#FoodFocus – The Humble Chickpea – Pasta e Ceci (noodles with chickpeas)

Comfort food means different things to different people. Every culture has its own version. Italians have quite a few, one of them being noodles with chickpeas, or pasta e ceci as we call it. You probably know by now that I am Italian, first generation Canadian. Growing up, I was attached to my mom’s apron strings. She made it look so easy, never measuring anything except when she baked. I guess her love of food and creating meals filtered down to me.

She was a stay at home mom, babysitting for some extra cash and ran the household like a tight ship. I don’t ever remember eating out or having take-out of anything. Ever. We just didn’t ‘do that’. Mom’s weekly meals were planned. Well, not the exact meals but categories. For example, Monday was chicken, Tuesday was a legume dish, Wednesday and Sunday was reserved for pasta, Thursday was a beef dish, and Friday was fish or seafood. Because Saturday was a day for chores, we usually had the typical Italian platter of cold meats, cheeses and pickled vegetable with lots of crusty bread to sop up all the goodness from the tomato and cucumber salad we had on the side!

Anyway, one of my favourite comfort dishes was noodles and chickpeas and was typically on the menu for a Tuesday. Here’s the recipe. It’s simple, inexpensive to make and extremely nutritious.


3-4 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or thinly sliced
1 can diced tomatoes with juice 28 oz
1 cup water
1 can chickpeas, 19 oz drained and rinsed
dry (1-2 tsp) or fresh basil (3-4 large leaves)
salt and pepper, to taste
parmesan cheese, grated or shaved
2 cups small macaroni (elbows, small shells, or ditali work well)

You will need 2 medium sized pots.

In one pot, sauté the onions until soft. Stir the garlic in and cook for a minute. Careful not to let it burn. Next pour the can of diced tomatoes and the water in, fresh basil leaves or some dried basil, stir and turn down the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the can of chickpeas and stir it all up. Season with salt and pepper and adjust to your taste. Cover and simmer.

In the meantime, bring salted water in another medium pot to a boil. Add noodles. Cook them only to half doneness. Drain them and add them to the tomato/chickpea sauce and cook for approximately another 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning again.  Add some ‘pasta water’, that you set aside from draining the noodles, if you prefer it a little soupier.

pasta and chick peas
Pasta e ceci

Ladle into bowls, top with Parmesan cheese and fresh basil if you like. Enjoy this with some fresh crusty whole grain bread for some added goodness!

Some reminders:

  • Salted water to cook noodles in must almost be too salty to taste. This way the noodles won’t be bland. Adding partially cooked noodles to a sauce or broth does the same thing. It allows for the flavours of the sauce to be absorbed by the noodle.
  • Canned tomatoes, especially diced, are sometimes seasoned, so make sure you check the label. I prefer to add my own herbs and spices but purchasing them already seasoned can save you a bit of money.
  • I always reserve about a cup or two of the water in which my noodles have cooked just in case I need to make the dish a little soupier. Adding just hot water if you needed it would dilute the seasoning.
  • Always taste and adjust the seasoning of everything you cook. Check on noodles frequently so they can be enjoyed al-dente!

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