Sunday, May 14, 2006

Little Taste of Italy: Greens & Chickpeas

We made a nice Italian-style dinner with fresh garden produce and herbs the other night, which took only about 20 minutes to prepare. It looked so nice when plated up that I decided to take a picture and feature it in Weekend Herb Blogging. The inspiration was a dish I saw on, of all things, the Victory Garden, where an Italian chef created a fresh chard dish. I came back from vacation last Monday to find the Asian spinach starting to bolt, so I snipped the whole patch down to a few leaves and had a huge colander of fresh spinach. I also had to pinch off all the basil tops so that the plants would get bushy, so I had a handful of fresh basil. Hmm, what to do? Aha!

Chickpea & Greens over Pasta

Get a pot of your favorite pasta going so that it will be ready about 15 mins after you start the steps below. This would be heavenly over fresh linguini, but I've had a cold and am not going to taunt my wheat allergy right now-- I used Tinkyada brown rice spirals.

Heat a little olive oil in a deep skillet on medium; add snips of fresh marjoram, thin slices of garlic, shredded fresh basil leaves, and a little of the lemon basil leaf from the freezer. Once it gets nice and sizzly, add a double-handful of frozen sungold or yellow pear tomatoes (with a few late red ones mixed in). These are super-ripe and very sweet. Add the liquid from a can of organic chickpeas, and let things bubble around. Keep it moving every few minutes, break up the tomatoes as they unthaw, smushing them flat with your spatula. This is going to be your sauce base.

Work the sauce base with the spatula, letting it reduce but taking care not to burn it. When it is about half reduced, and still watery, and all your tomatoes are smushed, add the chickpeas themselves, plus about a half tsp of coarse salt if your chickpeas are canned unsalted. Simmer together for another minute, stir it up, then reduce heat to low and throw all that nice spinach (or chard, or arugula, or ?) on top and cover-- no stirring anymore. After approx 1 minute, turn off heat; the spinach will continue to steam while you drain your pasta and put a nice mound of it in bowls.

When the spinach on top (you do have a glass lid, right?) has fully changed color, uncover and pull portions off with tongs or chopsticks, setting to the side of pasta. Spoon the chickpea sauce on top of the pasta. We 'garnished' with these incredible balsamic vinegar cipolla onions that Safeway is carrying in their olive bar. Two or three go a long way, and are fabulous. Enjoy!

I'm still learning this fine art of food blogging. Does it help to have stuff in 'recipe' form? If so, here's a shopping/picking list. The Asian Spinach has a sweet, nutty flavor, and the leaves are very tender even when of a large size-- pinching can bruise them. If you are using coarser greens, such as regular spinach, or mature chard, I recommend shredding the leaves, omitting the stems, and starting them steaming while more liquid remains in the pan-- perhaps reduce only a quarter instead of a half before you add the greens. Or steam the greens separately. I just didn't want to bother using another pan. :-)

Shopping List for Greens & Chickpeas

  • 3 Tbsp light olive oil
  • 2 - 3 fresh 1-inch sprigs of marjoram (or 1/4 tsp dried)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 c fresh basil leaves
  • squeeze of lemon, or several large lemon basil leaves
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, yellow/red mix ideally
  • 1 can cooked chickpeas
  • 2 qt volume fresh tender greens, whole (chard, arugula, Asian spinach, baby spinach) (1 standard package should do for 2 adults)
  • Pasta to serve this over