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Tagliatelle and Chickpea Soup with Pancetta

This soup, called pasta e ceci in Italian, is a favorite dish of Romans. In Italy, it is served as a first course, but it is hearty enough to be enjoyed as a main dish. Because chickpeas are dense, they take a long time to soak and soften; here, baking soda is added to the soaking water to speed up the process.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 large garlic clove, unpeeled, plus 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 celery stalk with leaves
  • 1 small fresh rosemary sprig
  • 1 lb. egg pasta (see related recipe at left)
  • 2 tsp. fine sea salt, plus more, to taste
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 oz. pancetta, finely diced
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:

Pick over the chickpeas, discarding any grit or misshapen chickpeas. Rinse well, place in a bowl and add cold water to cover by 3 inches. Stir in the baking soda. Let stand for 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.

In a large saucepan, combine the chickpeas, the unpeeled garlic clove, the celery rib, rosemary and 7 cups water. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer, cover partially and cook until the chickpeas are tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Roll out one-fourth of the pasta dough and cut into tagliatelle. (Reserve the remaining dough for another use.) Cut the tagliatelle into 2-inch lengths. Let dry for 30 minutes or up to 3 hours.

When the chickpeas are tender, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the 2 tsp. sea salt and let the chickpeas stand for 5 minutes to absorb the salt. Remove and discard the garlic clove, celery and rosemary. Transfer 1 cup of the chickpeas to a small bowl and mash them with a fork or potato masher. Return them to the pot and stir to combine.

In a fry pan over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the pancetta and sauté until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic, reduce the heat to low and sauté until the garlic is softened, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and 1/2 cup of the chickpea cooking liquid and stir well.

Add the pancetta mixture to the chickpeas, set the pot over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is almost tender, about 2 minutes. (It will continue to cook in the heat of the soup.) Season with sea salt and pepper, ladle into warmed shallow bowls, and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma The Pasta Book, by Julia della Croce (Weldon Owen, 2010).