On the rare occasion that my father cooked when I was growing up, he always made the same dish: pasta e ceci, pasta and chick peas floating in a light tomato broth scented with basil and finished with a drizzle of good olive oil. It was as simple as could be, but I loved it and I’ve adopted it as my own go-to dish on particularly busy weeknights. When I have time, though, I love to experiment with bean soups such as this farro e ceci which was inspired by a farewell meal cooked by my friend and neighbor at the end of our summer stay in Abruzzo last year. More like a hearty bean stew than a soup, Roberta’s rosemary-infused farro e ceci had a deep tomato flavor and was as satisfying as any meaty stew I’ve ever eaten.
My version of Roberta’s farro e ceci includes basil from my herb garden and one of only two food items I ever miss during my summers in Italy: fresh sweet summer corn. (The other is peanut butter which I can live without because I quite convincingly tell myself that Nutella is a viable nutritional substitute.) The corn in Italy just doesn’t compare to the local corn grown on the East End of Long Island, which, at its peak, is so sweet and tender that it barely requires cooking.
Not to worry, though, Italy’s other infinite culinary draws will inevitably lessen my nostalgia for home sweet summer corn, and if they don’t, I’ll just double up on the Nutella.
Farro e Ceci
Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©
- I lb dried chick peas, cooked (see notes below)
- 2 tablespoons of good-quality extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
- 1 large shallot, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 ½ cups of farro
- A 28-oz jar of good-quality whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand, seeds removed
- 8 cups of water
- Kernels from 3 ears of sweet corn
- Lots of fresh basil leaves, torn by hand
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To a heavy-bottomed stainless steel, cast-iron or clay pot, add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallot, garlic and celery and a teaspoon of salt, and sauté, stirring frequently until the vegetables are golden and have softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add the farro and stir until the grains are well-coated, about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes and water, raise the heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and stir often so that the farro doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. After the farro cooks for 20 minutes, add an additional teaspoon of salt, the chick peas and corn and simmer together over low heat for 12-15 minutes more, stirring often and periodically adding a ladleful of water if soup/stew becomes too thick. When the farro and corn are tender and the flavors have melded together, turn off the heat and stir in the torn basil leaves. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and drizzle in some good olive oil. Serve with crusty toasted bread. Buon appetito!
My extra two cents: I pre-cook artisanal dried chick peas and add ¼ cup of olive oil, rosemary or bay leaves and two garlic cloves to the cooking water. I then use the seasoned, somewhat starchy cooking water for the soup. Canned beans may be substituted, but make sure to rinse them thoroughly under cold water until you no longer see any “foam.” When fresh plum tomatoes are in season, you may replace the canned peeled tomatoes with 2 lbs of fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded.