Sardinian chickpea, fennel, and tomato soup

February 11, 2012 at 10:18 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Beans, Della Croce, Derek's faves, Fall recipes, Italian, Monthly menu plan, One pot wonders, Quick weeknight recipe, Root vegetables, soup, Spring recipes, Winter recipes) (, )

This recipe from The Vegetarian Table: Italy (by Julia Della Croce) is for a Sardinian version of pasta e fagioli.  It didn’t look too exciting to me.   I like all the ingredients, but there didn’t seem to be anything to give it punch.  But a friend told me it was one of his favorite recipes from the cookbook, so I figured I’d give it a try.  It turned out it was delicious—much more than the sum of its parts.  I have no idea why. Even Derek, who complained bitterly about me making soup again, liked it a lot.


  • 1 large clove garlic, chopped [I use more]
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley (or you can use some fresh thyme or basil)
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large bulb fennel, stalks and fronds removed, cored, and thinly sliced crosswise (about 2 cups) [reserve fronds!]
  • 3 Tbs. minced fresh fennel fronds
  • 1 large boiling or baking potato, peeled and cut into small dice
  • 2 1/2 cups chickpeas, rinsed and drained [I use a bit more]
  • 2 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped fresh or canned plum tomatoes
  • 2 Tbs. salt [I use much, much less. Maybe 1.33 tsp. if the broth is unsalted?]
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 cups water, boiling
  • 1 cup ditalini pasta (I use other small pastas)
  • 1/4 cup coarsely grated or shredded fior di Sardegna or other mild sheep’s milk cheese, plus extra for the table [I used a not-too-aged pecorino]


  1. Mince your garlic and then chop your onion and parsley.
  2. In a 5-quart pot, heat the oil.  (A 4-quart pot will also work, but it will be quite full by the end!). Add the onion, garlic, and 2 Tbs. of parsley;  cover and cook gently, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are lightly colored, about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, slice your fennel and dice your potato.
  3. Remove the cover and add the fennel bulb and fronds and potato and saute for an additional 10 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, 1 tsp. salt, pepper, and chickpeas and boiling water.  Stir well, cover, and cook for ten minutes over medium heat.
  4. Add the pasta and more salt if desired (I add another 1/4 tsp. maybe and then salt to taste at the end.) Continue to simmer, uncovered, until the pasta is just tender. (Note: Due to the tomatoes, the pasta will take quite a bit longer to cook than then the pasta package says. But it will also keep cooking in the hot soup, so turn off the heat when the pasta is still a bit too al dente.)
  5. Stir in the final 1 tsp. of parsley and 1/4 cup of grated cheese.  Serve with additional cheese at the table.
Serves 6.

Variation: The author also describes a variation with rosemary.  When you add the tomatoes you also add 1 heaping Tbs. of tomato paste.  Increase the water to 7 cups.  Crush half the chickpeas with a potato masher or blender.  When you add the boiling water stir in 1 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary leaves or 1 tsp. dried rosemary.

To freeze: If you make this soup ahead of time, wait to add the pasta, as it will end up overcooked.  Also, if you intend to freeze this soup, freeze it before adding the pasta.


Update Nov 2022:

We had a last-minute dinner guest and I needed to figure out a dinner quick. Derek wanted to cook up some duck and asked me to make something to go with it. I decided to make this soup as it’s pretty quick and easy, tasty, and would be a one-pot meal for me. Normally Alma is not a huge fan of this soup, but today she was hungry, and ate *3* bowls of it! Derek and our guest both said they liked it a lot.

Update Nov 28, 2021:

I made this for dinner tonight, along with a green salad. I didn’t have enough fresh parsley but otherwise it came out really well. Alma had one bowl then asked for seconds, but didn’t eat much of her second bowl. But we had had a marmalade taste test not long before dinner and she had eaten a lot of bread and butter with marmalade on it, so I think she wasn’t that hungry. She did eat a green salad after she was done with her soup though, and asked for a bowl of frozen berries, so maybe she was just tired of the soup. I asked her what she thought and she rated the soup “like”, so I would say a solid B. Derek changed his rating to an A-. 

Normally Alma is not a big fan of “mixed” dishes, but in this recipe the onions and fennel seem to kind of dissolve into the soup so to I think it kind of seemed like pasta and tomato sauce with chickpeas, so it didn’t feel too scary to her. And it was a pretty quick recipe. I think it took me maybe 25 to 30 minutes total (with cleanup along the way), and not all of that was active cooking time.

We like this soup enough I think I will add it to my monthly menu plan, at least for the colder months.

Update March 2021:

I made this for dinner last night, except I didn’t have enough parsley. I added some fresh basil at the end instead, and thought it was nice, albeit not quite as nice as the more bitter addition that parsley makes. 

I think I added 1.5 tsp. fine salt + 1 bouillon cube and it ended up quite salty. I’d put in less next time.

Alma ate one bowl without complaint. She just asked for “lots of noodles and not much broth.” I served the soup with bread and roasted bell peppers, but the soup is pretty starchy so I think the bread is unnecessary. Next time I might try a beet and egg and fennel salad. Derek said the soup was delicious.

My original notes from Feb 11, 2012:

I didn’t have any fresh parsley so I added a bunch of recently home-dried thyme instead. I couldn’t find ditalini so I used a mini shell pasta made with 25% pumpkin and carrots. The only other change I made was reducing the salt.  (The recipe calls for 2 Tbs. of salt, and serves 6!)

I liked the soup a lot, even without the cheese.  The broth is surprisingly flavorful, and the chickpeas, potato, and fennel add lots of different textures.  The pasta was good too.  On the first day it seemed like there was very little pasta, but on the second day the pasta had swollen up so much I could no longer tell I had used mini shells.  They were huge!  I had to add more water as well, since the pasta had absorbed so much.

  • Derek said the soup was tasty and very satisfying:  B+
  • My rating: B+


  1. Tallulah said,

    I miss your new recipes!

    • captious said,

      I know, I know. Been traveling a lot and just haven’t had time to post much lately. I have a backlog of recipes to write up, but the longer I wait the harder it gets to remember the details.

  2. What to do with fennel? « The captious vegetarian said,

    […] sliced in soup, with white beans and rosemary (or sage), with chickpeas and tomatoes, or with mushrooms and […]

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