The recipe I am posting about today is my personal mishmash of two very traditional Italian recipes: pasta e ceci, a less-known version of the more internationally renowned pasta e fagioli, and minestra di ceci con cavolo nero, a soup that is often served with large, crusty slices of bread rubbed with garlic.
The chickpea, or garbanzo bean, is undeniably the star of the show here. This humble legume has been used by most cultures for millenia, the first discovered remains dating back to the Neolithic period. Thanks to the Greeks, the Etruscans and the Romans chickpeas became an integral part of Italian cooking. I admit I find it comforting to think of all the generations that prepared variations of this stew over the centuries. How many mothers and grandmothers served warm, filling bowls of chickpeas and black kale to their hardworking families, perhaps ladled over stale pieces of bread?
But back to our recipe.
The first, essential step in making both the abovementioned Italian classics is the same: you must remember to soak the chickpeas for at least 12 hours. If it weren't for that one little step, I would probably make this dish much more often that I actually do.
After this, preparations vary. For pasta e ceci (or fagioli) you would normally prepare a soffritto (a mirepoix of carrots, celery and onion) and add some tomato in one form or another (paste, sauce, crushed). When making the soup, some opt for a soffritto, but in most versions the intent is to keep things very basic, letting the flavor of the legumes shine through. You just sautee the garlic (either whole or minced) in olive oil, add some finely chopped shallot or onion and a sprig of rosemary (if you are so inclined), tomatoes never making an appearance.
The pureed chickpeas and starch from the pasta guarantee an end result that is as comforting and creamy as any pasta and ceci should be. The wilted, dark and slightly bitter kale leaves however add some much-needed texture and contrast to a dish that is as delicious, soothing and - let's face it -boring as some of the best nursery suppers can be. A good glug of intensely green, fruity, peppery olive oil, lots of freshly ground black pepper and a hefty sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese will further convince you (if you are still in the least bit doubtful) that this is food fit for grown ups.
500gr dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
2 bay leaves
2 small shallots (or 1 onion), peeled and finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 sprig of rosemary
Tuscan/black kale, about 3 large handfuls, cleaned and chopped
about 2 quarts/liters vegetable stock
small pasta (about 300gr)
black pepper, freshly ground
Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
Soak the chickpeas for at least twelve hours.
In a pot, cover the chickpeas with water, throw in a couple of bay leaves and bring to a boil, letting them cook for about two hours. Add salt towards the end so the legumes do not get tough (I only added a pinch because my stock was sufficiently savory). Drain and set aside.
Using the same pot, cover the bottom with olive oil and sautee the garlic until it is slightly browned, then add the rosemary and shallots (or onion) and sautee until they are soft and translucent. Add the Tuscan kale, that you will have previously cut into strips and freed of the tougher stems.
In the meantime, puree 2/3 of the chickpeas with a few spoonfuls of stock (and the sauteed garlic if you don't like pieces in your finished recipe).
Add the leftover, whole chickpeas to the pot, pour in the stock and when it starts simmering, add the pureed chickpeas. The soup should be pretty liquid at this point: don't worry, the pasta needs a lot of liquid to cook in and the starch it releases will thicken it. Once the past is cooked (I used ditalini), if the stew is too dry you can always add a little more stock to loosen it up.
Serve in bowls with plenty of good quality olive oil, freshly ground pepper and, if you like, a hefty sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese.