I’m not one for splashing chicken stock around in the kitchen. I think it has its place in broth-style soups or in dishes that actually feature chicken, but I’ve always found its presence in vegetable risottos or vegetable soups (and in so, so many other recipes you read) just a little bit insulting! Like the poor old vegetables can’t stand up on their own. There are other ways of creating flavour and depth that are much more fresh and vibrant, whether that be for a paella, pumpkin risotto or cauliflower soup.
For dishes like paella I’ve found that leaving stock out makes little difference, what with the chorizo, smoked paprika, wine and all the other big flavours going on. For vegetable risottos I do use stock, but make a quick-fire vegetable stock and freeze half for another occasion. For most other dishes, I turn to things like plenty of onion and garlic; carrot and celery if they fit the bill; herbs; ginger and spices if appropriate; and sometimes these fellows that inhabit my fridge – parmesan rinds.
They are pure umami, waiting around very patiently in your cheese department until you want to use them, adding a lightly cheesy richness and fullness to vegetable soups such as minestrone. You can think of them as a vegetarian ham bone.
They do a brilliant job in this version of pasta e ceci – pasta with chickpeas – which originated with a recipe from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy (bless that man – I continue to think he is a genius). But sorry Jamie, adding chicken stock to the soup was not for me, so I added a few parmesan rinds instead, and also some carrot and bay leaves that weren’t in his recipe. It is beautiful comfort food, and I love how blending half the chickpeas to a puree gives you a thick, almost gravy like soup that envelopes the remaining whole chickpeas, vegetables and pasta.
The other thing about this soup is that it is a store-cupboard classic – something to turn to when your fridge doesn’t have much to offer other than celery and carrot. (My pantry generally always has dried chickpeas and pasta.)
I cooked the soup for the first time as our last dinner before we set off on holiday to Vietnam two years ago, and also last month the day after we got back from a long camping trip. So somehow it has fondly become holiday soup for me, although I give it a good run around at other times too. This is a great recipe for doubling if you have lots of mouths to feed.
Italian chickpea soup
300 g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 large onion, chopped
4 celery stalks including leaves, lower stalks halved lengthways, chopped
2 large carrots, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 rosemary sprigs, leaves stripped from the stem and roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
1–2 parmesan rinds, depending on size
200 g ditali pasta or other similar sized pasta, or even penne (although bigger)
handful of basil leaves, roughly chopped, or parsley leaves, finely chopped
Tip the chickpeas and their soaking water into a saucepan and top up with extra water. Bring to the boil and cook until soft, keeping an eye on the water level and adding more if necessary. Once the chickpeas are cooked, stir in a teaspoon of salt and turn off the heat, leaving the chickpeas and cooking water in the saucepan.
Heat the olive oil in a pot and add the onion, celery and carrot. Cook over medium heat for around 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until lightly golden. Add the garlic, rosemary and bay leaves and continue to fry for another few minutes. Use a slotted spoon to scoop around half the chickpeas into the pot and add a few cups of fresh water too.
While the soup is coming to the boil, use a hand-held blender to blend up the remaining chickpeas and their cooking water in the saucepan. Pour the chickpea puree into the soup, and add the parmesan rind too. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the pasta to the soup and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until the pasta is just soft. When you add the pasta you might also need to add more water. The soup should be fairly thick but still with a nice slick of chickpea liquor coating all the ingredients. When the pasta is cooked, stir in the basil or parsley and add extra salt and pepper to taste.