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Ceci beans and macaroni

(Food Styling By Lisa Falso; Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Necee Regis
Globe Correspondent / April 22, 2009

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Serves 8

Fast food doesn't have to mean bad food. This quick pasta dish combines a can of chickpeas, sometimes called ceci beans, with tiny pasta to create a hearty and satisfying meal. It's one of many regional variations of the Italian comfort food pasta e fagioli (known as pasta fazool). This particular recipe traveled from the Basilicata region of Italy to America with my maternal grandfather, George Fanelli. My grandmother, an Irish woman with the moniker Nelly Kelly Fanelli, mastered the dish that my mother, thankfully, recorded for posterity. As a 21st-century update, I've added fresh parsley for a burst of color and fresh flavor.

5 quarts water
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 pound ditalini
1/4 cup olive oil
1 can (about 15 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Black pepper, to taste
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1. In a soup pot, combine the water, onion, garlic, salt, basil, and crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil. Add the ditalini and cook, stirring occasionally, for8 minutes or until the pasta is tender but still has some bite. Dip a heatproof measuring cup into the pasta water and remove 3 cups.

2. Set a colander over a bowl. Drain the pasta into the colander. Return the ditalini to the pot. Add the olive oil, chickpeas, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, and 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Stir the pasta over medium heat until the dish is hot. It should be slightly soupy. Add enough of the remaining pasta water, 1/2 cup at a time, until the mixture is the right consistency.

3. Add pepper and parsley. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if you like. Spoon into bowls and garnish with some of the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.