Nigella Lawson: 'This recipe for chickpea and pasta soup comes from one of my favourite books, which, shamefully, is out of print. This is the recipe I cook when skies are grey or spirits are down, and I borrowed it gratefully in my first book, How to Eat. Anna del Conte is something of a mentor of mine: her books inspire, as does she. Long before I started as a food writer, I went to one of her demonstrations and her kindness, scholarliness and plain good taste made me just a little bit, an important bit, more confident in the kitchen. "
400g dried chickpeas 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda 2 tbsp flour 2 tbsp salt 3 litres vegetable stock or water 3 rosemary sprigs 8 garlic cloves, peeled and bruised 120ml extra virgin olive oil 400g skinned fresh tomatoes, seeded 270g small tubular pasta such as ditalini parmesan cheese for grating chilli oil and flat-leaf parsley, optional
Put the chickpeas in a bowl and cover with plenty of water. Mix together the bicarb of soda, flour and salt and add enough water to make a thin paste. Stir this mixture into the bowl with the chickpeas and leave to soak for at least 12 hours - preferably 24.
When the chickpeas have doubled their weight (you don't have to get your scales out: trust your eyes) they are ready to be cooked. Drain and rinse. Put them in a large stockpot and add the vegetable stock or the same quantity of water. Tie the rosemary sprigs in a muslin bag and add to the stockpot.
Add the garlic to the stockpot and pour in half the oil. Cover the pan tightly and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and cook over the lowest simmer until the chickpeas are tender, which can take two to four hours. Do not uncover the pan for the first hour and a half, or the chickpeas will harden. For the same reason, do not add any salt until the chickpeas are nearly ready.
When the chickpeas are tender, remove the garlic and the rosemary bundle. Purée the tomatoes through a food mill or in a food processor and add to the soup with their juice. Stir well, add salt and pepper to taste and cook for a further 10 minutes or so. This is the point at which you should stop when you're cooking the soup in advance. In which case, when you want to eat it, put it back on the hob and reheat it, so that you can proceed to the final step, which is to cook the pasta.
Before you add the pasta, check that there is enough liquid in the pan. You may have to add some boiling water. Now, add the pasta and cook till al dente. I like to add some freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley, but the glory of this soup will be undiminished if you prefer not to. But do pour some of the remaining oil into the pot of soup, and drizzle some more into each bowl after you've ladled in the soup. Put the Parmesan on the table with a grater.
· Taken from Anna del Conte's Entertaining all'Italiana