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How to make pasta with chickpeas, a dish fit for the Romans

The Ancient Romans first paired pasta with chickpeas, and people have been cooking it ever since. Silvana Lanzetta explains how to make this hearty, healthy classic.

How to make pasta with chickpeas, a dish fit for the Romans
Pasta with chickpeas is a staple of Italian 'cucina povera' (peasant cooking). Photo: FCarucci/DepositPhotos

Pasta with chickpeas is a very old recipe dating back to Roman times, and a staple food from the peasant tradition of southern Italy.

The first written record of pasta with chickpeas comes from Horace’s Satires, written between 35 and 30 BC. Horatio mentions a dish called lagane coi ceci (which can be still enjoyed today in the Cilento area and Calabria), which was made with lagane, chickpeas and leeks. Lagana is today a large pasta ribbon, somewhat wider than tagliatelle. But during Roman times it was much wider, similar to lasagna sheets.

READ ALSO: How to decipher Italy's mind-boggling pasta menus


Photo: zkruger/DepositPhotos

Pasta with chickpeas is traditionally food for the very poor. Despite this, it’s very nutritious, because of its high protein content. A few ingredients come together to create an incredibly tasty dish: scraps left over from pasta making or mixed pasta shapes, chickpeas, and sometimes pork rind or anchovies (the latter for the Roman version).

In my family pasta with chickpeas was a weekly rendezvous: every Monday, after the Sunday feast of meat and heavy eating. My mum used to prepare it the old way, with pork rind instead of bacon, and using the scraps leftover (called maltagliati – literally 'badly cut') from the pasta making the day before.

READ ALSO: Silvana's ten golden rules for cooking pasta like the Italians

There are many recipes for pasta with chickpeas, according to each family’s tradition: some use tomato sauce, some don’t use a battuto (chopped carrot, celery, and onion), some use only garlic. All versions are delicious. The recipe I propose here is the one of the oldest, since it doesn’t contain tomatoes (remember that tomato is a plant native to the Americas, and was imported to Europe only in the 15th century). 

Try the version you like best. You can start with this one, and then decide!

Tips

If you have the rind of a Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, add it to the pot when adding the stock: it will give extra flavour to the dish. Do not forget to remove it before serving.

If you use canned chickpeas, make sure to rinse them several times, to remove all the salt that has been used to store them.

Maltagliati is a pasta that literally means 'badly cut', and it is usually created with the scraps left over from making other pasta. You can make your own maltagliati using uncooked lasagna sheets: just cut them with a pastry wheel, making irregular shapes of about 1-2 cm long.


Photo: sonia62/DepositPhotos

Ingredients for four portions

250 g boiled chickpeas
300 g maltagliati or mixed short pasta
100 g pancetta or lardons (optional)
1 carrot
1 onion
1 celery stalk
500 ml of vegetables stock
1/2 tsp of dry thyme
2 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

1. Finely chop the onion, the celery, the carrot, and the garlic cloves. Gently warm the olive oil on low heat, then add the chopped vegetables, and sweat them for 10 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high, and add the pancetta, if using.

2. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the chickpeas, and sauté for another 5 minutes. Stir in the thyme, then pour the vegetable stock. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Add the pasta, stirring well to make sure that it is completely covered by the stock. If necessary, add some more stock. The pasta has to be covered, but be careful not to drown it in stock.

4. Raise the heat to medium, and cook until the pasta is ready. It might take up to 12 minutes, depending on the pasta used. Don’t forget to stir often: small shapes tend to stick to the pan very quickly. Add more stock if required.

5. Serve your pasta with chickpeas immediately. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for a maximum of 24 hours.


Silvana Lanzetta. Photo: Private

Silvana Lanzetta was born into a family of pasta makers from Naples and spent 17 years as a part-time apprentice in her grandmother’s pasta factory. She specializes in making pasta entirely by hand and runs regular classes and workshops in London.

Find out more at her website, Pastartist.com, including this recipe and others.

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FEATURE

Italian recipe of the week: The perfect spaghetti carbonara

It has just three ingredients, but a lot of bite: artisan pasta maker Silvana Lanzetta shares her recipe for the perfect carbonara sauce.

Italian recipe of the week: The perfect spaghetti carbonara
An authentic carbonara sauce has only three ingredients. Photo: Flickr/Wine Dharma

Pasta alla carbonara (literally translated as 'coal workers’ pasta') is one of the most well-known and loved Italian delicacies: the creaminess of the eggs contrasting with the crispy guanciale makes it a pleasure to eat.

The origins of carbonara sauce are still uncertain. However, the recipe doesn’t appear until 1944, which prompts some speculations on how this delicious recipe came to be.

READ ALSO: The original recipe for authentic bolognese sauce

The most widely recognized theory is that this beloved Italian dish is an American adaptation of the traditional cacio e ova: when the Allied troops were stationed in Italy toward the end of World War Two, they got fond of pasta cacio e pepe, but to give them a “back home” flavour, they added smoked bacon to the recipe.

Roman people enthusiastically adopted the new dish, and quickly added it to their cooking.

They swapped the bacon for guanciale (the fat from a pig’s cheek) as they already had pasta recipes using guanciale and Pecorino cheese, the other two being pasta alla gricia and bucatini all’amatriciana.

Tips

Don't use Parmesan cheese for this recipe. However, if you're having difficulties finding guanciale, pancetta can be used instead.

Never add cream to the recipe: the creaminess is given by the sheer amount of grated Pecorino – so don't skimp on it! 

READ ALSO: Silvana's ten golden rules for cooking pasta like the Italians

Ingredients

  • 360 g spaghetti
  • 120 g guanciale
  • 4 eggs yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • 150 g Pecorino Romano cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

Step 1:
In a non-stick pan, fry the guanciale in its own fat until slightly crispy, taking care not to brown it too much.

Step 2:
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and the whole egg with salt and pepper. Stir in the grated cheese until a thick cream is obtained. Add the cooked guanciale and reserve.

Step 3:
Cook the spaghetti al dente. Reserve about 100 ml of the cooking water. Drain the pasta well, and immediately pour the pasta into the bowl with the eggs. The heat of the pasta will cook the egg.

Step 4:
Add a little bit of the reserved cooking water, and mix well so as to coat all the pasta. If the sauce is still too dense, add some more cooking water. If too runny, stir in more cheese.

Step 5:
If necessary, season with more salt and pepper. Serve immediately sprinkled with extra grated Pecorino cheese.


Silvana Lanzetta. Photo: Private

Silvana Lanzetta was born into a family of pasta makers from Naples and spent 17 years as a part-time apprentice in her grandmother’s pasta factory. She specializes in making pasta entirely by hand and runs regular classes and workshops in London.

Find out more at her website, Pastartist.com, including this recipe and others.

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