1) Elena, thank you for giving us one of your favourite Italian recipes. But before explaining how to make your Pasta with chickpeas and ricotta, we are very curious to know something about you. Do you want to introduce yourself?
I am a computational biologist currently living in New Mexico, one of the largest and yet least known state in the United States of America. If you’ve never been to New Mexico, imagine the sceneries of one of Ennio Moriconi spaghetti westerns, add a few groves of ponderosa pines, and that’s pretty much where I live. It’s very beautiful, actually, so much so that the landscape got me hooked on photography.
2) Where are you originally from?
I grew up in Tuscany, which, everybody knows, is the most beautiful region in Italy. Haha, ok, just kidding, I know I can’t win that one. And, having married a Pugliese, I can’t even say that we have the best food in Italy either. We do, however, have a certain fame for our sarcasm …
3) And now, talking about food, what’s your favourite Italian recipe which you use to prepare often and easily?
The easiest recipe to make for me is pesto. The kids love to bring pasta al pesto to school for lunch, and it’s the perfect summer potluck dish.
4) What product do you miss mostly from Italy?
I really miss fresh cheese. Actually, back when we first moved to the US the thing we missed the most was bread. Back then they only head the dreaded “Bimbo” bread — that white, fluffy stuff that tastes like plastic. So we learned to make our own bread, but it never turned out crusty like “pane toscano”, my favorite. Now we actually get really good bread even in the small town where we live, and they even put it in a paper bag, not plastic! But I so miss some stracchino to spread on that bread, and fresh ricotta, and the real mozzarella, like “i nodini”, which one can only get in Puglia… le sigh.
About pasta ricotta and chickpeas
This is a Sicilian recipe that my maternal grandmother used to make. She never wrote down the recipe for me, so mine is a version from what I remember with a few personal additions (like the basil and the nutmeg). Nonna used to leave it a little liquidy and it was one of her favorite winter comfort foods. I actually discovered that it’s really tasty even cold as a summer pasta salad. So now I make it all year long.
INGREDIENTS for 4 servings
320 gr short- pasta (mezze maniche, elbows, tubetti, etc.)
250 gr ricotta
250 gr chickpeas, drained (one can, if you use it), or dried chickpeas
extra vergine olive oil
small white onion, chopped
a pinch of nutmeg
fresh basil leaves
half a cup of grated Parmesan cheese
black pepper and salt to taste
If you use the dried chickpeas:
let them soak in the water for around 8 hours (one night). Drain the water and rinse before cooking. Put the chickpeas in a large pot, pour some water to cover totally them. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook for about 1 hours and half or until they softened. Place them in a food processor and puree. Add salt, 2 tablespoon of olive oil and ground black pepper.
If you use pre-cooked chickpeas from a can, start here:
place the chickpeas in a small pot, add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, place in food processor and puree. Add salt, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and ground black pepper.
Continue in both cases doing the following:
In a saucepan, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, heat it up, then add the chopped onion and stir fry until golden. Add the pureed chickpeas and mix well. Add water if too thick. Add the ricotta and mix well until all ingredients are well blended. Cook the pasta al dente, drain, toss in the saucepan, add the Parmesan cheese and mix well. Serve with fresh basil leaves on top.
tips: this recipe is delicious served hot in winter but also makes a tasty pasta salad when served cold in the summer.