Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Week 7 - escarole and chickpeas

Sometimes you just need spaghetti. There's something about it, it's so comforting and delicious and filling and somehow exactly the right shape. But I also have this food guilt complex where I would never, despite my love for spaghetti, sit down to a whole bowl of it without any supplemental vegetables, and yet I really prefer pasta dishes to be as plain/with as few ingredients as possible. Hence the "side veg" I've written up here. As a vegetarian, many of my meals are actually comprised of a few different "side veg" dishes that compliment each other. Rather than one stand-out protein I'll aim for a few different dishes with smaller amounts of complementary proteins.

I served this alongside a spaghetti with a quick sauce of garlic sauteed in olive oil and butter with a small splash of white wine thrown in, plenty of salt and pepper. Nothing is more satisfying to me than a big ol' fork-full of spaghetti, picturing, as I eat, the lustrous flowing spaghetti tsunami of Strega Nona: 

Hem. But I really do love escarole and chickpeas cooked this way. In my mind, it's essential to cook chickpeas from dried for this dish, because you use their cooking liquid (which, Mark Bittman taught me, tastes *incredible*) to add flavor and body to the greens. You could easily serve this on top of the spaghetti or another pasta or grain if you're not a weirdo like me, or it's delicious eaten as a main dish on its own. It's also tasty cold, in my opinion, if you're not in a hot foods mood because, oh, it's the middle of summer in Philadelphia.

Escarole with chickpeas:

-1 medium bunch of escarole, mine was ~1 lb
-1 C dried chickpeas, picked over for stones or broken beans and rinsed quickly in cold water
-2 cloves of garlic
-parmesan rind if you have one handy
-1 lemon
-salt and pepper to taste
-generous glug of olive oil
-parmesan or pecorino romano cheese as garnish

Place chickpeas in your largest pot, and fill to around 3/4 of the way full with water. Add parmesan rind if you're using it and one of the garlic cloves, peeled but left whole. Bring the chickpeas to a boil, and leave to boil for a full two minutes. Stir, cover the pot, lower the heat to "low" or whatever heat setting leaves you with constant, mild bubbling, and cook until the chickpeas are soft enough to bite in to but still firm, probably around 40 minutes but it can really depend on the age of your beans. At this point, when they're just beginning to soften, add a palm-full of salt to the pot, stir, and cover again. Chances are, that was the halfway-point in cooking the beans, so it will probably be another 30 - 40 minutes before they're ready.

In the meantime, remove the core or end to your escarole bunch (this step is very important to properly rinse the escarole of dirt or sand) and slice into approximately 1 inch strips. I do this by holding the butt end and cutting the whole bunch in half, then turning the newly-flat side down on the cutting board and slicing perpendicular at 1 inch intervals. Rinse well with cold running water and leave to drain in a colander in the sink. Mince the remaining garlic clove and set aside. Juice the lemon and set that aside as well in a small bowl. This is usually the point at which I start cooking the pasta I'm going to serve with.

Taste the chickpeas after the 30 or 40 minutes have gone by since you added salt. If they're ready and at the texture that you like, slowly and carefully add in your escarole. It will seem like it won't all fit at first, but by that miraculous property of cooking greens they'll shrink down in volume by like 2/3 or something. Cook greens until tender, about 2 minutes. Reserve a small amount of cooking liquid, you'll only use a tablespoon, and then drain the greens and chickpeas together. Add a generous amount of olive oil to the same pot back on the stove on low heat, and cook the garlic you set aside before until fragrant. Add the 1 TBSP of reserved cooking liquid, a generous amount of salt and pepper, and cook stirring frequently until the volume has reduced some. Add the chickpeas and greens back to the pot and stir until the greens and beans are evenly coated. Top with lemon juice (although, this will discolor the greens slightly and make them look brown-ish as they look in my picture at the top of this post. If that bothers you, save the lemon juice until you're ready to serve the dish) and sprinkle with cheese to serve.

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