill to the sauce–or instead, she would finish the sauce by sauteing a spoonful of paprika in olive oil for a half a minute, then drizzling the sizzling red oil over the pasta at the last second. Try it–it adds a deep spicy finish to the dish without any heat.
Pasta e Ceci
2 -15 oz cans chickpeas
1/2 small onion, diced finely
28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, squeezed by hand or slightly pureed in blender
8 tbls olive oil
1 lb ditalini pasta
2 tsp paprika
salt and pepper
Saute onion in 5 tablespoons olive oil on low heat until it just begins to color. Add canned tomatoes and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes. Add chickpeas with half their liquid and continue simmering.
Boil pasta in salted water until it’s halfway cooked, then combine with sauce and let all simmer together until the pasta is cooked.
When all is ready to serve, place the paprika in a small skillet with 2 tablespoons olive oil and saute for a minute or so or until it sizzles for about 30 seconds. Drizzle over pasta.
Additionally, drizzle the remaining tablespoon oil over pasta and serve.
I like grated pecorino over this–my mother frowns upon it!
Insalata di Ceci
The second dish is an innovation of mine. I discovered a couple of years ago that canned chickpeas can be dry-roasted in the oven–not just simmered in a stew. It’s a wonderful thing–they’re as addictive as salted nuts when served this way. Simply coat them with salt and oil and roast on a sheet pan in a 425 degree oven until they become golden and crunchy–usually about twenty minutes.
They are great to add to a salad of winter greens like baby spinach, arugula or radicchio. I like to add grape tomatoes to this salad and dress with extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar–adding an extra generous dose of vinegar. I usually prefer my salads more oily than acidic, but in this case the vinegar gives the rich deep chickpeas some fresh balance. As a nod to my mother’s pasta with ceci, sometimes I’ll saute a spoonful of paprika in olive oil and toss the roasted beans with it before sprinkling them over the salad. Needless to say, this is great with a piece of rosemary foccaccia.
Insalata di Ceci
1 – 15 oz. can of chickpeas
1 – 5 oz. box of baby spinach, slivered into 1/2″ ribbons
1/2 box grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
3 tbls extra virgin olive oil
1 tbl red wine vinegar
1 tsp paprika
Preheat oven to 425
Drain chickpeas and dry brifely with paper towels. On a sheet pan, drizzle them with a tablespoon of the oil and some salt (to taste). Roast, shaking occasionally until they turn golden (about 20 minutes).
Place a teaspoon of paprika in a small skillet of cold olive oil. Saute the paprika, shaking the pan, until it bubbles for about 30 seconds. Toss with the roasted chickpeas.
Place the spinach and tomatoes in a mixing bowl, drizzle with the vinegar, oil, salt and pepper and toss well. Top with roasted chickpeas.