…anyone was wondering, I am in London on a kind of holiday which is why things are looking a little neglected and jaded around here.
Back soon, but until then here is some curly parsley.
I was convinced I had already posted about pasta e ceci, convinced.
So here it is.
This is our lunch at least once a week, a least.
A recipe as comfortable and beloved as my kitchen dr scholls, shoes which and I quote ‘are true legends in footwear for their simple style and legendary comfort,’ forget the footwear bit and the same can be said about pasta e ceci. It is one of Vincenzo’s favorites – he generally mummers buona after every mouthful- and one of the most deliciously frugal and honest platefuls I know. There is nothing clever or tricky about pasta e ceci, it is what it is, pasta and chickpeas, or more precisely pasta in a thick, creamy chickpea soup dotted with more whole chickpeas scented with rosemary.
Pasta ceci is a Roman classic traditionally served on Fridays before the baccalà. If you wander the streets of Testaccio – my adopted quarter and one, which to my london eyes, seems to hark from another decade – on a Friday morning you might well catch the curling scent of numerous pans of chickpeas simmering away. If you step into any Roman trattoria or osteria on Fridays, you will probably find pasta e ceci chalked up on the board, it’s scent, tantalisingly drifting to your table from the generally rowdy kitchen alongside (if you are really lucky) some trattoriaesque blaspheming.
I consider myself quite devoted to soup, but I had never eaten such delightfully beany, hearty pasta or bread enriched soups so regularly until I came to Italy, they have become a cornerstone of my diet and the savior of my delicate purse-strings. In essence, this family of full bodied soups, pasta e ceci, pasta e fagioli or white bean soup, are purees of beans with just enough oil and the trinity of onion, carrot and celery to help the beans express themselves fortified with pasta or bread, dribbled with raw oil and maybe topped with some Parmesan. STOP.
Every region and corner of Italy has a version of this kind of soup, a true everyman soup, the simplest soup, which transcends class and season, a soup to nourish and sustain all, the Steve Buscemi of soups, a bit of a legend, oh so low key you take him for granted, but love him so much more than all the fancy pants hogging the limelight.
The only tricky part of making pasta e ceci is remembering to soak the chickpeas, which if you are me, can be quite tricky, but is most satisfying when you have the foresight. Then you need to remember to cook them, a gentle simmer for at least a couple of hours while you twiddle your morning away reading every bodies latest posts. You can use tinned chickpeas but then you will miss the water the chickpeas were cooked in which provides a great stock with which to make your soup. Once the soaking and bean cooking is over it’s all very easy, you are basically making a soup and then cooking some pasta in it……..
You prepare your soffrito of finely chopped onion, carrot and celery, sauteing them gently and slowly in oil until soft and floppy and translucent. Then you add a squeeze of tomato concentrate and a sprig of rosemary, stir, and then 2/3 of your cooked chickpeas. You stir again and then cover everything with stock or water, throw in a Parmesan rind. bring the pan to a happy boil, reduce to a simmer and then leave the pan to bubble away gently for about 20 minutes.
Now, remove the rind and sprig of rosemary and then pass everything through the mouli or give it a blast with the hand blender to create a smooth gloopy soup. Now you add the rest of the cooked chickpeas.
Now you have two choices (I am sure Italian purists might quibble at this but fortunately they are not reading, they are busy quibbling) you can either add some more water or stock to the soup, bring it to the boil and cook your pasta directly in the soup or, you can cook your pasta separately in some fast boiling salted water and then add it to the soup, let things rest for about 5 minutes and the serve.
If I am using fresh pasta which cooks quickly, I cook it in the soup in which case some attentive stirring is in order or the pasta adheres itself to the bottom of the pan. If, like today, I am using dried pasta – this ditalini is prefect – I cook it separately and then add it to the soup. I probably prefer the separate cooking as you don’t have to worry about adding more liquid or sticking problems.
Sorry, I said this was simple and yet I seem to be making it all terribly complicated when it just isn’t.
Are you still with me ?
You need to let the soup rest for a few minutes before you serve it, if things are too hot, the flavours are impossible to find.
Pasta e ceci
Prepare your soffrito of finely chopped onion, carrot and celery, sauteing them gently and slowly in the oil in a large heavy based pan until soft and floppy and translucent.
Then you add the tomato concentrate and a sprig of rosemary, stir, and then add 2/3 of your cooked chickpeas.
Stir again and then cover everything with stock or water, throw in a Parmesan rind. Bring the pan to a happy boil, reduce to a simmer and then leave the pan to bubble away gently for about 20 minutes.
Now remove the rind and rosemary and pass everything through the mouli or give it a blast with the hand blender to create a smooth gloopy soup.
Now you add the rest of the cooked chickpeas and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Now the two choices
1. you can either add some more water or stock to the soup, bring it to the boil and cook your pasta directly in the soup
2. you can cook your pasta separately in some fast boiling salted water and then add it to the soup, then let things rest for about 5 minutes so the flavours mingle. Serve dribbled with more extra virgin olive oil and some freshly grated Parmesan..
ok I am a little embarrassed, when I first published this post it was entitled pasta ceci which translates as pasta chickpeas when the correct name should be pasta e ceci as in pasta and chickpeas…that pesky e you see, it makes all the difference and I missed it out. Vincenzo is horrified by my mistake (especially that he didn’t notice it sooner) and has demanded I rectify it immediately, he is a pedantic type. He says it is as bad as saying fish chips instead of fish and chips…… Anyway I am sorry for my flawed Italian especially to lovely Claudia who shared the pasta e ceci love further and wider than I ever could……
The jar of pesto I was so happy to have sitting in the fridge, the green and basily one, the one Vincenzo patiently pounded in the pestle and mortar is – as Alison Krauss sings so beautifully- gone gone gone.
Of course it has.
The last spoonful was maybe the best.
It was the final dollop on something which would have been perfectly delicious without it, a plateful of earthy, nutty lentils with a handful of sweet green peas, some fragrant basil leaves topped with 2 and a half slices of soft, creamy goats cheese.
It all looked very nice and then I remembered the pesto, the last spoonful.
I put it on top and everything was even nicer.
There is something about this combination, the lentils are soft and hearty, the peas pop with fresh sweetness. the cheese is creamy, fudgy and just a little acidic, melting and softening just a little with the warmth of the peas and lentils and the pesto gives everything a velvety, basil filled kick.
This is Nigel Slaters recipe which caught my eye a while back and then buzzed around my head nagging me to make it every-time I saw a pea – which was pretty much a daily occurrence now the market is full of delightful green pods at this May moment.
Nigel recommends a straightforward boil for the lentils, but I cooked them as I usually do with a carrot, a stick of celery, an onion, a bay leaf and several whole black peppercorns because I love the depth of flavour that emerges when you cook lentils this way.
I fear I am always declaring my new favorite lunch – which is by far my favorite meal – and today is no exception.
Nice bread is nice with this
It is even nicer with a glass of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi.
Goats cheese, pea and lentil salad with pesto.
Serves 2 for lunch or supper or 4 as a starter
It would be nice if there was always a jar of homemade pesto sitting in the fridge… or sitting on the table.
A jar of the deliciously green amalgam of basil, pine-nuts, pecorino sardo, garlic and extra virgin olive oil waiting patiently to lend it’s aromatic deliciousness to everything it touches. A generous spoonful stirred into some linguine or trofie, a dollop in a bowl of summer minestrone, a little with some warm lentils or as topping on a steaming baked potato……dribbled over some warm grilled vegetables, perking up a bruschetta…….
Of course we don’t always have a jar of homemade pesto in the fridge.
I have been thinking alot about pesto recently, so much so, that I was beginning to believe I had actually made some, a bit like when you tell a little fib so many times it starts to feel true. I know what started my pesto daydreams, it was this nice little film – go and watch it and then come back and you tell me you don’t want to make and then eat some pesto.
I really like it when I get a real food bee in my bonnet, an idea, something you really really want to make buzzing around in your head, distracting you from from other much more mundane tasks. Inspired by the film, food bee buzzing and with long weekend time on our hands we decided it was about time we made pesto. Then, I decided that Vincenzo should try making it in the pestle and mortar,after all his drummers arms are much more adapted to all that pounding. We struck a kitchen deal, I would do the shopping and washing -up, he would pound.
Whilst buying the basil at the market Vincenzo – the other one my fruttivendolo – showed me something quite wonderful. He picked a tiny delicate basil leaf from its stalk and rubbed it between his fingers, the delicate little thing dissolved into green paste and released the most extraordinarily powerful aroma. Then he took a handsome but larger more fibrous leaf and rubbed it between his big fingers, not alot happened, the big leaf remained pretty much in tact, maybe a little bruised releasing a wonderful but rather more modest scent. ‘That‘ explained Vincenzo ‘is why you need to pick the smaller more delicate leaves for pesto. Tiny sweet basil leaves like those found in Liguria, delicate, without dense thick fibres, more highly scented than their larger relatives, leaves which willingly crush, dissolve almost, into a more sublime and smoother pesto.
3 bunches of basil, some nutty, waxy pine-nuts, a bottle of mild, minerally Ligurian olive oil and a piece of Pecorino Sardo, two Gin and Tonic’s and Dr John’s let the good times roll on repeat, we were off.
I have used several recipes over the last few years, flirting unfaithfully with them all until I found one I wanted to settle down with for a while and more importantly, a recipe which really worked. The recipe in question is Giorgio Locatelli‘s one from Italian Food, producing a beautifully well balanced and fragrant pesto- just a little garlic and the right amount of cheese for my liking-. I usually make this recipe with the hand blender but it is also well suited to a more traditional, labour intensive pestle and mortar treatment.
Making pesto with pestle and mortar is a little labour of love. No brurr, brurr, hurhh of the electric blender here, this is a slow, deep, thwock, pound and twist of a recipe. First the pine nuts and salt, ground into a fine, dry but almost creamy flour in the mortar. Next the garlic, gently pound and pummel it into the coarse pine nut flour. Now the washed and dried basil leaves, drop them in a few at a time and work them into a paste as quickly as you can and then go a little dizzy as the pervasive scent of basil whirls around your nostrils. Now add the cheese and the oil gently stirring until you have a bright green paste.
How long did it take ? Quite a while…..I seem to remember.. although the gin and tonic, longweekendness and fact I was merely observing, it made it a very pleasurable while. Was it worth it ? Well, it was some of the nicest, deliciously basily, fragrant pesto I have ever eaten – I know I am biased.
We ate some stirred into some fresh Linguine cooked with fine green beans and matchsticks of potato.
This could become a habit.
makes a small jar
Adapted from Giorgio Locatelli’s recipe in his book Made in Italy
Either in a food processor with a sharp blade or using a pestle and mortar grind and crush the pine-nuts and salt into fine flour. Add the garlic and pummel into the flour.
Drop in the basil leaves a few at a time and work them in as quickly as you can.
Add the cheese and then finally the oil, stirring until you have a bright green paste.
The quicker you work, the less heat you generate and therefore the brighter the green of the pesto will be.
Pesto will keep in the fridge for about 6 months if you top each jar up with a thick layer of oil.
Apart from some outrageously red, ribbed tomatoes which will be perfectly delicious by tomorrow and some slightly less delicious looking potatoes sprouting away in the basket since I hate to think when, the kitchen is all very green at the moment.
Peas, broad beans, asparagus, artichokes, peppery spring rocket, spring spinach…..Vincenzo is convinced he is just a little green of skin tone at present.
Actually, he is a little green, but that’s nothing to do with all the green vegetables and everything to do with the fact his dark Sicilian skin is protesting at the long, wet, cold Roman winter by looking just a little green. My freckles and I find his skin tone endlessly amusing, nearly as amusing as he will find my pinkish tones when we go to Sicily in the summer.
I wish I had some impressive recipes for you but the truth is it has all be very very simple around here lately. But then with vegetables this green, young, tender and fresh, simple feels the only way.
We made this again but otherwise a very large proportion of the peas were eaten straight from the pod or steamed with some mint and then doused in butter and piled generously beside some thick slices of roast chicken. The broad beans met with a similar fate, some in that and the rest liberated from their furry pods and enjoyed with lumps of salty Pecorino Romano. We will be enjoying this combination again today as it is traditional in Italy to celebrate the 1st of May over vast, abundant picnics which include tender fave (broad beans) straight from the pod with chunks of piquant Pecorino Romano
These handsome asparagus spears were bought with a risotto in mind, but never even sniffed so much as a grain of Carnaroli. A good steaming and good dousing with olive oil before being devoured with bread and a really lovely pinot grigio was their tasty fate.
We paired the rocket in all its peppery brilliance with soft, earthy, cannellini beans and dressed this neat pair with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and coarse salt.
Delicious combination. I think this will make a fine sidekick for my next big fat juicy bistecca Fiorentina.
I did make something nice pea soup inspired by a this lovely recipe, it fitted my weekly criteria perfectly in that it was green and simple, delightful is the right word I think.
It is a pretty straightforward recipe in that you shell your peas and then make a stock by simmering the pods, a courgette, on onion, and carrot and plenty of parsley stalks for about 20 minutes. You then saute a finely chopped onion in generous blob of butter, add your peas, stir and then cover with strained stock and let everything bubble away for about 5 minutes. Finally you season and then wizz the soup up into a thick, velvety creamy gloop (adding more stock if necessary.)
I ate some of the soup just so for lunch yesterday and then we had the rest for lunch today. I added some fresh tiny ditalini pasta and plenty of freshly grated Parmesan, it was deliciously green.
We ate more asparagus with slivers of pecorino to follow.
Then we turned green..
Not really. All in all it was a lovely green week and sunny to boot.
Quite looking forward to the red tomatoes though.