I soliti ignoti, M. Monicelli (1958) “Pasta e ceci alla romana”

“Big Deal on Madonna Street is a 1958 Italian comedy film by Mario Monicelli. Its original title translates as “the usual unknown persons”, a journalistic and bureaucratic euphemism for “unidentified criminals”. The film is a comedy about a group of small-time thieves and ne’er-do-wells who bungle an attempt to burglarize a state-run pawn shop called Monte di Pietà in Rome passing from a neighboring flat”

I believe it offers a great ironic and fresh insight of the life of the sub-proletarians in Rome at that time and also of the human condition within the burdens and impositions of society (as all the Italian movies used to do in the old good days). It is considered one of the masterpiece of the Italian cinema and its beauty, irony and relevance are timeless.


The film tells the story of this group of sub proletarians used to prison and small thefts organising the bigger robbery of their life. When at the end the plan crumbles and they realize they can’t succeed they give up on dreams and leave the apartment after eating the pasta with chickpeas they find in the kitchen.

“Pasta e ceci” is a very traditional dish in Italy and every region, sometime every town, has got his own version. It connected to the restriction imposed by the Catholic church not to eat meat during the Lent and during the so called “giorni di magro”, skinny days. So please, non Italian audience,  understand that they don’t just “steal food” or eat any “pasta and beans”.

Here the extract of the movie: I soliti ignoti, Mario Monicelli (1958) – Scena della pasta e ceci (I will soon upload one version with subtitles)

I will give you the proper traditional version of the recipe as they prepare it in Rome and also a very quick version towards my “a walk on the cheap side” blog section.

This is meant to be a humble dish so feel free to adapt it to modern time. You will anyway end up with a earthy creamy dish, super nutritious and amazingly cheap. You can have most of the ingredients sitting in your kitchen for long time and they can be sourced very easily.


Serving 4 people, or 2 very hungry ones… anyway if you go for the long preparation just cook double quantity of chickpeas and you can keep them on the side for the day after. We don’t cook every day, do we?

250g of dried chickpeas

2 table spoon of bicarbonate of soda

3 sprigs of rosemary

2 whole garlic cloves, plus 3 sliced ones

200g of canned chopped tomatoes or passata

2 tea spoon of salt

4 table spoon of vegetable oil, plus more for drizzling (I always use extra virgin olive oil)

4 anchovy fillets

280g of pasta, it can be any kind as long as it is short, even broken spaghetti. Traditionally people would use the leftovers of different pasta sorts so that’s the chance to get rid of the nearly empty bags and boxes of pasta you may have accumulate.

4 table spoon of grated pecorino romano and freshly ground black pepper to serve.

Traditional method (long!)

1.In a large bowl soak the chickpeas for 24 hours circa in cold water where you have dissolved the bicarbonate of soda.

2. Drain the chickpeas and wash them quickly then put them in a large pot with 1.5l of cold water, the whole garlic cloves and 2 sprigs of rosemary (use a sachet if you can) and bring to boil. Let cook 1.5-2 hours, adding the tomatoes and the salt just in the last half hour. Add water if the chickpeas become to dry. Once ready switch off and leave it on the side with all the cooking water.

3.Take 2-3 ladles of chickpeas and smash it in a bowl. In a frying pan put the oil, the chopped garlic and the anchovies. Cook at very low fire until the anchovies are melted. Add the smashed chickpeas and fry them slightly and finally add them in the pot with the rest of the chickpeas and the cooking water, stirr well.

4.That’s it, the base for your pasta e ceci is done. Now you can bring back to boil, adding some more water if needed and you can cook the pasta in your chickpeas “soup”.

Having a more runny or dry result its really up to your taste, add more water or cook longer to make it more dense. Personally I like it quite dense, with the chickpeas cream coating the pasta. Good rule is to add water little by little to control the results better.

5.Serve in soup bowls with a sprinkle of grated pecorino romano (found mine at Sainsbury’s! Not the best one but it does the job), black pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Quick method

Use canned ready cooked chickpeas (drain them well and wash them), cooked them in half litre water for less time or anyway until till they start to smash (remember you can add more water when you want if needed).

Follow the rest of the procedure (points 3, 4 and 5). Don’t be intimidated by recipes: use any oil you have, different herbs, onion instead of garlic, forget about anchovies, don’t put tomatoes, use cheddar cheese… make all the variations you want because chickpeas are amazing food and you may not get the traditional “pasta e ceci alla romana” but still a fantastic meal.

Enjoy and please contact me at ilaria.cnnv@gmail.com if you need any advice!

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Food&cinema: a 1979 Italian feast.

“La patata bollente” is a 1979 Italian Movie directed by Steno.

“Bernardo Mambelli alias “Ghandi” (Renato Pozzetto) is a PCI militant and pugilist working at a paint factory in Milan. One night, he sees a bunch of neo-Nazis beating a frail young man (Massimo Ranieri). He saves the man and brings him to his house to learn that he is Claudio, a homosexual. With nowhere to go, Claudio starts staying at Bernardo’s house but a series of typical misunderstandings lead his comrades as well as his girlfriend Maria (Edwige Fenech) to believing that he has “turned gay”. Bernardo is now seen as a potential lost cause and the ongoings soon reveal a “hot potato” situation for him.”

Here the sumptuous meal prepared by Claudio(Massimo Ranieri) in order to welcome back and conquer Bernardo. A most fine culinary and cultural movie passage. Bless.

La patata bollente, Steno 1979. La scena del pranzo. (link to youtube)


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