Tuesday, April 20, 2010

marinara-simmered chickpeas with feta

tomato simmered-chickpeas, sheep & goat feta, couscous
on june 1,
four years ago,
larry and i moved into
our first place together.
we had been a couple
for almost three years and
this move, while a long
time coming, was a huge
decision for me.
i'm someone who takes every
possible outcome very seriously.

it had taken a little soul searching
to settle on this old two bedroom,
two bathroom, two parking spot
space, two blocks from the
george washington bridge,
instead of the brand new
one bedroom
facing the hudson river,
but as soon as we were in, it
felt like the right move.

the movers came on a friday
and it started pouring the second
they left. i quietly thanked someone
for that stroke of good luck, even
though the cable guy was not so lucky
and brought huge puddles onto our
hardwood floors. we grabbed dinner out
that night, and the next night,
my family came and we ordered pizzas.

by sunday, we were unpacked
enough to live. the kitchen, in fact, was
the only thing perfectly
assembled, and i vowed to cook our
first proper meal in our first proper home.

i'm not sure why, but something
made me dip into my someday
stash of recipes. it was a pile i started
making in college, and continued to build
while living with my mom again between
jobs. even though, in college we cooked,
at my mom's house, i cooked, and while
living in my studio, i cooked, it just felt
like the time that i had unknowingly
been saving these recipes for.

i'm not even sure what the big deal was.
none of them were that hard to make.
and, because it was june and hot,
and let's face it,
we were tired from a weekend of work,
i chose a very simple recipe for
feta and chickpeas
simmered in tomato sauce
and served over orzo.

larry sat with me as i cooked.
we both realized, we both live here, now.
no one's going anywhere.

when it was time to serve the pasta,
i was bummed. i wanted our first meal
to be perfect - a hopeful symbol of the time
to come in this apartment that was ours.
but this one wasn't.
the feta kinda, sorta melted,
creating a granular sauce.
the flavor was ok, i guess.

i promised myself that i would
recreate this very fast dish. make it
into something that was secondhand
and delicious. i would make it my own.

but, things happen. and, sometimes
i forget my promises to myself.
we were too busy learning how
to be a couple who lived together,
who shared responsibilities and each
other's lives.

we were busy working,
and when i unexpectedly,
(in life, not in the moment -
i really never make impetuous choices)
decided to go to culinary school,
we were busy getting me through,
emotionally. we stayed together in the kitchen,
night after night of my first couple
weeks as i peeled potatoes and desperately
tried to cut them into perfect little cubes,
crying most of the time.
and on sundays, after a full weekend of
class, when i couldn't even think of
stepping in the kitchen, larry
would make dinner -
usually a marinara sauce,
which he perfected by the time
i graduated.

we were busy,
both quitting our jobs
- mine of six years -
and starting new ones,
in a very scary two week period.
two years later, i can say it was
a good decision.

and we were busy,
getting engaged one friday
on the floor of our dining room,
too excited to do anything,
but stay on the floor, calling
our family and friends.
a year and a half later, we were
busy, leaving our home as
brooke and larry and coming back
two days later as well, still
brooke and larry, because i could
not decide if i wanted to change
my last name. but we were married.
and one day later, we left for
our honeymoon, coming back after
a week of rainy barbados weather,
to our home.

we were busy,
as i started this blog and a normal
night of making dinner, eating dinner
and watching how i met your mother,
turned into a night of taking a million
pictures as i make dinner, downloading
pictures, editing and uploading pictures,
blogging, and now, tweeting.

and most recently,
we've been busy, making another huge
decision that took us a long time to arrive upon:
to move out of what has very
clearly become our home. we're moving
over an hour away to a house that does
not remember us learning how to live
together, my culinary school trials,
our engagement or the first
year and a half of our marriage.

but, it is much, much closer
to my family, it has enough
rooms to make new memories
without suffering overcrowding
from my large pocketbook collection
or williams-sonoma boxes, like some
places i know. it has a kitchen with
a lot of natural light, which the camera
will love if i actually get home before
sundown to use it.

because, yes, i'm keeping
my job up here. my job,
that sometimes keeps me way later
than i think i'll be staying when i start
my day. and my job, that last week,
on one of these crazy days, for some
reason reminded me of that
pasta dish with chickpeas and feta.

it had come back to me a few months
ago, when a coworker talked about and
ultimately made, one of her favorite dishes,
chickpeas simmered in marinara sauce.
a little bell went off in the back of my head.
but then, last week, when i was running late
and my plan for a potato and eggplant curry
flew out the door two hours before, i remembered
the dish, my promise to make it right,
and knew i could make it fast.
onions, garlic, tomatoes, wine, red pepper flakes
tomato sauce, chickpea
first attempt
and it was fast.
i got home after 8pm and by 9pm,
dinner was ready. i had made a very
quick sauce, simmered with canned chickpeas,
stirred in beautifully-melting
goat cheese, and tossed the whole thing
with pasta. it was not so pretty. it tasted kind
of gummy. it didn't work.
four years of keeping
a dish lodged firmly in the back of my mind,
for this?
dried chickpeas
plum tomatoes, red pepper flakes, chopped garlic
i was going to make it right.
and soon. we're on borrowed time in
fort lee and i am not letting another couple of years
go by. so, i started with dried chickpeas,
which i soaked and cooked with a few cloves
of garlic on sunday.
monday night, i remade the white wine-laced
tomato sauce, stirring in the chickpeas to
simmer for about 25 minutes, while
i made a pot of israeli couscous, halved
a lemon, plucked basil leaves and crumbled feta.

yes, i went back to feta.
because, yes, i loved the idea of the cheese
making the whole sauce a little luxuriously creamy,
but there's something pretty amazing
about crumbles of feta
occasionally finding their way onto your
fork, too. the only difference, was that i splurged
and bought my favorite, very creamy,
sheep and goat feta, which when warmed,
is lovely.

when the sauce was ready,
i squeezed in lemon for brightness
and dropped in torn basil leaves for freshness
and much needed color.
two very worthwhile additions.
after spooning the whole thing
atop couscous - seemingly
much more appropriate than pasta -
i sprinkled on some of that crumbled feta.
and, i felt very good about that decision.
second attempt
marinara-simmered chickpeas with feta
i've added red pepper flakes in with the onions before sauteing to give the entire dish a little heat and the lemon and basil really add another dimension to this otherwise potentially predictable sauce. all three could be increased or decreased according to your taste. i wish i could tell you how i cooked the couscous, which i ultimately tossed with a bit of lemon juice and grated parm, but something was absolutely lost in translation between my memory of making israeli couscous and the execution. if anyone has a foolproof method for the toasting-absorption method, please let me know.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, peeled and diced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 cup white wine
1 can (32 ounces) plum tomatoes
1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked* or 2 cans (14 ounces each) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large juicy lemon, halved and seeded
25-30 large basil leaves
cooked couscous or orzo for serving
4 ounces sheep and goat feta, crumbled
grated parm

in large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat; when hot, add onions and red pepper flakes. season with salt and black pepper. cook 2 minutes. reduce heat to medium-low and cook 10 minutes, or until softened. increase heat to medium and cook 5 minutes more, or until just starting to turn golden. add garlic. cook 1 minute more, or until tender, stirring constantly.

add wine; increase heat to high and boil 2 minutes, or until mostly reduced, stirring occasionally. add plum tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands as you add them to the skillet; add juice from can. season with salt and pepper. bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. add chickpeas; simmer 25-30 minutes, or until the chickpeas are tender and the mixture has thickened. adjust seasoning.

squeeze lemon juice into sauce; stir to combine. working quickly, tear basil leaves into small pieces and add to sauce. cook 30 seconds more, or until basil is wilted. serve over cooked couscous or orzo. sprinkle with feta. serve with plenty of grated parm for sprinkling at the table.

*to cook dried beans: rinse chickpeas. place in large bowl and cover with several inches of cold water. let sit at least 8 hours. drain beans and rinse. place chickpeas in a large saucepot. add three cloves smashed garlic. cover with 8 cups water; bring to a boil. reduce heat; cook at a bare simmer 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until tender. if not using chickpeas right away, let cool completely in their cooking liquid; store in the liquid, in the fridge, until ready to use.


Puffy71 said...

This sounds crazy good, Brooke. I'm going to insist Robyn make this for me sometime.

Anonymous said...

We made this for dinner tonight and it was amazing!!!! Keep the recipes coming....we are huge fans

brooke said...

micky (and robyn!) - thank you...i'm so glad you both liked the recipe! what did you serve under the chickpeas?