I’ve always had a crush on chickpeas. What is it about them that’s just so damned good? They’re not sophisticated or posh — in fact they conjure images in my mind of hardship and rural life (though probably not very accurate ones).
There’s something so romantically rustic about these plain beige grains. There’s no mistaking their honest, earthy flavour, and I have explored many, many chickpea recipes.
I like hummus, but I don’t love it. And while I had a brief, torrid affair with Orangette’s chickpea salad with lemon and Parmesan, and a fairly serious fling with Jamie Oliver’s summer chickpea salad, I have fallen irrevocably, head-over-heals in love with this gorgeous, chunky soup.
It’s easy enough to make, but the flavour is unbelievable — there’s the somewhat bland but reassuring flavour of chickpeas, but also a deeply savoury element which hits that umami button, and then hits it again. It’s not an elaborate or upmarket recipe (Italian peasant food at its best, in my opinion), but it will make your taste buds scream ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ ... and then ‘More’. The culinary equivalent of the headboard knocking against the wall. Ahem.
You don’t actually need to add the sausage — it imparts an extra something that only fried pork can impart — but the soup is plenty tasty without it. You could grate a little Parmesan on top instead if you like. Don’t skip the drizzle of olive oil at the end, though (so long as its virginity is intact). Trust me. Serve it with buttered slices of fresh crusty bread (I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I like to serve just about everything with buttered slices of fresh crusty bread) and a good red wine.
Do I take this recipe to be my dinner, to slurp and to scoff, until I’m so stuffed and giddy I can’t remember my own name?
Serves 4 (very hungry people)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stick celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 sprig rosemary, finely chopped
1 litre chicken stock (or water)
3 x 400g cans chickpeas
200g small pasta, such as ditalini or conchigliette
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 small red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
150g spinach, roughly chopped
4 pork sausages
1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and add the onion, garlic, celery, carrot and rosemary. Cook on a very low heat until the vegetables are soft and the onion translucent, about 15 to 20 minutes (you want them to take as long as possible to go soft, without letting them brown — this is the secret to bringing out their flavour).
2. Add half the stock (500ml) to the pot, as well as half the chickpeas and all of the pasta. Allow to simmer until the pasta is cooked.
3. In the meantime, warm the remaining stock and chickpeas together in a separate pot, then liquidise using a handheld blender. Pour this into the main pot, as well as the tomato paste and chilli, and stir to combine.
4. Add the spinach and allow to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.
5. While the soup is simmering, squeeze out the pork sausage filling into a non-stick frying pan and fry until nicely browned. Break up the pork mince into chunks (consistency doesn’t really matter; I like to have a combination of chunks and lots of little golden pork crumbs).
6. If the soup is too thick, add a little water or stock until it reaches a desirable consistency — you don’t want it to be watery, but you don’t want it to be stodgy, either. Season to taste.
7. Ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, top with the pork and serve.