- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

My husband, a college professor, loves to invite students to our house. As a result, for more than two decades, I have cooked dinners, prepared brunches and served appetizers to countless groups of young scholars.

From experience, I’ve learned that many members of this generation are vegetarians and that I need to keep that in mind. Another thing I’ve noticed is that even the simplest food seems to bring students immeasurable pleasure. They are eternally grateful for home-cooked fare.

When my spouse asked recently if we could host a small supper for several students who were working on a special project with him, I decided to anchor the meal with a hearty soup from “Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy” (Rodale), a new cookbook by Judith Barrett. While leafing through this collection, I salivated over the many uncomplicated and delicious-sounding recipes. But one dish in particular, a Tuscan pasta-chickpea soup, seemed like it would make a perfect centerpiece for a casual vegetarian menu on a cold winter night.

This easy soup requires little hands-on preparation. Dried chickpeas are soaked overnight, then drained and combined with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and tomatoes. I simmer this mixture in water for a couple of hours until the beans are tender. Next, some of the beans are pureed and returned to the soup to add body. Finally, I add short pasta (called tubetti or ditalini and available in most grocery stores) and cook it until al dente.

I’m going to serve bowls of this steaming hot soup garnished with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprig of fresh rosemary. A salad of arugula or spinach and radicchio, tossed in a balsamic dressing, plus a loaf of crusty Italian bread, make fine accompaniments. For dessert, some gelato and biscotti offered with cups of espresso should bring smiles to the faces of our young guests.

Soup of pasta and chickpeas(Zuppa di pasta e ceci)

This recipe was adopted from “Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy.”

1 cup dried chickpeas

5 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving

1 large garlic clove, peeled

1 stem rosemary, leaves only, chopped (about 2 teaspoons)

1 cup canned chopped tomatoes with their juice

6 ounces short pasta, such as ditalini or tubetti (see note)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rosemary sprigs for garnish, optional

Soak the chickpeas overnight (8 hours or longer) in cold water for 8 hours or longer. Drain and discard the soaking water, rinse under cold water, and drain again.

Combine chickpeas with olive oil, garlic, rosemary, tomatoes and 10 cups cold water in a heavy 6-quart soup pot or casserole over medium-high heat. When the water begins to boil, lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, about 2 hours, until the chickpeas are tender. Pass half the chickpeas through a food mill or puree in a food processor or blender, and return them to the soup.

Add pasta and continue cooking, stirring frequently to prevent pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot, 10 to 12 minutes, or until pasta is tender but firm to the bite, al dente. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (You will need a lot of salt.) Add a drizzle of olive oil to each serving, and garnish each with a rosemary sprig, if desired. Makes 5 to 6 servings.

Note: The recipe calls for 6 ounces short pasta, which is about 11/4 cups, but if you like, you can lower the pasta to about 4 ounces, which is a scant cup.

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