Chickpea Pasta Casserole

The first semester of my Freshman year of college, I went to school in New York - Ithaca, to be exact. It took me a grand total of I think 2.5 months to realize I wasn't even going to make it to January there, much less through the entire second semester. It rained or snowed every day after late September, and the gusts of wind were enough to freeze your lungs and knock you out cold. Sunny days in Ithaca are beautiful, but too few and far between to outweigh every other rotten weather day hovering atop that small mountain. So, I transferred. Now, of course, the winter here is beginning to feel much too akin to that of Ithaca than I would like, and although the sun is out today, I still find myself dreading the lab I need to walk to in just under an hour from now.

This winter calls for heavy dishes - and I don't necessarily mean calorically dense. I mean, rib-sticking recipes: soup, casseroles, stews, chili. Homemade bread to get the rib stickage factor up another ten notches. Although this recipe for chickpea casserole doesn't have a homemade bread component, it does throw some hearty pasta into it, so carb lovers should have no fear. I'm sure that true carb lovers would still add a loaf of homemade dough to this menu, but I can assure you that it certainly doesn't need it.

As it is, exactly as it is, this casserole is everything you need to forget about the harsh winter raging outside your kitchen. There's no heavy cream involved, just sour cream and some parmesan, so you can play around with the literal heaviness of it; but either way, it's thick and creamy, and doesn't have to be too sinful. Instead, it's savory and a little salty, creamy and indulgent, and warm and filling.

I've made this twice now, and the first time could not get it to thicken up. It wound up being a soup that still tasted incredible, but lacked a little bit of the heartiness that a thicker consistency brings. The second time around I was able to get it to thicken better, partially by pureeing the chickpeas first and also by allowing for more reducing time. I've come to find that the canned parmesan is much saltier and stronger than the Real Deal, so if you're using that you might want to decrease the amount by a little bit. I'd also encourage throwing in some spinach or pureed or chopped veggies (cauliflower, pepper, asparagus...), and maybe even slightly increasing the amount of chickpeas and pasta (though not by too much). I made a few adjustments, some out of laziness, some just to try to use up similar products that I had in my pantry.

Chickpea Pasta Casserole, courtesy of Gourmet Fury
Yield: 4 main dish servings

The Ingredients
1/2 pound dry pasta
1 large can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 head roasted garlic (I used un-roasted minced instead, maybe 3-4 tablespoons)
1 small onion, chopped fine
3 cups chicken stock (use vegetable stock to make it vegetarian)
1/2 cup sour cream, any fat
3 cups grated parmesan*
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped (I used 1.5 tablespoons dried basil)
salt and pepper, to taste
good olive oil, for sauteeing

The Method
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cook the pasta al dente in a medium pot. Once finished, drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the onions in a large sauce pan coated in olive oil until caramelized - this can take a decent amount of time. Season, optionally, with salt once caramelization is reached. If you do not have an immersion blender, while you are waiting for the onions to finish, puree the chickpeas.** You may need to add some olive oil to the food processor to help the chickpeas along. Add the chickpeas and the garlic to the pan and cook over medium heat until the chickpeas are warmed through. Pour in the chicken stock, and allow the mixture to come to a simmer.

If you own an immersion blender, blend the mixture to reach a smooth consistency, all the while drizzling about 1/3 cup of olive oil into the mixture (though I have my doubts that this is really necessary). Once this is done, stir in the sour cream. Finally, add in the pasta, half of the cheese, and the parsley.

Transfer the mixture to either one 9x13" oven-safe pan or several individual ramekins and spread the remaining cheese on top. Place into the preheated oven and bake until the cheese has turned golden, approximately 10 minutes. Serve hot.***

*If you're using the cheap, canned parmesan cheese, I wouldn't use more than 1/2 cup. I used 2/3 cup and still found it to be too overpowering.
**Alternatively, you can wait until after adding the chickpeas and chicken stock to the pan, and then transfer the warmed mixture to a food processor to puree the entire thing in batches. This may lead to a product more similar to the original, but is a big pain in the neck to do.
***Here, the directions state to drizzle with even more olive oil. I say, enough already! It was plenty delicious without all of that.

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