Thursday, April 16, 2009

Easy Does It

I admit it. I’m a nerd (or a geek or a dork or whatever you like), but I somehow got way, way behind on technology over the last 15 years or so. I could use a new computer, I’m still figuring out digital photography, my mobile phone is inherited (literally), and I probably don’t use this series of tubes known as the internet quite to its full potential. And now I’m “blogging.” Terrifying!

…So, I thought I’d better keep this first post simple, but, since first impressions are important, I thought I’d better post a delicious recipe.

Sometimes when I’m trying too many new recipes, I can get a bit of kitchen fatigue and palate fatigue (not to mention pocket book fatigue). It is in these times that I fall back on a super simple, comforting and flavorful recipe I call Italian Chickpeas. I label it Italian because it has lots of garlic and olive oil, and a tomato sauce. The “Chickpeas” part is self explanatory, unless, of course, you prefer to call them garbanzo beans, or ceci beans. It’s simple and inexpensive, yet surprisingly delicious, and, really, foolproof.

I got this recipe from a decorating and design show about 8 or 9 years ago. I didn’t even get the Food Network then, so I made do. The basic idea is to flavor olive oil with whole garlic cloves and parsley, then make a very simple tomato sauce and cook canned chickpeas in it. The flavor of the olive oil is fairly important here, so a good one is better, but, frankly I can’t afford “premium” oils myself, so have never gone too crazy. Who knows, maybe nirvana could be reached if this dish was made with the best olive oil in the world.

I also prefer flat-leaf parsley, but I’ve made this dish with the curly variety and it is just fine. I refuse to be a snob about parsley. That being said, the beautiful organic flat-leaf parsley I get from the local co-op is bouquet-worthy, and I just can’t pass it up in favor of its often crusty-looking curly cousin at the supermarket.

Harry (my infinitely patient and intelligent husband) is the one who got the brilliant idea of scooping out the beautifully softened and extra-flavorful garlic cloves and spreading them on the crostini or plain ol’ bread that I usually serve with this. It was a stroke of genius on his part, one among many, and I will be forever grateful.

I have served this to guests and made it for people I was visiting, and, except for some folks who still don’t understand a meal that doesn’t contain meat, it has always gone over very well. It takes about 45 minutes to make, including peeling garlic and chopping parsley, but it’s largely hands off and you really don’t have to measure anything, except maybe the olive oil. I never measure the parsley, unless “handful” has somehow become an official measurement in this Rachel Ray day and age, but I included an approximate amount in the recipe as a starting point.

For me, these ingredients are pantry staples, especially since parsley keeps pretty well in the refrigerator (I think I’ve even used frozen parsley), so this can be made after a last-minute change of dinner plans. (What? That never happens to you? I don’t believe you.) Start cooking the pasta of your choice about 10 minutes into the sauce simmering and everything will be hot and ready at the same time. A chunk of bread and maybe a green salad are all you need for a meal. Now, if only updating myself technologically were this easy…or delicious.

Italian Chickpeas

1/3 cup good olive oil
6 (or more) cloves garlic, peeled and cracked (you don't need to really smash them)
¾ cup (approximately) chopped fresh parsley
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (16 ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), do not drain
Hot cooked pasta, preferably a curly short-cut pasta that can trap sauces, etc. (I like radiatore or some kind of corkscrew shape)

1. Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat until it gets kind of shimmery. Add the garlic. You want to be kind and gentle when cooking the garlic. If there’s anything remotely authentically Italian about this recipe it’s “don’t burn the garlic!” Brown the garlic a little on all sides, just slightly. If it’s getting dark too fast, turn down the heat.

2. Add the parsley and cook for about 30 seconds. (I once startled Harry by adding too-wet parsley to the hot oil, causing it to sizzle loudly. This step is now known as “the scary part.”)

3. Add the tomato sauce and the liquid from the can of chickpeas. Simmer for 20 minutes. (After about 10 minutes, it’s a good time to start heating the pasta cooking water.) If the sauce seems to be getting too thick, add some water.

4. Add the chickpeas and simmer another 10 minutes.

5. Serve with hot cooked pasta. Italian bread or a baguette is a good accompaniment, toasted or not. You can pull the softened garlic out of your serving and spread it on the bread. Then, you’ll want to steal your dining partner’s garlic, too.

Makes 3-4 servings.

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