Simple Cooking: Pasta and Chickpea Soup

Pasta and Chickpea Soup | A Sweet Spoonful

One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball.

As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it’s likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy’s lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen. 

Pasta and Chickpea Soup | A Sweet Spoonful

Rachel Roddy is an English food writer that now lives in the Testaccio neighborhood in Rome and is the voice behind A Kitchen in Rome, her column for The Guardian, as well as her own blog, Rachel Eats. What I love about Rachel’s column is she often features humble, delicious recipes that need very few superlatives to entice. While the internet is busting at the seams with food writers and bloggers trying to convince you to try their famous version of (fill in the blank) with as many fancy adjectives as can be mustered, it never takes a lot to sell me on Rachel’s food. And probably much like you, I absolutely gain inspiration from creative and innovative recipes and flavor combinations, but sometimes … it just feels like a lot. Sometimes I don’t want to think about how to use black sesame seeds, walnut oil, supremed cara cara oranges and tahini in my salad. Sometimes I just want a plate of something simple and delicious.

Pasta and Chickpea Soup | A Sweet Spoonful

In the introduction to her book, Rachel notes, “Roman food, I noticed, had much in common with traditional English food, particularly that of my northern relatives: the simplicity and straightforwardness of it (my grandfather would have said ‘no fuss’); the resourcefulness; the use of offal; the long, slow braises using less popular cuts of meat; the battered cod; the love of peas and potatoes, asparagus and mint; the jam tarts, stewed fruit, and spiced fruit cakes.” When we were in Rome before we ventured on to Sardinia, I noticed this simplicity and straightforwardness on most menus. We were often ordering dishes like “white beans in oil” or, yes, “asparagus and mint.” There wasn’t much posturing or showiness. There wasn’t a need to prove how uber-local the cut of meat might be or where exactly the baby gem lettuces came from. It was just a given that the food was largely local and was prepared in just the right way.

Pasta and Chickpea Soup | A Sweet Spoonful

In talking about settling into her life in Rome, Rachel writes “I took pleasure, too, in taking the photographs that became central to the story, always taken in my flat, always in real time — which means meal times.” In the sea of glossy, beautifully-styled food photos out there, Rachel’s images are refreshing: you see the actual table where she’s making lunch, herbs strewn about, little hunk of butter awaiting a warm piece of bread. It’s easy to get lost in her world.

Pasta and Chickpea Soup | A Sweet Spoonful

The first recipe I chose to make is the Pasta e Ceci 2, or Pasta and Chickpea Soup 2 (Version 1 is essentially the same but not pureed so it’s brothier). This is simple, straightforward soup at its best: the ingredient list is comprised of pantry items you may have already: an onion, a stalk of celery, a carrot, olive oil, a bit of Parmesan. Throw in a few cans of chickpeas, tomato paste and pasta and you’re well on your way.

Pasta and Chickpea Soup | A Sweet Spoonful

There’s no need to futz with a recipe like this but I did end up adding a little more garlic and I did something that was very much in the spirit of Rachel’s cooking (use scraps!) but was very much not in her recipe: I added cauliflower. We had a head of cauliflower leftover and I thought I’d cook it down with the onion, carrot and celery and puree it with the other vegetables and perhaps it would make for an even silkier soup. Since I haven’t tried the soup without the cauliflower, I can’t speak to its original, unadulterated version but I have to say that this soup was everything I hoped it would be and it went very, very quickly in our house. The first night we had it with hunks of bread and butter and the second night a friend from San Francisco was in town and we had bowls or soup with a simple arugula salad dressed with olive oil and flaky salt. It will be in constant rotation during these still chilly early spring (almost spring?) months. I think you’re going to like it, too.

Pasta and Chickpea Soup | A Sweet Spoonful

Photo note: The few pictures of Rome in this post were taken on ambling walks during our honeymoon two Septembers ago. I can’t wait to return.

Pasta and Chickpea Soup
If you have fresh rosemary, Rachel calls for a sprig; I used dried because it was more convenient for me, and my proportions are noted below. As mentioned above, the cauliflower is my addition and the trick is to dice it quite fine so it cooks at the same time as the other vegetables. If you’d prefer, you can leave it out altogether although I think it makes for a super flavorful, chunky soup that will sustain you all afternoon — or evening, whatever the case may be.

Ever so slightly adapted from My Kitchen in Rome

Serves: 4-6

1 yellow onion
2 garlic cloves
1 celery stalk
1 carrot
1 small head cauliflower, finely chopped (about 1 3/4 cups)
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried, chopped rosemary
2 (14-ounce) chickpeas, drained
Kosher salt
Small Parmesan rind (optional)
8 ounces tubular dried pasta such as tubetti, ditalini or tagliatelle

Finely dice the onion with the garlic, celery, carrot and cauliflower. In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil; add the vegetables and cook gently until soft and fragrant. Add the tomato paste and rosemary, stir, and cook for a few minutes, or until the rosemary is fragrant. Add the drained chickpeas and stir. Then add 5 cups hot water, a pinch of salt and the Parmesan rind. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and leave the soup to simmer gently for about 20 minutes.

Remove half the soup and pass it through a food mill or blend with an immersion blender until smooth and creamy. Return it to the pan. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Bring the soup back to a boil, add the pasta, and then, stirring fairly attentively, cook until the pasta is tender, adding more boiling water if necessary (I ended up adding a good 1 1/2 cups extra). Taste to check the seasoning and serve with a little oil oil poured on top.

Comments

  1. Sarah

    That soup looks really delicious! I will have to make it soon.

  2. Mary

    Too funny....bought her cookbook on Saturday & made the same soup on Sunday......so delish

  3. Vanessa Burgess

    Now this is a recipe even I can make and I love soup!!

  4. Gemma

    I love Rachel's writing and this is such a beauty of a book, I've quickly found a few new favourites including the pasta and potato soup, the meatballs, and the pasta with anchovy butter. So good.

    1. megang

      I love her writing too, Gemma. So good and genuine and without fuss. Thanks for the recommendation of the meatballs and the pasta and potato soup: I'll try them! I love so much about this book and have many things bookmarked, too (have you seen those almond cookies that are basically just almonds and powdered sugar? Yes, please!) xox to you and C.

  5. Kim

    Thank you for this recipe, I made it with dried chickpeas and it was amazing! I have loved reading about your journey through pregnancy and first months as a new mother. I am currently 39 weeks pregnant with my first, and trying to stock the freezer before my baby makes her appearance. You mentioned freezing some cooked grains etc in a previous blog post, but I wondered if you found any particularly good recipes or foods to have on hand when your little one was brand new? I think we share similar feelings about food - emphasis on whole grains and vegetables, which makes it challenging to search for freezer-friendly recipes, as I wouldn't normally reach for meatloaf or a cheesy baked pasta dish. Any insight would be much appreciated!
    Love your blog!

    1. megang

      Hi, Kim! Congratulations on your soon-to-be little one. Yes, I am so happy I made and froze meals ahead of time. It made it so easy on nights when no one felt like thinking about dinner (which was often). Also I'm not sure if you feel comfortable doing so or what kind of a social network you have there, but we ended up doing a Meal Train which was a lifesaver in the early days. I thought we wouldn't need it and we could handle feeding ourselves on our own, but the days just sort of float by in a strange way in the beginning and you sort of forget to eat ... it's nice to have people just bring you dinner. But, onto your question! Yes, I made a hearty minestrone (recipe from the book Full Belly), a bunch of whole grains and froze them, Heidi Swanson's Farro Soup. Even though we largely eat veegetarian at home, I tried to eat more meat when I was pregnant (and in the few months afterwards), so I did make some beef carnitas in the slow cooker and this was really, really great for quick tacos or to have with rice + guacamole + greens. I believe I used a Cooks Illustrated recipe and I froze them in portions perfect for my husband and I, so we had a few bags of them. I also made an Italian pulled pork in the slow cooker (recipe from Sunset mag) and we had this on a number of occasions with polenta or grains. Someone gave me the advice to not just focus on dinner which was actually really smart - you'll find you'll be hungrier than usual if you're planning to breastfeed so making a batch of scones and freezing them is a great idea, and I made the Nutty Millet Breakfast Cookies from my cookbook (one of my favorite recipes and good morning, noon and night). I hope that helps a little! And so glad you're enjoying the blog. ~Megan

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