Orecchiette with chickpeas & sage is a simple and flavorful way to turn pasta into a vegetarian main dish. This version has just enough herbs and lemony fragrance to make you swoon. And it has chickpeas and parmigiano (parmesan) for protein. All you need is a green vegetable or a salad on the side and you’ve got a fabulous dinner.
If you don’t know orecchiette, they are the ear-shaped pasta you’ve probably passed without a second glance in the pasta/noodle aisle of the grocery store.
Other small pasta are fine too – bowties, fusilli, rotini, or ziti, but orecchiette are really the perfect shape for this purpose. They hold chickpeas as if they are cradling them. In this wintry weather, I need all the smiles I can get. And the image of tiny chickpeas enveloped by pasta definitely makes me smile.
You could also use the broken bits of pasta that inevitably fall to the bottom of the pasta box or bag. In fact, this dish seems to be a traditional use for those scraps.
Besides pasta, the main ingredient in this dish is a legume called chickpeas in English, ceci in Italian, and garbanzos in Spanish. They don’t have much taste by themselves, but make an excellent palette for flavors such as garlic, lemon, and sage. They’re nutritious and well-known around the globe. Loaded with protein and fiber, chickpeas are also a good source of B vitamins and some minerals. They are grown in over 50 countries and a staple ingredient in many cuisines.
I suppose you could use navy beans (also small and white), also known as white pea beans, small white beans, Boston beans, Yankee beans, or Fagioli beans. But I haven’t tried them in this recipe and can’t vouch for that substitution.
Speaking of chickpeas, this recipe is closely related to pasta e ceci, or simple pasta and chickpeas. No chickpea frying is required in that dish. But honestly, now that I have fried them, I prefer this version.
I came to this recipe via our monthly cookbook club. The host picks the theme and each of us makes a dish or two on the theme. In the “before times” we shared food. These days, the meetings are virtual. While that means we don’t get to enjoy a feast together (boo-hoo), there is an upside – members who have left the local area can join in via zoom.
This month, our host, Bonnie, picked Rozanne Gold. I had never heard of Gold, and was pleased to discover her and the simplicity that characterizes her recipes. Although I didn’t love the Rozanne Gold recipe I made (mac ‘n cheese with cauliflower and creamy red pepper sauce), two of her other recipes caught my eye. The first was Moroccan-Spiced Pastitsio with Lamb and Feta. No one made it for the cookbook club, but I will one day soon.
The second, was Gold’s version of this pasta dish. Mari, who has moved to Florida but still participates in the cookbook club whenever we are virtual, made Gold’s version. With two changes (the timing for adding the garlic and frying the sage that tops the dish at the end), she recommended the dish. Mari is one of those people whose recommendations I trust. If she says a recipe is worth making, I’m there. And so I was.
While I stuck to Gold’s basics, I made several changes beyond those Mari suggested. First, I cut the recipe in half so that it serves two instead of four. Then I increased the sage and cheese, deleted the butter, and added a squeeze of lemon juice to up the lemony flavor of the dish.
Gold calls her dish a “riff” on the Italian pasta known as “thunder and lightning.” She explains that the fried chickpeas are the thunder and the cracked (coarsely ground) pepper is the lightning. I did a bit of research and found that the name in Italian is tuoni e lampo. I found conflicting descriptions of the geographic origins of the traditional dish. Some say it originates from Tuscany, while others give its origins as Neapolitan/Naples. In any event, its origins are definitely Italian.
Tips for Making Orecchiette with Chickpeas & Sage
- Keep the orecchiette and chickpeas “al dente” or still slightly firm. This dish tastes best when the stars of the show, the pasta and chickpeas, have some bite to them. I’m not a fan of mushy pasta or beans in any dish. But this one in particular, needs the al dente consistency to be at its best. In her preface to the original recipe, Gold says canned chickpeas are a “perfectly acceptable substitute” for dried. I’m not so sure. While I wouldn’t say cooking chickpeas from dried is an absolute requirement, it’s difficult to find canned chickpeas that still have a hint of crispness or bite to them.
- Dry the chickpeas. Rozanne Gold does not mention this step, but it is essential. Whether you used dried chickpeas (cooked) or canned, you should (rinse and) dry them before sautéing them in heated olive oil. If you don’t, you’ll find the oil splattering all over your stovetop.
- Organize Before Cooking. Maybe it goes without saying. After all, it is one of my meal planning cardinal rules. (Do as I say, not as I too often do.) But if you put all the ingredients at the side of your stovetop, as you would for a stir-fry, this dish comes together easily and in minutes.On the other hand, if you have to scramble for an ingredient, you’ll lose that quick-and-easy preparation.Also,you might overcook the chickpeas.
- Heat the bowls before serving this. I always pre-heat bowls, plates, and cups to keep food and drinks hot. This may seem too elementary to mention, but my friends are often surprised – and delighted – to find their food piping hot because I serve it in pre-heated tableware.
Orecchiette with chickpeas & sage
An herb-infused and lemony pasta that features sage and orecchiette. It's quick cooking, so prepare/ measure the ingredients out beforehand and you can make this weeknight dinner in minutes.
- 6 oz orecchiette or other small pasta 172 g - half of a typical (12 oz/340g) box
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided 1.5oz/40 g
- 2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, divided in half by size. Thinly slice half the larger sage leaves and leave the smaller ones whole.
- 1 cup chickpeas/ceci, cooked (if made from dried) or rinsed (if from a can) and dried 6 oz/170 g See note
- 1 clove garlic, minced or finely diced
- 1/2 cup chicken broth, homemade or store-bought (low sodium) See note
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground or cracked pepper
- 1/2 cup Parmesan (Parmigiano/Reggiano) or Romano cheese 1&1/2 oz/45 g See note
- 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
Boil salted water and cook the pasta al dente (just barely cooked.)
Meanwhile, heat about half the olive oil in a heavy, medium pan until just quite hot, but not smoking. Then quickly fry the smaller leaves and remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon when they are done. Leave the oil in the pan.
Add the chickpeas to the pan and cook on high heat for 3-5 minutes until they begin to turn brown. Add the garlic, and cook for another 30 seconds, just until the garlic begins to soften. Add the chicken broth, remaining sage, and pepper. and continue cooking until the broth reduces a bit and becomes thicker.
Drain the pasta, add the remaining half of the olive oil and stir. Then add the chickpea mixture, the lemon juice, and a good handful of the cheese. Taste and add salt if necessary. Top each portion with grated lemon rind and the reserved, fried sage leaves. Serve with remaining cheese on the side.
Drying chickpeas - I rinsed my dried chickpeas after cooking them, then poured them onto a clean dish towel and gently massaged them. You could use a paper towel - just be careful not to rub too hard or the paper will tear.
Chickpea water - The water from canned chickpeas and the water in which you cook the dried beans is called aqaufaba. If you're interested in learning about the many uses of this ingredient in vegan cooking, check out this post or this one.
Chicken broth - I keep my homemade chicken broth as well as leftover boxed chicken and vegetable broths frozen in ice cube-size portions, perfect for this recipe and others that call for small amounts of broth.