Pasta e Ceci is a classic Italian dish that—depending on who you talk to—can be described as a soup, stew or pasta dish. Our version lands squarely on the soup side and can be made as loose or as thick as you like (just bump up the amount of water or broth).
This rare one pot meal is hearty, convenient and perfect for weeknights. Most versions of this chickpea soup contain a short ingredient list of simple pantry staples—that remains true for ours but we also bulk up the dish with some chopped Tuscan kale for color, texture and of course some added fiber and nutrients.
Why This Recipe Works
We wanted to create a version of this classic dish that could stand as a complete meal on its own. To achieve that, we needed to bulk up the savoriness and heartiness of the dish.
To give this simple dish an umami-rich base, we start by cooking down onions with a few anchovy fillets. They melt right into the onions which then get an extra boost of umami from a dollop of tomato paste.
Cooking the pasta right in the pot of soup releases starch into the broth which, in addition to mashed chickpeas, creates a silky broth. And finally, we load this soup up with fresh herbs and kale before finishing each serving with a drizzle of quality olive oil and grated Pecorino.
Ingredients in this Chickpea Soup
Onion and garlic are both used to lay a foundation of flavor. We prefer yellow onion, but white onion will also work. And as always, we recommend using fresh garlic.
Anchovy is a traditional Italian ingredient, though it’s rarely used in Pasta e Ceci. Just a couple of fillets add a nice savory undertone.
Not a traditional addition, we find just a dollop of tomato paste adds great depth of flavor, a dose of umami and an earthy tang that this soup desperately needs.
Herbs & Spices
We like a combination of fresh rosemary and oregano. Feel free to use all of one if you don’t want to buy two types of herbs. You can use dried herbs in a pinch, but we prefer fresh. For a bit of heat we also add some red pepper flakes. We like the heat they add compared to black pepper.
The ease of canned chickpeas is undeniable, so we often opt for that. If you want to use cooked dried chickpeas, go for it! A bit of that cooking liquid would make the broth of the soup even thicker and silkier.
This recipe needs one large can of diced tomatoes. Be sure to use the tomatoes and their juices in this soup. We use regular canned tomatoes, but fire roasted would also be delicious,
Here at ZK we always opt for low-sodium, not because we watch our salt, but because we want to be able to control level of seasoning at each stage of the cooking process. Use either vegetable broth or chicken broth.
Ditalini is classic, but feel free to use any small dry pasta shape you have or enjoy. Ditalini, rings, orzo or even broken spaghetti will all work well.
Kale is another non-traditional ingredient in Pasta e Ceci but we love the texture and heartiness it adds. We almost always prefer Tuscan kale (also called lacinato or dinosaur) for it’s bubbly leaves and dark-green color.
Test Kitchen Tips
- Anchovies: we recommend buying anchovies sold in a glass jar with a lid as opposed to tins. This way you can use what you need and refrigerate the leftovers.
- Add a Parmesan rind: if you have a leftover parmesan rind on hand, toss it in when you add the broth and let it simmer as the soup cooks. Fish it out and discard it when you’re ready to serve. (In the test kitchen we store all our leftover Parmesan rinds in a zipper-lock bag in the freezer)
- Storage: store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The pasta will continue to soak up the broth, so you will likely need to add some additional broth or water to loosen it when reheating on the stove top.
- Add protein: this pasta and chickpea soup recipe is mostly plant-based (the anchovies keep this from being vegetarian). If you want to add some animal protein we recommend shredded chicken or cooked ground pork.
- Make it vegetarian: skip the anchovies and bulk up the tomato paste by a teaspoon or two. Use vegetable broth.
- Make it vegan: skip the anchovies and make sure to use vegetable broth. Don’t finish with grated Pecorino.
Pasta e Ceci (Italian Chickpea Soup)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil + more for drizzling
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 2 anchovy filets, or 1 teaspoon anchovy paste, optional*
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, or 1 ½ teaspoons dried
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, or 1 ½ teaspoons dried
- ¾ teaspoon red-pepper flakes
- 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes and their juices
- 4 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth*
- ⅔ cup (3 ounces) dry ditalini pasta, or other small pasta shape such as orzo or rings
- 1 bunch Tuscan kale, stems removed, greens roughly chopped (4 cups)
- Grated Pecorino cheese or Parmesan cheese, for serving
- Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium. Add onion, anchovy fillets (if using), and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in garlic, tomato paste, oregano rosemary, and red-pepper flakes; cook until mixture starts to caramelize, 2–3 minutes.
- Mash ½ cup chickpeas then add to soup with remaining chickpeas, tomatoes and their juices, and broth; bring to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce heat to medium-high, add pasta and simmer, stirring frequently to avoid scorching, until pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes. (If desired, add 1 cup water for a brothier soup).
- Stir in kale and cook until wilted.
- Season to taste with salt (at least 1 teaspoon) and black pepper.
- Top each serving with grated Pecorino and a drizzle of olive oil.