Tubetti with Chickpeas, Escarole and Pancetta

When I buy escarole for winter salads, I look for heavy heads with lots of crisp, blanched heart. The dark green outer leaves are too tough for salad, but I never throw them away. I save them until the next day, then blanch them and reheat them with olive oil and garlic, or use them in pasta sauces such as this one. Canned chickpeas are fine here, although I find the low-sodium versions too bland.  From Four Seasons Pasta by Janet Fletcher (Chronicle Books).

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1/4 pound pancetta, minced
  • 1 red onion, minced
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • Pinch of hot pepper flakes
  • Two 15 1/2-ounce cans chickpeas (not low sodium), with their liquid
  • One 4-inch sprig fresh rosemary
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 2 large heads escarole
  • 1 pound tubetti (ditali) or other small dried pasta

Heat the olive oil and pancetta in a large skillet over moderately low heat and cook until the pancetta begins to crisp, about 10 minutes. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and hot pepper flakes and cook briefly to release their fragrance. Add the chickpeas, including their liquid, and the rosemary sprig. Bring to a simmer, cover and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the chick peas are bathed in a flavorful sauce, about 10 minutes. Check occasionally and remove the rosemary sprig when the flavor is strong enough. Season with salt to taste. Keep warm.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Separate the escarole heads into individual leaves. Reserve the pale tender hearts for salad. Add the other leaves to the boiling water, pushing them down into the water with tongs. Return to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, then transfer them with the tongs to a sieve and chill quickly under cold running water. Keep the cooking water at a boil. Drain the escarole well, then squeeze gently to remove excess water. Chop coarsely.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until about 2 minutes shy of al dente. Set aside 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and return it to the warm pot over moderately low heat. Add the chickpeas and the escarole. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Moisten with some of the reserved pasta water as needed. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for about 5 minutes. Serve in warm bowls, drizzling a generous amount of olive oil over each serving.

Serves 4 to 6