Friday, October 2, 2015

Be Brave. Eat Ceci. My Favorite One Pot Meal - Ceci and Pasta.


~Just some yummies from my garden!!!

     Fall is a great time for one-pot-meals. Soups and stews that you can throw together fairly quickly for family dinners are great. To be honest though, I’m often a little suspicious of the one-pot phenomenon. I find that it more than occasionally can lead to mushy vegetables floating around in a soupy mix with meat that’s either gummy or tough. Nobody wants to dig into beef stew where you can’t tell the carrots from the potatoes.

    On a side note – I don’t make beef stew. I just can’t. 

    I make Ceci and Pasta, instead.

    This was my favorite meal as a kid. My brother’s too. The second we arrived home after school, and opened the front door, the aroma of garlic and basil would greet us with a sweet and spicy hello, and, oh mama, we knew what was for dinner. I felt grateful on those days, and, now, as a mom of three, I know it can take a lot to make your kids feel grateful. 

     This is a simple peasant dish from Italy, but it packs a ton of flavor and as much spice as you want. If you or your kids want to tone the crushed red pepper down, by all means do so. I even have a version of this that uses cumin and cinnamon to give the meal more of a Middle Eastern flair. My great Italian friend, Carly Abruzzo, shared her Turkish version of Ceci and Pasta with me, years ago, and my family loved it.

     Some of you are wondering right now – what the heck is a ceci? How do you even say it? It’s pronounced like sketchy but “chetchy,” and ceci is the Italian word for chick pea. Now, over the web waves I can hear you closed-minded eaters saying “oh hell no,” and imagining your kids gagging on the little beans. Please don’t despair. Don’t stop reading.

     Chick peas are an excellent source of protein and fiber.
     They are inexpensive and easy to find, and you can get them canned or dried.
     They don’t have strong flavor, so kids will keep eating them if you get them to try just one.

     My kids dig the balsamic coated ceci out of our salads at dinner. I’m always chastising them to use a fork. My dear friend, Rachel Spirer used to call me a chick pea whore, because every time she came down for lunch with her then preschooler, there were chick peas on the table. And my daughter was inhaling them. They are a staple in my pantry, and if you introduce them the right way, your kids will like them too.

     Enjoy the recipes below. As promised, Ceci and Pasta is a quick weeknight meal. I added my recipe for roasted ceci – great for a little snacking and especially for my Aunt Lina who also loves ceci. Also, I’ve included a recipe for an awesome ceci salad –great for a picnic or party.

Ceci and Pasta
     This hearty Italian stoup, served with a side salad and some crusty bread is the perfect weeknight meal. It’s also a Lenten favorite, because it’s protein packed, but meatless.

2T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion or 1 bag frozen onions
2T chopped fresh basil
1t crushed red pepper seeds
1t each Salt and pepper
1 28 oz can tomato sauce
1 C hot water
1 can ceci beans
1 C uncooked short pasta (elbows or ditalini work well)
Grated Parm or Romano to serve

In stock pot or dutch oven, fry garlic and onions in olive oil with salt, pepper, basil and crushed red pepper. Cook until onions and garlic are translucent.
Add sauce and water and let simmer for 20-30 minutes.
Add ceci and noodles and cook until noodles are al dente.
Ladle into soup bowls and serve with grated cheese on top.

NOTE: If you’d like to make the Middle Eastern version of this soup, substitute ½ tsp cinnamon and ¼ tsp cumin for the basil and crushed red pepper. This is wonderful as well, and your kids will love the flavors, especially the cinnamon.

Roasted Ceci
     The trick to this awesome and healthy snack is to let the beans dry for at least ½ hour after you drain them. They need to be completely dry to get the crunchy texture that makes them a favorite for munching.

1 can ceci
1 tsp each of salt, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, pepper
2 T olive oil

Drain ceci and lay on a paper towel to dry completely. Once the beans are totally dry, place them ina  bowl and toss with olive oil and spices. You can really use any spices you like. The ones above are just my fave. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes or until browned and crispy. These are way tastier than microwave popcorn and a healthier choice for family movie night.

Minty Fresh Ceci and Tomato salad
     This salad pairs well with everything. If you’re having a cookout, this is a great, healthy alternative to things like potato or mac salad. The lemon juice and herbs mingle to create a burst of fresh flavor that everyone will love. And, if you have leftovers, it’s even yummier the next day.

3 garlic cloves, minced
6 scallions – white and green parts, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 can ceci beans
1T chopped fresh mint
½ C chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ C olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
½ C feta cheese

Directions – Toss veggies, herbs, and beans in a large bowl. Add seasonings, olive oil and lemon juice and stir. Add feta cheese and toss again. Voila!

I hope these recipes turn you and your family into chick pea fans (or as Rachel would put it – chick pea whores.) Happy ceci eating.


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