The inspiration for the recipe came during a visit to Apulia, the strip of land forming the heel of the Italian boot. The Apulian kitchen, like the Sicilian, is influenced by the North African and Middle Eastern cultures. You can find chickpeas in many Apulian dishes.
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The most thrilling combination is pasta and chickpeas. Woody herbs like sage, thyme or oregano, mixed with quality local olive oil, give pasta a complexity and richness that works well with chickpeas, even though it is full of carbs. It is practically begging for za’atar.
You can use good, whole chickpeas from a can in this recipe. It is worthwhile to use pasta gigli (or campanelle). Gigli means lilies in Italian. The pasta’s serrated ends are well suited to picking up the chickpeas and the anchovies in the sauce. Orecchiette or conchiglie are also good substitutes.
90ml olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped (260g)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 shaved strips of lemon
2 tsp chopped rosemary
2 tbsp chopped fresh za’atar leaves (or thyme as an alternative)
1 tbsp chopped sage
500g cooked chickpeas
1½ tbsp finely chopped anchovies
300ml chicken stock
2 tbsp lemon juice
400g gigli pasta
20g chopped parsley
20g chopped mint
1 tbsp dried za’atar mix
Salt and black pepper
Place a large sauté pan on a high heat with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onion and cumin and fry for about 8 minutes, until soft and caramelized. Add the garlic, lemon skin, rosemary, thyme and sage and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the chickpeas, anchovies, stock, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Bring to the boil and cook for 3 minutes for the liquid to thicken and reduce, mashing some of the chickpeas with a spoon in the process.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook for 8 minutes, or according to the packet instructions, until al dente. Drain, transfer to a bowl and mix with 2 tablespoons of oil.
Divide the pasta between four plates. Fold the fresh herbs into the sauce and spoon over the pasta. Sprinkle the za’atar over it, along with a final drizzle of oil, and serve at once.