Zuppa all’Amatriciana with Crispy Cacio e Pepe Chickpeas

SERVES: 4-6

This soup takes its inspo from a beloved Roman pasta sauce called Amatriciana, which combines guanciale (cured pork jowl), tomatoes, red pepper flakes and parm. It’s one of those pasta sauces that is far greater than the sum of its parts. I’ve turned that sauce into a soup, adding tiny pasta (any shape will do) and chickpeas to give it body. The crispy cacio e pepe chickpeas that top it are technically optional but really they’re mandatory. They are SO freaking good.

Active Time: 1 hr 35 mins

Total Time: 2 hrs

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Produce

  • 2 yellow onions
  • 1 large fennel bulb
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1 small bunch mint

Pantry

  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 ½ cups dry white wine
  • 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 15-oz cans chickpeas
  • 1 cup tiny pasta (ditalini, mini shells, or macaroni)

Dairy

  • 3 ounces pecorino and/or parmesan cheese

Protein

  • 12 ounces thick cut smoked bacon

1. Do some prep:

  • Peel and coarsely chop 2 yellow onions, and 1 large fennel bulb. Transfer to a food processor and blitz until very finely chopped. If you don’t have a food processor, finely chop the vegetables from the beginning, getting them as small as possible! Transfer the chopped vegetables to a medium bowl. Wipe out the food processor but don’t wash it.
  • Peel 8 garlic cloves; add to the food processor and blitz until finely chopped. Leave them there for the moment.
  • Using a sharp knife, finely dice 12 ounces bacon.

2. Build the soffrito:

  • Add the bacon to a large Dutch oven and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until the bacon is sizzling, golden brown and crisp, 8-10 minutes.
  • Stir in 2 big glugs of olive oil, a bunch of heavy cranks of black pepper, and ¾ teaspoon red pepper flake, stir for 15 seconds to bloom.
  • Add the onion and fennel mixture, a couple big pinches of salt, and cook, over medium until all of the water has driven off, and the sofrito is soft and light golden, about 30 minutes. Be patient here, do not turn the heat up, if anything turn it down if it’s starting to stick–you’re developing a lot of flavor through this process and don’t want to rush.
  • After 30 minutes, increase the heat to medium high and cook, stirring constantly, until the sofrito sticks to the bottom of the pot and caramelizes in some spots, 7-8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and cook just until fragrant, 30 seconds.
  • Stir in 1½ cups dry white wine, and one of the 28 ounce cans of tomatoes (you’ll add the other later) and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the soup base is thick and jammy, 25 minutes.

3. Build the soup:

  • While the wine simmers, open the remaining can of crushed tomatoes and 2 cans of chickpeas. Drain one can of chickpeas.
  • Once jammy, add the tomatoes, and the drained chickpeas to the pot. Stir in 3 cups of water and another big pinch of salt. Throw a few large sprigs of mint into the soup. Bring the soup to a simmer over medium high.
  • Once the soup comes to a simmer, stir in 1½ cups tiny pasta of your choice. Simmer, according to package instructions for the pasta–until the pasta is cooked.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in 2 ounces finely grated pecorino or parm. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or red pepper flakes as needed. Remove from the heat until ready to serve:

4. Meanwhile, make the cacio e pepe chickpeas:

  • Drain the remaining can of chickpeas through a fine mesh strainer. Transfer to a kitchen towel and pat dry until most of the moisture is wicked away.
  • Combine the chickpeas and ¼ cup olive oil in a large nonstick skillet and set over medium heat. Cook, shaking the pan every few minutes until the chickpeas have turned deep golden brown, the sizzling has subsided substantially, and they are crispy (taste one!), 20-25 minutes.
  • Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a medium bowl. Finely grate 1 garlic clove over them while still hot. Toss to combine. Season the chickpeas with lots of salt and pepper.
  • Just before serving, finely grate some more pecorino or parm into the bowl of chickpeas and toss to coat. [Note: chickpeas only stay crisp for a several hours, so if serving this the next day, hold off and make the cacio e pepe chickpeas day of.]

5. Serve:

  • Reheat the soup over medium heat if needed –– you’ll notice the pasta will swell quite a bit as it sits, so you’ll need to add a bit of water to thin it out.
  • Divide the soup among bowls. Top each one with some torn mint, a big pile of crispy chickpeas, a generous drizzle of olive oil and lots of grated cheese.

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