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