Pasta e Ceci is a one-pot pasta recipe that’s just as remarkably easy as it is iconic. “Pasta e Ceci” is Italian for pasta and chickpeas, and that’s exactly what you get here. Well, that and a garlic and chili flake spiked tomato broth, a generous drizzle of olive oil, and –if you’re feeling daring– a sprinkle of shaved Parmesan. It’s simple but incredibly satisfying, and once you’ve tried it, you wouldn’t have this pantry pasta any other way.
Like most classic Italian dishes, there’s about a thousand ways to make this one, and just as many nonnas who would exchange a few harsh words over whether it should be creamy or tomatoey, if the recipe can be made without rosemary, or if the proper version must call for diced celery. Heck, we could debate for days about whether it most qualifies as a soup, stew, or pasta.
I’m prepared for the verbal smack-down.
But this version— the one I’m sharing today– is probably my favorite because it’s the ultimate unplanned meal. It’s the one pot recipe that truly uses ingredients you have laying around your house, so you can make it anytime you don’t know what to make, or whenever the craving strikes you. There’s nothing you have to defrost, nothing you have to run out for, you just use what you’ve got. And it tastes so, so good.
You can fancy this recipe up if you want, and I’ll give details about how to take it to the next level further down in this post. But the beauty is that you really don’t have to. You can make a delicious, satisfying meal with the SIMPLEST of ingredients as long as you’ve got this Pasta e Ceci recipe, and it will only take you 30 minutes from start to finish.
WHAT IS PASTA E CECI
Many of Italy’s most iconic recipes are a result of cucina povera, or “poor cooking.” Pasta e Ceci is one of those so-called “peasant dishes” that focuses on simplicity and accessibility.
This style of cooking, and this dish in particular, have been around for centuries. In fact, some variations of Pasta e Ceci date back at least 2000 years. But that doesn’t mean that Pasta e Ceci is outdated. Believe it or not, there is still a somewhat informal weekly recipe calendar in Rome, and Pasta e Ceci is somewhat of a star, earning two slots a week. It’s traditionally eaten on both Tuesdays and Fridays.
As I mentioned above, there’s a lot of differences between versions of the recipe. Some are brothier, but the Neapolitan version tends to be a bit drier and creamier. Some simply saute garlic to get things started, others rely on onion and celery for the bulk of their flavor. The Tusacn versions are totally tomatoless, but the Roman recipes would be lost without them… and often, a bit of anchovy.
But the formula is basically the same:
Oil + Aromatic Ingredients + Seasonings and Concentrates + Water or Broth + Chickpeas + Pasta = Pasta e Ceci
WHAT INGREDIENTS DO I NEED FOR THIS VERSION?
For this version of Pasta e Ceci, here’s what you need on hand:
- Olive oil. You’ll use the olive oil both for sauteing your ingredients and for adding flavor to the final dish.
- Garlic. What’s a simple pasta recipe without loads of garlic? Don’t be stingy, garlic is a big part of where you’re getting flavor from in this recipe.
- Crushed red pepper flakes. Bring some heat with crushed red pepper flakes. If you’re not a fan of spicy things, don’t omit the crushed red pepper flakes entirely, but tone it down and use plenty of black pepper instead.
- Tomato paste. This version is very tomatoey, so break out the paste. Make sure you use good quality tomato paste, as low-quality tomato pastes can taste metallic and lend other “off” flavors.
- Canned chickpeas. If you’ve got time (and the desire) to soak your own chickpeas, you can do that, but I like to just reach for a can. Feel free to reserve the chickpea broth instead of draining it all out to create a thicker sauce than just water alone.
- Uncooked pasta. You can use broken pasta, tiny shells (which cup the chickpeas), or basically any wide tubular pasta here– just make sure it’s uncooked. The pasta will cook in the brothy mixture!
- Fresh or dried herbs. There aren’t many ingredients in this dish, but you need a little herbal taste. I like to add in some fresh soft herbs at the end (like basil or parsley), but if you don’t have them, you can always add dried herbs earlier in the cooking process for an added boost of flavor.
- Parmesan cheese, if you’d like! It’s not mandatory (and if you want to keep this recipe vegan-friendly, definitely keep it off) but a sprinkle of parmesan is a great way to finish this dish off with some extra umami goodness.
POTENTIAL MIX-INS AND SUBSTITUTIONS
Want to get fancy or creative with yours? Like I’ve said a thousand times now (and you’re probably tired of hearing it), there’s just as many ways to make it, so here are some optional add-ins to take your Pasta e Ceci to the next level:
- Onions, celery, and carrots. Any or all of these ingredients are often used in Pasta e Ceci to add a base of flavor. Here, you would saute them until softened before adding the garlic and red pepper flakes.
- Canned crushed tomatoes. Don’t have tomato paste? You can use canned crushed tomatoes in a pinch. They’ll add tomato flavor and additional liquid to your pasta.
- Anchovies. Some versions of this recipe include anchovies, which add extra funky, briny flavor. If you’d like to add in anchovies, saute them in the oil along with your aromatic ingredients.
- Canned clams. Here’s another canned ingredient that you might have on hand that can add extra saltiness and savoriness. Add the canned clams towards the end of cooking.
- Leftover meats. Got some leftover meat to use up? Toss it in. Shredded chicken, diced ham, or sliced sausage would all do great here.
- Leafy greens. Spinach, escarole, or kale would be especially great here– just add them in toward the end and cook them long enough to wilt in the pasta.
WATCH THE HOW-TO VIDEO
Adapted from Victoria Granof’s Pasta Con Ceci
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for serving
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
- 3 cups water, chickpea broth, or low-sodium broth
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 6 ounces uncooked pasta
- Fresh herbs, to serve, optional
- Parmesan cheese, to serve, optional
- Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.
- Add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic becomes golden and fragrant. Stir in the tomato paste and salt and fry for another minute.
- Pour in 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Stir to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot.
- Add the chickpeas and pasta, and reduce to a simmer. Continue to cook until the pasta is cooked to al dente and the liquid has mostly been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning and add more liquid, to taste. Mix in fresh herbs and parmesan cheese, if desired.
- Ladle into bowls. Serve warm with additional crushed red pepper and extra virgin olive oil.