"You'd think from reading the ingredients list of Pasta with Chickpeas [next page] that it would come out bland and monotone. Instead, it's richly subtle and intensely satisfying," notes Tom Maresca, who with his wife, Diane Darrow, authored The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen (Grove Press), in which this recipe appears.
The rich flavor develops from the long slow stewing of the chickpeas in tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. "This is a great recipe for a chilly, damp autumn day, with good odors wafting from the kitchen all afternoon long as anticipation and appetite build," he says. Whether you consider the finished dish a thick soup or a wet pasta, he says, it's all "nubble"--chick peas and small pasta. (The traditional southern Italian way is to mix different pastas: ditalini, small shells, broken linguine, and fusilli.) "The last minute lacing with fresh chopped parsley, garlic, and basil just brings it alive--lifting the simple whole a full octave higher."
For added brightness, you might try some red pepper flakes ("a very authentic, very regional touch"), but Maresca warns against sprinkling with grated cheese. "The first time I had this dish in Italy, I put cheese on it and the waiter almost slapped my hand." He laughs. "But he was right, because the sweetness of the cheese gets in the way of the other flavors."
Maresca is also the author of The Right Wine (Grove Press), La Tavola Italiana (Morrow, now out of print), as well as Mastering Wine (Bantam), which was named Wine Book of the Year in 1985. He says his graduate school years at Hopkins were "causative" in shaping his passion for cooking. "Stipends in the humanities were so low," says Maresca, "that we learned to be very inventive cooks, out of necessity--you know, like '1,001 Things to Do with Chicken Backs.'"
Suggested wine: "This is a hearty, peasant-style dish, so you don't want anything too sophisticated or rarefied," advises Albert Cirillo (PhD '64), associate professor of English at Northwestern University and wine director of Convito Italiano, an Illinois store and restaurant specializing in Italian foods and wines.
He suggests a Dolcetto d'Alba from the vineyard of Giovanni VoConterno--an "earthy red, with good body and fruitiness that isn't overwhelming." Alternately, says Cirillo, you might consider serving a light Chianti, from Lucignano Poliziano.
Put the chickpeas into a large pot with cold water to cover by two inches. Bring to a boil, boil two minutes, then turn off the heat and let the chickpeas sit in the water two hours.
Drain them and return them to the pot with 2-1/2 quarts fresh water, the tomatoes, half the chopped garlic, two tablespoons olive oil, and two teaspoons salt. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook gently, covered, for 3-1/2 to 4 hours, until the chickpeas are tender. Start testing after two hours, though, in case the chickpeas are very fresh and cook faster than usual. Uncover and set aside until ready to serve.
Return the soup to a boil, add the pasta and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook until the pasta is tender, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the remaining garlic, basil, and parsley to a fine mince. Stir this mixture into the soup along with the remaining olive oil and a generous quantity of black pepper. Serve at once.
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