As the calendar flips to November, I get excited for the holiday season that is in the offing for the next two months. True, the woods are gray, leafless and stark while the sun drops behind the hills earlier and earlier but there’s something about a warm kitchen that chases the gloom and the chills away.
In our home, soup is not only a meal, it’s a staple, a comfort food and a weekly addition to our Sunday, spent watching the NFL! I generally get an early start on Sunday morning so that the kettle is simmering by the time kick-off rolls around. We have many favorites but luckily the cold weather will be around until Easter (and possibly beyond) so we generally get around to all of them at one time or another.
One favorite, that I’ve only made a few times, is so tasty that it made the top 10 list the first time we tried it! It’s called Pasta e’ Ceci in Italian but it simply means Pasta with Chickpeas soup. I know what you’re thinking. “I eat chickpeas on my salad – if at all – and I’m not about to make a soup featuring the little buggers.” The ingredient list may look a little daunting but, trust me, the end result is worth the effort.
|2 ounces Pancetta *||1 small carrot (1/2” pieces)||1 celery rib (1/2” pieces)|
|4 cloves garlic, peeled||1 onion cut into 1” pieces||14.5oz diced tomatoes, drained|
|¼ cup extra virgin olive oil||5 anchovy fillets||¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes|
|2-15oz cans chickpeas undrained||2 cups water||Salt & pepper to taste|
|8 ounces ditalini pasta||1 tablespoon lemon juice||12oz bag fresh spinach, chopped|
|32 oz chicken broth||1 oz grated Parmesan|
*You can substitute bacon, Canadian bacon, salt pork, prosciutto, smoked ham or smoked sausage, cut into ½” pieces if pancetta isn’t readily available.
Cook the chickpeas and ditalini in the same pot to blend the dish, using the starch released by the pasta to create a silky, stick-to-your-ribs texture. Before adding the pasta, we simmer the chickpeas to give them a creamy softness. Build flavor by using a finely minced mixture of onions, garlic, carrot, celery, and pancetta, an addition that gives the dish a meaty backbone. A depth of flavor is achieved by adding the anchovies, tomatoes, and Parmesan cheese.
- Process pancetta in food processor until ground to paste, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add anchovies, carrot, celery, and garlic and pulse until finely chopped, 8 to 10 pulses. Add onion and pulse until onion is cut into 1/8- to 1/4-inch pieces, 8 to 10 pulses. Transfer pancetta mixture to large Dutch oven. Pulse tomatoes in now-empty food processor until coarsely chopped, 8 to 10 pulses. Set aside.
- Add oil to pancetta mixture in Dutch oven and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fond begins to form on bottom of pot, about 5 minutes. Add pepper flakes, and stir in tomatoes, chickpeas and their liquid, chopped spinach, water, and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Add pasta, about 14oz of chicken broth and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add 3 ounces Parmesan and stir into the soup. Add more chicken broth as needed when pasta absorbs the liquid. Serve, topping with more Parmesan and Tony’s Chachere Cajun seasoning. Simmer the chickpeas for 10 extra minutes to give them a creamy texture. It also helps softens them.