Healthy Pasta Substitute: Chickpeas (with recipe)

by | Sep 29, 2010
Chickpea Puttanesca

Chickpea Puttanesca

I’m generally not a big noodle fan. Homemade fresh pasta is great, but I rarely go through the trouble to make it myself. Also, pasta isn’t particularly healthy and I’m happy to keep it as a special occasion food.

But sauce is a different story. I love a chunky summer tomato puttanesca sauce. In the past I have made a big batch, put the first serving on rigatoni, then used the rest on whatever I happened to have in the fridge over the next few days. I’ve tried it on brown rice and quinoa (neither is particularly good), but one day all I had was some chickpeas I made in the pressure cooker.

This changed everything.

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a perfect match to a thick Italian red sauce. At this point I actually prefer my puttanesca on chickpeas rather than pasta. And I feel way better after eating it. This is also a wonderful substitution if you are sensitive to gluten.

I doubt chickpeas would hold up as well with all sauces, but I think red sauces are safe. My guess is lighter sauces that rely more on the distinct flavor of pasta would prove disappointing. Pesto might be nice, but probably as more of a side dish than a main course.

This is a new version of my puttanesca recipe. In a pinch you can substitute a 28oz can of diced tomatoes for fresh ones.

Chickpea Puttanesca

(serves 4)


  • 1 lb fresh tomatoes (Early Girl or San Marzano are best), diced
  • 8 anchovy fillets, minced
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tbsp capers, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2-3 tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 tsp red chili flakes
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas

If you’re starting with dry chickpeas, soak 1 cup (or more) dry beans overnight. Cook in pressure cooker until tender ~20 min, or boil covered in a pot (~1 hr). The rest of the cooking takes about 20 minutes, so adjust accordingly. You can make these a day or two ahead as well.

Press or finely mince garlic and soak it in 1 tbsp of water in a small cup or bowl. Let sit 5-10 minutes.

Heat a large pan on medium and add 2 tbsp olive oil. When the olive oil swirls easily in the pan add anchovies, garlic mixture and chili flakes. Stir continuously until garlic just begins to brown, about 2 minutes, then add tomatoes and simmer.

Allow tomatoes to cook, stirring occasionally. If the tomatoes begin sticking to the bottom of the pan, add 1/4 cup water to thin the sauce. You may need to do this several times, depending on your tomatoes. When the tomatoes begin to soften, use a wooden spoon to crush them a bit in the pan to create smaller chunks.

After sauce has simmered about 12-15 minutes toss in capers, olives, and parsley. Mix to combine. I tossed in some excellent olive oil at this point to brighten it up. (Don’t bother with this if you only have cheap olive oil.)

Pepper is a nice addition, but salt is probably not necessary because of the anchovies.

Drain chickpeas and scoop about 1/2 cup into a bowl. Remember that chickpeas are much more filling than pasta, so you will likely need less than you think. Spoon over sauce generously. Serve immediately.

You may also enjoy Better Than Pasta Subtitutes: Summer Squash Noodle Recipe and Video

Have you tried beans as a pasta substitute?

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21 Responses to “Healthy Pasta Substitute: Chickpeas (with recipe)”

  1. Great idea! I think beans would make an amazing pasta substitute.

  2. Chandelle says:

    Yum! I’ll have to come back to this recipe. I use beans quite often as an overall substitute for grain products. For the longest time I let my favorite mushroom ragoût recipe sit around because I couldn’t make pappardelle anymore. Finally I tried it over white beans and it was awesome! Great idea.

  3. Great idea Darya! Definitely never thought of that but it makes sense that that would be very tasty and healthy.

  4. RH says:

    I feel the same way about pasta, so you know what I use as a substitute? Spaghetti squash!

  5. deb roby says:

    Pasta has a flavor? I never noticed. But then I don’t think wheat has much flavor. So I LOVE the idea of switching out pasta for garbanzo beans.

    Won’t hold up for a simple oil/garlic/cheese sauce I think but maybe a cannelli bean?

    • Dan Martin says:

      Oh my God, of course pasta has a flavor! Maybe all you’ve had is dry supermarket pasta, which is rather bland, but try some nice homemade linguine, and then tell me pasta has no flavor! How can you say WHEAT has no flavor?! Have you never tasted a fresh-baked, crusty baguette? Wow!

  6. Natalie says:

    That sauce sounds right up my alley!

  7. Thank you! I’ve been trying to think of a good substitution for a while now. Got to give this a try.

  8. Matt Shook says:

    Such an awesome idea…I love both puttanesca sauce and chickpeas, but never thought to put them together! Thanks for sharing, I’ll have to give this a whirl this weekend…

  9. I like cooking dried beans and just using canned beans in an emergency, but chickpeas are the one bean I’ve never cooked but always buy canned. And I don’t know why! This sauce sounds perfectly delicious. Think I’ll be cooking up some dried chickpeas very soon.

  10. Satu says:

    Oh, I’m salivating already. 🙂

    Chickpeas are my favorite peas. I have a can of chickpeas at home and I have been thinking about making some DIY hummus, but I might try this instead.

  11. Wow, what’s a great idea! It almost looks like gnocchi (which I can’t eat). I’m definitely going to try this some evening. Hey, when you’re in a pinch, sometimes you can come up with the most ingenious solutions. Thanks for sharing this great idea 🙂

  12. lenzy says:

    You have the most creative recipe!!! Thanks for sharing…

  13. Kris says:

    Really lovely recipe – can’t wait to try it! Funny thing about chickpeas – I was out last night and thought I was eating potatoes, and they were some sort of chickpea thing – i was stoked! Thanks again!

  14. I’m working on experimenting w/ new healthy foods – I did lentils last week! I have chickpeas on my list so thank you for a great idea for a recipe!!!

  15. Danielle says:

    I just tried this. I roasted my chickpeas with a little olive oil, garlic powder, crushed red pepper and oregano and it was delicious! 🙂 I was pleasantly surprised! The sauce compliments the chick peas so well. I can finally have “pasta” dishes whenever I want without feeling guilty or overly full!

  16. Nicholas says:

    Hi Darya,

    I just found this, and I have to say, it’s an amazing Slow-Carb Diet alternative to pasta (something I miss). Wow, it’s quick, simple, and delicious.

  17. Liana Walsh says:

    I love chickpeas and when I was relying heavily on the South Beach diet, I would use them in place of potatoes and pasta all the time. Can’t wait to try them with this sauce – it sounds great!

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