Pasta con ceci, or pasta with chickpeas, is a dish that has become a staple on chilly evenings, and commonplace on the menus in Italy. However this dish began in Europe as that of peasants. The saying “fricti ciceris emptor” translates to “a buyer of roasted chickpeas,” and is said to have been used to refer to the poor in Italy.
Chickpeas are native to southwestern Asia, but recipes containing these beans were evident in Italy as far back as medieval periods. It is said that the more frequented name for the garbanzo bean, chickpea, is actually just a manifestion of the Italian phrase ceci. Ceci is an abbreviated form of the species name cicer arietinum, which means “little rams head.” There is also a fable in Italy that the name comes from the beans’ proclivity to the head of a chicken. No matter the name, this bean has become an ingredient in a number of dishes, one of the most classic being pasta con ceci.
Cucina povera was a classification for food of the poor, and pasta con ceci was an integral dish in this category because of its ingredients and adaptability. The dish is classified as either a soup, or a pasta dish all depending on the amount of water that is added. People create their own way of making it, sometimes with tomatoes, sometimes with scraps of meat. This dish could be watered down and made with a few common ingredients, and it could be served as a satisfying option for a great number of people. A steaming bowl of this hearty soup kept the impoverished fed in its early conception, but the rich flavors and high protein content are what kept this dish on the stove for centuries.