February 24, 2011

spicy tomato ragu with chickpeas and olives

Meatless dishes are especially satisfying when they serve up an ebullient kick of heat. This past weekend I made a rustic tomato and chickpea ragu that was spiced with jalapenos and crushed red chile, brightened with fresh spinach, and livened up with salty brined olives. Tossed with wagon wheel pasta (one of my favorite shapes -- so cute!), the combination made for a hearty and satisfying vegetarian supper.

This ragu is an ideal cooking project for a Sunday afternoon -- easy-going and comforting, the simmering sauce fills the kitchen with tantalizing aromas. Prepping the vegetables and aromatics took all of 10 minutes. Once the tomatoes and herbs were in the pot I left them to simmer for about 2 hours so the flavors would deepen and meld together and become more complex. I added the chickpeas, spinach, and olives toward the end of cooking to keep the chickpeas intact and the flavors fresh and bright.

The protein-rich, toothsome chickpeas were a good match with the spicy tomato base and al dente pasta; creamy cannellini beans would also be great in their place, so I'm going to try them next time. If you're not in a pasta mood, the hearty ragu would be delicious slathered over a pile of quinoa, farro, or soft polenta, or simply mopped up with a hunk of crusty peasant bread.


spicy tomato ragu with chickpeas and olives
Serves 4 to 6

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced small (about 1/4-inch pieces)
  • 1 carrot, diced small
  • 1 celery rib, diced small
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, diced small
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, minced (seeds included)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp red chile flakes (or to taste)
  • One 28-oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 2 cups cooked chickpeas)
  • 1/2 cup pitted brined olives, such as kalamata, quartered
  • 4 cups fresh spinach, washed and torn into bite-size pieces
  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste
>>For serving: 1 pound pasta, cooked al dente
>>Optional: cheese, for garnish, such as Parmesigiano-Reggiano, Romano, feta, or ricotta salata, grated or crumbled

Heat 2 to 3 Tbsp olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper, and a pinch of salt, and saute for 5 to 8 minutes until the vegetables have softened. Add the jalapenos, garlic, and red chile flakes, and saute for another minute or two, stirring often.

Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, basil, oregano, and another pinch of salt. Simmer, covered, for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add a little water if the sauce starts to look too dry.

Stir in the chickpeas and olives, and simmer for an additional 20 minutes. Then add the spinach and cook for 10 minutes more.

Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Toss about 1 cup of the sauce with the cooked pasta, and ladle additional sauce atop each portion. If you like, garnish with cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.


  1. I love chickpeas, they're so versatile! This sounds delicious :-)

  2. Looks simple and delicious. Just my style.

  3. Nancy, I really like this recipe. I think I can convince my husband, who is a committed carnivore, to try this recipe. I'm relatively new to your blog and don't often comment, but I wanted you to know how much I enjoy the food and recipes you feature here. You keep me coming back for more. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  4. thanks for your sweet words, Mary! This is a perfect dish to convince even devoted carnivores that meatless can be hearty and satisfying.

    Your blog is lovely as well!

  5. Yum!

    Check out my Nanette Lepore giveaway!


  6. I adore chickpeas, just love the texture. They do pair well with pasta, and this looks just scrum-diddly-umptious!

  7. Wow, thanks for the recipe. This looks and sounds delish!