Thursday, June 14, 2007


Presto Pasta Nights: Pasta e Ceci

This is a "kill two birds with one stone" post (never literally...after all, one uses a rifle to kill pheasant, not a slingshot). I have only ever used chickpeas either in hummus or in a Tyler Florence contorni whereby chickpeas comingle languorously on the stovetop with cauliflower, tomatoes, ginger, curry powder, and coriander (from Eat This Book: Cooking with Global Fresh Flavors). I felt it was time for me to update my repertoire. Also, it has been remiss of me not to participate in Ruth's weekly blog event Presto Pasta Nights.

This post is also a bit of a lesson. Though I have not yet acquired vast experience in the kitchen, I have developed some sensory awareness that was previously veiled (more like shut and locked away; there was a time when I actually did not want anything to do with the kitchen because it seemed most people I knew had a knack of pulling things off, and all I ever constructed was tantamount to a series of disasters). The recipe that I chose to follow looked enticing, but I never really thought about what was going into it. All I wanted to do was to use chickpeas a different way and to make a pasta dish at the same time. In hindsight, the two do not belong together, or at least not in this form.

Before this experience, I had never used a Jamie Oliver recipe, and I am not going to bite his ear off. I have to take the blame for this. I amended two details right off the mark - because I was not making a meat dish, I opted for vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, and I used small seashell pasta instead of ditalini. Combined, this is perhaps where I went wrong because the pasta and chickpeas absorbed most of the stock, requiring the addition of boiling water from the kettle (Mr. Oliver advises this might be necessary in the recipe), but there is not enough flavor in a vegetable stock. I mean, the point of vegetable stock is to be a light background note in a soup with a suspicion of the vegetables used to make it (i.e. I don't think you are meant to be able to recognize its constituent parts). This lent uninspiring blandness to the soup. Additionally, the chosen pasta may have absorbed more of the liquid on account of its greater surface size, but it does not really look that much bigger than ditalini. Now I am getting ahead of myself...

Pasta e Ceci
(From Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italy)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, trimmed and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves finely chopped
2 450g/14oz cans of chickpeas, drained well and rinsed in water
2 1/4 cups vegetable stock (Mr. Oliver suggests chicken stock)
100g/3 1/2oz small seashell pasta (Mr. Oliver prefers ditalini)
sea salt
black pepper, freshly ground

1) Into a saucepan on your lowest setting, put the olive oil, onion, celery, garlic, and rosemary. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally (the aromas coming out of the pot when stirring are redolent of Spring, sadly not a harbinger of things to come).
2) When the vegetables are soft, toss in the chickpeas and cover with stock.
3) Cook for 40 minutes, still on a very gentle heat. (Mr. Oliver says 30 minutes, but in my experiece that was not sufficient time for the chickpeas to soften.)
4) Remove half of the chickpeas with a slotted spoon and put aside.
5) Blitz the soup, add it back into the pot followed by the whole chickpeas that were reserved.
6) Add the pasta and season with salt and pepper. Before adding the pasta, make sure the chickpeas are on the verge of being soft (but not mushy).
7) Once the pasta is cooked, check the water level. If the soup is too thick for your liking, add water from a recently boiled kettle.
8) Season as you please with additional salt and pepper and throw in some parsley or basil if you have some handy.

There is bland liquid somewhere in this soup, I assure you! It was not until I took my first bite that I realized all I would taste was starch. Of course. I thought at the outset that the pasta and chickpeas are both neutral ingredients needing a lot of help to eek out flavor. They both act as vessels for flavor, neither one imparting much of their own. This is a great dish if you have a cold and cannot taste anything or if you want fiber without eating spinach. Perhaps this would have been a treat, as Jamie Oliver calls it, had I followed his instructions directly, but if I just wanted an awesome broth, I would have been better off making chicken stock and knaidlach for matzo ball soup.

Sorry for the uninspiring debut, Ruth!
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Poor Shaun. I bought Jamie's Italy and used it a couple of times before I packed it up and moved to Halifax. It's still in storage and I was just thinking that I'd love to have it. Try his chicken & mushroom tetrazini, it's great.

And while your soup does sound rather bland, I would imagine that a hit of chili pepper flakes and something green would liven it up.

Thanks for sharing the post with Presto Pasta Nights anyway.
Hi Shaun,

Thanks for stopping by my blog the other day. Your visits are most welcome.

I need to get this book! I love Jamie's food.

Thanks for your notes on the chicken-stock vs vegetable-stock in this recipe. The important thing is that you made it to the event and your next contribution is going to rock!
Shaun, I don't think it's you. This recipe's ratios are somewhat off. For so much starch and so little stock, the veggie amounts need to be twice what they are, and the pasta should be cooked to tender separately, then added. This would be especially true if you used a weak stock brew, regardless of its components. A generous amount of grated Grano or Parmesan tossed on top would help a lot, too.
I don't have this book, but I borrowed it from the library. I added way more garlic, a bunch of cheese and some hot chile flakes. The pasta sucked up most of the broth, but it was pretty nice.
Ruth - The book looks beautiful, and I really want to make the fig tart, but I really have to be careful and trust myself more. I need to look at ratios and really think about the components of a recipe before following blindly. I should be capable of doing that now. I had a look at your tetrazzini and left a message for you. It looks lovely. Peperoncino or anything would have done wonders for my soup.

Cynthia - Yes, I suppose a poor show is better than no show at all, but I will need to redeem myself. The book is beautiful with lots of interesting recipes. I love his enthusiasm for homemade pasta, but it will be a while before I try that, I think.

Susan, lovie - You have to be right about the quantities because when I was stirring the aromatics, they were WONDERFUL. Upon dumping everything else in the pot, they were lost. How disheartening! I really need to be more discerning before I follow a recipe, but I don't yet have the experience to figure out if the ratios are good beforehand. More trial and error ahead, I suppose.

Sara - I am surprised that Jamie Oliver didn't suggest to throw cheese on top, and I know that I should have just done it myself. Anything would have lifted that dish, but, really, what I was craving was the flavor of the aromatics that had been patiently cooked on a gentle heat for a good 20 minutes before anything else was put in the pot. It seems like a waste of time if you can't taste it in the final result. Susan's comment (above) regarding ratios sounds right, but I need more experience in the kitchen to get a real feeling for that.
Shaun, this made me laugh - a lot! Can't really comment as it's just funny. Honestly I thought I'd been brought up a little better but obviously not... Amanda
I have found Jamie's Italy book to be nothing more than lots of pretty pictures and non-reliable recipes unfortunately. Nigella has a far more reliable recipe in her Nigella Bites book for a similar soup that DOES work.
Curiously though, I was planning on making this very soup, from this very book the other night and made pasta with cabbage and gorgonzola instead. It was OK but nothing to blog home about.
I'm sorry to hear you didn't like it, it's such a waste of time when things don't turn out well.

I have Jamie's Italy, although have not used it as yet.
Amanda - I tried hard not to be sarcastic throughout and to be more self-deprecating. I mean, who am I to challenge Mr. Oliver? At least the post got a few chuckles, and I am sure others have been in similar situations.

Freya, love - I have to say that the photo for this recipe is partially what helped me form my decision. Frankly, I don't know how he got his broth to look the way he did. What kind of chickens and vegetables produce broth that colour? I wasn't going to post, but I thought it would serve as a reminder for me to be more thorough with the recipe selection and understand WHY the ingredients and their ratios are as stated in a recipe.

Kelly-Jane - Yes, it is disappointing, but it is part of the learning process. The recipes should be guidelines after all, and I really should have known better than to follow blindly. At least the final product was edible.
Shaun, if you only knew what goes into the lure of professional photographs, you wouldn't compare your recipe's results so harshly. They work in teams with several people, the art director, food stylist, etc. as well as the photographer and his/her assistant. Not be mention all the post processing. And there's a lot of cosmetic (non-food) tinkering going on beforehand, too.

BTW, I think you have every right as a consumer to be disappointed and critical of a cookbook that might not be all that.
Hi Shaun, I'm not knocking him, he's done an awful lot for inspriring parents to change how they feed their children and I love the sound of his recipes. I have a lot of his books but not cooked anything from them. I still might try. Also when/if I try and follow any recipe I find myself in those situations all the time. I think that's why I don't. Amanda
Susan, lovie - You really are very sweet, trying to keep my spirits up. Yes, I know there is a team of people behind every professional photograph, but I'm really comparing myself to other foodies (even you), who seem to have a great knack for color and presentation. I know it isn't the end of the world...

Amanda - I agree with you regarding Mr. Oliver's success in inspiring so many to the kitchen, along with Ms. Lawson and Mr. Slater. Even Ms. Garten has taught us to aspire to something higher. But that doesn't mean they are infallible. I just thought to share my personal experience with something that didn't work out quite so well to show how important it is to learn from one's own mistakes in the kitchen.
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