Cavatelli con Ceci Neri e Pomodorini

There is something intriguing about black-colored foods, perhaps, it’s because they are not something we get our mouth’s around everyday. Most commonly, there is chocolate, espresso, black beans and Beluga lentils, but even less common is squid ink pasta, charcoal bread, black garlic and black quinoa. Rarer yet are black chickpeas or ceci neri.

These foods from the dark side are filled with more antioxidants than light-colored foods because of their high pigment content. In fact, black, purple, blue and red whole foods are brimming with anthocyanins, a powerful phytonutrient that may help reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer. Benefits certainly worth crossing over to the dark side for!

The first time I saw black chickpeas I was taken. These dark, gravelly-looking pellets hail from the Murgia region of Basilicata in Italy, but they are also staples in India and Ethiopia. Cooked in soups, hummus, curries and even pastas, black chickpeas are soft on the inside and have a bite to the skin. The coolest thing, I think, is that they retain their black hue, even when cooked.

Cavatelli-Ceci-Neri-2They have a rich umami taste and don’t need much when it comes to seasoning. After a 24-48 hour soak, these legumes are ready to cook. I paired my black chickpeas with cavatelli (little hollows) shaped pasta. This thick and chewy pasta is made from durum wheat flour and has little ridges that grip onto the hearty sauces that adorn them.

I received a bag of beautiful ceci neri from Melandri Guadenzio, a boutique packager of legumes, cereals, oil, soups and seeds. I came up with this fresh and beautifully plated Cavatelli con Ceci Neri e Pomodorini, to show off the velvety texture and rich flavor of black chickpeas.

Cavatelli-Ceci-Neri-4Cavatelli con Ceci Neri e Pomodorini
Cavatelli with Black Chickpeas and Cherry Tomatoes

Serves 4

250 grams (4 cups) Cavatelli
1 cup cooked black chickpeas (about 1/2 cup dried)
1 bay leaf
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped guanciale or pancetta
2 shallots or 1 small onion
About 15-20 fresh cherry tomatoes or 1- 14oz can cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste (if using fresh cherry tomatoes)
1/4-1/2 cup water
1 bird’s eye chili pepper or crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
1 small sprig rosemary
Fresh chopped basil, to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
*coarse sea salt for cooking pasta

For the Black Chickpeas:
Soak the chickpeas for 24-48 hours, changing the water as necessary.
After soaking, add the black chickpeas to a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Add the bay leaf and 1 clove of the garlic. Simmer on medium heat for 2 hours or until soft. Drain and set aside.

For the Pasta Sauce:
Heat a saucepan on medium-high heat, add the extra virgin olive oil and fry the guanciale (or pancetta) until translucent. Next, add the shallots (or onion) and garlic, saute until fragrant. Add the fresh cherry tomatoes (*If using canned cherry tomatoes see below) and cook until they blister and pop, exposing their juice. Once they burst (you may help them along by pressing them with the back of a wooden spoon) you can add the tomato paste and water to thicken your sauce and add some rich flavor. Finally, add the black chickpeas, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until flavorful, about 30 minutes. If the sauce thickens too much simply add a little bit of the pasta cooking water to thin it out.*If using canned cherry tomatoes follow the same directions as above omitting the tomato paste.

For the Cavatelli:
Bring a large pot filled with water to boil, add a palm full of coarse sea salt and the cavatelli, once cooked, add the pasta to the sauce, if necessary add a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. Mix well, serve topped with grated Parmesan and a sprinkling of fresh basil.

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