Pasta With Chickpea Sauce

Are they a pea or a bean?  A chickpea or a garbanzo bean?  I've always called them garbanzo beans, but I think I'll switch to chickpeas.  It sounds cuter and kind've more affectionate which aptly describes how I feel about these little guys... I 💗 em.  They totally make the list of my top five legumes.  AND they move waaaay up to the top of that list if they're soaked and cooked from their dried state.  From the can, they slide down towards the bottom, but still make the list.

Perhaps you might be wondering if there really is all that much difference between canned and freshly cooked chickpeas, and I'm here to tell you that, yes, YES!, there is a difference, and it's pretty significant.  Chickpeas from the can have a very pronounced bite to them, not crunchy, but not exactly soft either.  But when cooked from their dried state, oh my goodness, they get sort of creamy and luscious and if you infuse your cooking water with aromatics (onions, garlic, herbs, etc), your little chickpeas are also going to win in the flavor department, hands down.

Now, this day and age you can't even talk about legumes without addressing the paleo and ketogenic and other diets that sort of disparage our little chickpeas.  They have their reasons and we'll let them hold on to them because we are pro choice in all matters here in the Circle B Kitchen. Whatever floats your boat or makes your skirt fly up.  Fine.  Whatever.  But I'm hanging with culinary history and the cultures that have thrived on chickpeas for centuries (think India, North Africa and the Middle East for starters), and I'm calling them scrumptious and ever so good for you (think fiber, protein, calcium, iron, read more about that here).

Now that we've got that out of the way, I want to help us move beyond hummus with our chickpea consumption.  Don't get me wrong, we love our hummus here and make it frequently (with freshly cooked chickpeas), but I have to tell you that our little garbanzos also make an amazingly delicious pasta sauce.  I mean, really good.  But don't try making this with canned beans.  I mean, you could, but it just isn't going to have the same creamy lusciousness.

OK, now hopefully I've convinced you to spend a few pennies on some dried chickpeas.  The first thing you're going to want to do is soak them overnight.  I never remember this part.  But don't worry about this too much.  You can circumvent potential tragedy by "quick soaking them" (bring them to a boil and then let them sit for an hour or so.  Done.  Consider them soaked.

Next you're going to simmer them with some onions, garlic, rosemary and some salt for a couple of hours until they're soft and yielding and sort of sexy like that.  

Then remove the aromatics and drain the chickpeas, saving your cooking liquid.

You're going to add some of that chickpea broth back into the pan with your beans, saving out a few to throw in whole at the end, and blitz it all with an immersion blender until your sauce is smooth and silky.  Alternately, you can also do this in a blender or food processor.

Then you're going to cook up some pasta  Flat, curly pasta like mafalda and farfalle are perfect for this.  I didn't have enough of either of those shapes, so I got creative and cooked up some lasagna noodles and then sliced them into little rectangles and they worked surprisingly well.  You could also serve this sauce over couscous or quinoa or farro or polenta or rice or spaghetti squash or whatever comes to mind. Like I said, we're pro choice here.  

Finish your chickpea pasta with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of chopped parsley and a dusting of grated parmesan cheese.   If you leave off the cheese, this would be an awesomely delicious thing for the vegan peeps in your life.  (But if you have a choice, the Parmesan is a must).  Here's the recipe...

Pasta with Chickpea Sauce

Click here for a printable recipe

The original recipe called for cooking up 12 ounces of chickpeas, but most chickpeas come in 1 lb bags, so I always cook up the whole thing.  The leftover chickpeas are great in salads, soups, or go ahead and make some hummus.  If you would like to discard all of my good advice and use canned chickpeas, click on the Serious Eats link below where you will find instructions for this.  Evidently, they are even more pro choice than I.

Recipe barely adapted from Serious Eats

INGREDIENTS

1 lb dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in salted water*
1 large onion, split in half
1 head garlic, 3 cloves thinly sliced, the rest left unpeeled
3 sprigs rosemary
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I like to use white pepper here)
4 cups cooked chickpeas (see note above), divided
1 1/2 cups chickpea-cooking liquid or vegetable broth, plus more as needed
1 pound short ruffled pasta, such as farfalle, mafalda, campanelle or cut lasagna sheets
1/4 cup chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

DIRECTIONS

* Chickpeas can also be prepared using the quick soak method. Cover with water in a large pot, bring to a boil, remove from heat, and let rest for 1 hour. Drain and proceed with the recipe as directed.

Place chickpeas in a large pot and cover with lightly salted water by at least 2 inches. Add unpeeled garlic, onion, and rosemary. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook, topping up with water as necessary to keep beans submerged, until beans are very tender and creamy with no graininess left, about 2 hours. Beans can also be cooked in a pressure cooker at low pressure for 30 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, combine oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until garlic is lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups chickpeas and the 1 1/2 cups of chickpea-cooking liquid (I ended up using a little more than 2 cups), and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and, using an immersion blender, blend to a smooth, saucy puree, adding more chickpea-cooking liquid if too thick. Stir in remaining 1 cup chickpeas, crushing some lightly with a wooden spoon or potato masher but leaving them mostly whole. Season with salt and pepper.  And, by the way, don't be afraid of adding more of the cooking broth to the sauce than called for.  The sauce tends to thicken as it cools, so it's OK to err on the side of thin.

In a pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until just short of al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta. Return pasta to pot and add chickpea sauce along with 1/4 cup of reserved pasta-cooking water. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring until pasta is al dente and sauce has thickened just enough to coat pasta, about 3 minutes; add more reserved pasta-cooking water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if sauce becomes too thick. Remove from heat, stir in chopped parsley and drizzle in some fresh olive oil, stirring to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon pasta and sauce into bowls, drizzle with another whirl of olive oil, some chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

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Oven-Roasted Salmon with Couscous, Shredded Greens and Cranberries (and bacon)

Thanksgiving is only days away, and for those of us who will be entrusted to cook this iconic meal for friends and family, it can be a bit stressful and all-consuming.  It's most definitely coming down to crunch time here at the Circle B Kitchen, and with 32 people to cook for on the big day, you can bet I'm in the thick of it here.  

But I'm not even scared.  Yet.  I love this meal and I love cooking this meal and I've promised myself that I will enjoy the heck out of every moment.  So to preserve sanity and give me the best shot at enjoying my day, most of the meal will be cooked over the next few days.  If you're at all curious about that and how to pull it off (or not) 😳, I'll be posting photos and recipes over on the "What's Cooking" page.

But in the meantime, there are still mouths to feed and meals to be made that aren't turkey, and this is one I've been ever so excited to share with you.

Just every now and then a dish or a recipe comes along that leaves you wondering why in all your 65 years you haven't before thought to put these flavors and textures and ingredients together in this particular way.  I mean there's nothing really remarkable here... no cutting edge new ingredient that you HAVE to try, no new technique for creating the perfect something.  No, this dish is simplicity itself.  And yet I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.  Sometimes a thing is just what you've been craving but had no idea, but sometimes it's in itself a perfect meal. Perhaps both things are true here. 

For me, this is indeed, a perfect meal.... tender couscous studded with shaved brussels sprouts, shredded kale and cranberries all roast together with tender salmon fillets, sharing flavors and textures and I just never wanted it to be the last bite.  

And thankfully, the perfect meal is also quick, easy and something you can easily throw together on a busy weeknight.  A couple of shortcuts will get you there even quicker.  You can shred or shave some brussels sprouts or you can buy them pre-shaved (I'm not enjoying that imagery), and if you snag yourself a bag of chopped kale, you're going to have dinner on the table in under 30 minutes.  

And let me just say as well that this couscous would make an incredibly wondrous side dish for your Thanksgiving dinner, partnered up with roast turkey.  Likewise it would also be very festive and yummy on your Christmas dinner table.   

So here are the Cliff notes (do they even still have Cliff notes?)...

Salmon is sauteed briefly and then removed from pan...

Chopped shallots, shredded brussels sprouts and kale are sauteéd....

and then couscous and chicken broth are added to the pan along with some dried cranberries.  The salmon is placed back on top.

The whole shebang goes in the oven to roast for about 8 minutes, during which time you will cook up some bacon (or not, according to your preferences, but bacon should always be a preference in this life).

And that's it.  You're done.  Oh wait, no, you have to dish it up and sprinkle the bacon on top and then the fun begins.  

And I'm not even kidding about that.  Might I suggest that you give yourself a break from the Thanksgiving madness and make yourself something quick, delicious and yes, fun for dinner?  I guess I just did.  Here's the recipe...

Oven-Roasted Salmon with Couscous, Shredded Greens and Cranberries

Click here for a printable recipe

The original recipe from The Kitchen used prosciutto-wrapped halibut which I’m sure was delicious.  I decided to use salmon and instead of the prosciutto, I cooked up some bacon to add to the mix.  The original recipe also said that it serves 4, and I’m sure those people are out there, they just don’t live here.  I’m saying it serves 2, maybe 3.  If you’re feeding 4, I’d make 1 1/2 servings (4 salmon filets, 3 cups brussels sprouts, 1 1/2 cups kale, 1 1/2 cups couscous, 1 1/2 cups broth, 4 slices bacon, etc.).  You can leave the skin on the salmon if you like, it adds great flavor to the dish and peels off easily before serving.

Recipe adapted from The Kitchen

Serves 2

(2) 6-7 ounce salmon filets (skin on or off - see headnote)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
Pinch chile flakes
2 cups shaved Brussels sprouts
1 cup shredded or chopped kale
1 cup couscous
1 cup hot chicken stock or water
1/3 cup dried cranberries
2 slices of bacon

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Season the salmon with salt and pepper and then heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the salmon on each side for 3-4 minutes per side.  Remove the salmon from the pan.

Add the remaining oil to the pan and quickly stir the shallots, lemon zest and chile flakes into the skillet. Add the Brussels sprouts and kale and saute until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the couscous, hot stock and cranberries. 

Place the salmon on top of the mixture and transfer to the oven. Bake for 8 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the bacon until crispy.  

Remove the pan from the oven and remove the salmon from the pan.  Fluff the couscous with a fork and then place a few spoonfuls in serving bowls or on plates.  Place the salmon on top of the couscous and then crumble the bacon on top and serve.

Lentil Soup Rx

The last few weeks and months have been hard on us all, right?  It's been a grueling, punishing, and yes, heart-breaking election that's left us just a bit worn out by politics and pundits and well, I for one am ready to put it all behind me (perhaps something easier said than done).

And when it comes to healing from a brutal event such as this has been, cooking and eating just the right things can be cathartic and soothing.  Of course, copious amounts of drinking doesn't hurt either.  We might start with the drinking (quite advisable), and when ready, find what it is that your mind and body are needing.  It became evident to me very quickly that I needed soup. Not only did I need to eat soup (something hearty and warming and healthy), but just as urgently, I needed to make soup.  And I needed to make lentil soup. It was amazing to me how quickly I knew this was what I needed.  Must have lentil soup.  Now.

I've been making this soup since sometime in the 1970's, so it's like an old friend who's familiar and comforting and there when I need it.  And yes, I've posted my lentil soup before, but it was years ago, and this soup is so incredibly perfect, and one of those meals that just feels good for the soul, that it totally deserves a second post.  

And I knew this would happen...chopping the veggies and cooking the lentils and barley and the bulghur helped to refocus my energies; a rather welcome prescription for burnout.   Unfortunately, no soup can change the tide of politics, but eating it with someone you love can bring momentary joy and comfort.  Here's the recipe...

Lentil Soup

Click here for a printable recipe

This makes a lovely, warming, healthy bowl of soup deliciousness.  Use whatever kind of broth you have on hand, but it's a great vehicle for leftover holiday turkey broth. As for the celery, I like to use the heart of the celery and chop the celery leaves too.  They add great flavor to the soup.  The bulghur wheat is optional, but again, it adds a depth of flavor and some thickening to the broth.  If you would like, you can reduce the amount of lentils and increase the barley and/or add chopped zucchini to the soup for even more flavor and nutrition.

1 1/4 cups lentils
½ cup medium bulgur wheat
1/2 c barley
6 cups water
2 T butter
4-6 cups chicken or turkey or vegetable broth
1 onion, chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 t chopped fresh mint (optional)
3  carrots, shredded
3 stalks celery, chopped (I like to use the heart of the celery with the leaves)
3 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper (or to taste)
Grated Parmesan for serving
olive oil

Place the lentils, barley and bulgur wheat in a large saucepan.  Cover with water by about 2 inches or so (about 6 cups, depending on the size of your pan).  Add 2 teaspoons of salt, bring to a boil and cook for about a half hour.

Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, saute the onion, carrots, and celery in the butter and a little olive oil until soft.   Add the cooked lentil mixture and cooking broth, along with the chopped parsley, another teaspoon of salt, a little more pepper if you like, and enough of the chicken broth to cover by about an inch.   Stir well and simmer 1-2 hours, adding more chicken stock if it gets too thick.  Taste for salt and pepper.

To serve, drizzle each bowl of soup with a little olive oil and then sprinkle with grated parmesan.

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Election Cake

We need cake.  We need cake and we need booze and we need whatever else it might take to get us through these next few days.  The good news?  This election is going to be over in a few days.  The bad news?  We've still got a few more contentious, mind numbing days to endure it all.

But did you know that back in the 1700's (maybe even earlier) they used to celebrate election day?  It was a holiday; a community event that drew people together, and people even made cake! To be more specific, they made Election Cake (aka Hartford Election Cake)!  Back in the day, these tended to be "Great Cakes", which were huge things that could serve everyone who came to vote.  They were yeast cakes, studded with fruit and frosted, and some historians say they were maybe even made like rolls to make individual servings easier to deal with.

So yeah, this really is a thing.  And seeing as how no one is going to be giving you a piece of cake when you exit your polling booth on Tuesday, you might want to make yourself and your loved ones an election cake and reclaim what used to be (maybe) a communally festive day, except for the odd year here and there when people were shot and killed or worse for voicing unpopular opinions or perhaps voting "incorrectly".  It happened.

Historically, election days have probably been more contentious than celebratory, but it's kind've nice that someone thought to bring cake.  And what an interesting cake it is.  They were mostly yeast cakes, and from what I can tell, more like a sweet bread than a traditional cake. They appeared long before people were writing down recipes, and the first recorded one was in 1829 by Lydia Maria Child (no relation to Julia).  You can read a bit of history on this here and here.  

Towards the late 1800's, the yeast was being replaced by baking soda and baking powder and election cakes were become more like cakes as we know them.  I found this recipe in my Boston Cooking School cookbook from 1910...

...in which they were still using bread dough as a base for their Election Cake, which is the direction I wanted to go, with yeast, but individual little rolls, all the while maintaining the appearance of a cake, which turned out to be a sort of monkey bread-ish cake in which individual rolls can be torn off and easily shared with others.  I also opted to infuse a little booze into my cake (cuz heck yeah) and which is also very traditional, and I have to say I'm pretty pleased with how my election cake came out.  It's definitely yeast-y and bread-like, but still sweet, with the feel of an old-timey dessert, but mighty nice for breakfast too.  So get out and vote and then go home and eat some booze-y cake. You've earned it.  Here's the recipe...

Election Cake

Click here for a printable recipe

Election cakes were being made as far back as the 1700's and often took the form of "great cakes" which were huge cakes made to feed an entire community to celebrate any event that brought everyone together.  They were traditionally yeast cakes that were sort of hybrids between cake and bread, but evolved in the late 19th century to be more like cakes, using baking powder instead of yeast.  My version here combines a bit of just about every recipe I've found - it's a sweetened yeast bread made in the shape of a cake and perhaps a bit more like the original election cakes of the past.  Do not be alarmed at the amount of yeast.  It freaked me out too, but it works.

P.S.  A little tip... this is a cake (bread) best eaten warm, which makes the idea of drizzling this icing a bit dodgy (if the cake is warm the icing won't set up).  I would suggest planning on eating the cake soon after it comes out of the oven, making the icing a little thicker and spreading it on rather than drizzling.  The warmth of the cake will loosen it up and allow it to drizzle.  Leftover cake can be reheated and eaten with a bit of butter and jam.

Recipe adapted from New England Today

1 cup currants, raisins and/or dried cherries
1/2 cup rum, whiskey or other dark alcohol

1/4 cup lukewarm water
3/4 cup whole milk, heated to lukewarm
2 packages dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and forming
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt

Rum Icing
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons rum
1 1/2 tablespoons milk (or as much as is needed to create a pourable consistency

Instructions

As far ahead as is humanly possible (preferably the night before), combine the dried fruit and the rum or whiskey in a jar.  Seal tight and set aside.

Pour the warm water and milk into a 4- or 5-quart mixing bowl. Stir in the yeast and set aside until the yeast dissolves and begins to bubble, about 3 -5 minutes. Then beat in 1-1/2 cups of the flour, making a stiff batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for 30 minutes (no longer).

Beat in the butter, egg, sugar, spices, and salt. Then work in the remaining 1-1/2 cups flour, making a soft, rough dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 15 to 30 minutes.

Drain the dried fruit, but reserve the alcohol.  Measure 1/4 cup of the soaking liquid and add it in with the dough mixture and continue kneading until it’s combined.

Knead the dough until smooth, for 5 to 10 minutes. It will be very soft and sticky. Gradually add more flour as necessary, a few tablespoons at a time, to form a smooth dough. (Do not add too much extra flour; the should be fairly moist).  Knead in the dried fruit.

Roll the dough into an 8-inch log. Cut the log into 4 equal pieces, then divide each piece into 6 little rolls. To create surface tension so the rolls will puff up round, roll each into a little ball until the surface looks taut. Dredge the rolls in flour and arrange in a greased greased bundt pan layering the balls in a scattered way on top of each other.  Alternatively, you can place them in a 9x13x2-inch baking pan, 4 rows across, 6 rows down. Loosely drape with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until generously doubled, about 2 hours. If using a 9x13 pan, the rolls should all be touching.

Set a rack in the lower-middle level of the oven. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. 

Bake the cake until all the rolls are puffed and richly browned, and just crowning the top of the bundt pan, about 25 to 30 minutes. (It will only take about 20 minutes if using a 9 x 13.  

Let the cake rest in the pan for 3 minutes, then gently run a knife around the edges to loosen.  Place the cake on a rack to cool.  Cool completely before icing.

To make the icing, measure the powdered sugar into a bowl and then whisk in the melted butter, rum and milk.  The icing should be sort of loose and pourable, but not runny. If it doesn’t drizzle well, microwave for about 6 or 7 seconds to loosen it up. 

To serve, pull off the individual rolls, and if desired, make some extra icing for dipping.

Mediterranean Chicken Pasta

I think it was like 1994 when I first started making this pasta for the family, but back then we called it "Greek" pasta...like anything with feta cheese and kalamata olives must be Greek.  That was then and this is now and I'm still making our "Greek pasta", only now we call it Mediterranean. But not only has the name evolved, but over the years I've played with the ingredients and changed some of the flavors and this is now, after 20 years, the way it was always meant to be.  Until I tweak it again.  But that's sort of doubtful, seeing as how we're pretty stoked about this version and I can't even tell you how happy I am to have it exactly where I want it now.

So yeah, it's called Mediterranean Chicken Pasta and I totally made it without chicken on this particular night, which happens to be legal and equally delicious.  You can also sub out the chicken for tofu (so not Greek) or shrimp, if you like.  It's all good.  Also, I usually throw in a couple handfuls of baby spinach, which I didn't happen to have, but you will when you make it, I'm sure.

I've actually sort of vacillated on whether to post this recipe or just keep it on file in the recipe index so I could refer to it when needed.  But in the end, I decided that if we love it this much, perhaps you might want to know about that, and my conscience just wouldn't let me bury the recipe where only I could find it, in complete violation of my blogging ethics, which at its core holds the concept of sharing inviolable (please don't refer back to my cheesecake post on this).

So here we are, talking about Mediterranean pasta, which is nothing earth shattering or ground breaking or life altering, except that it makes a wondrously fun, delicious and wholesome meal for the family.  And the leftovers (there usually aren't any) can be mighty great for lunch the next day.

There's something to be said about family meals that become tradition and here's the recipe for one of ours...

Mediterranean Chicken Pasta

Click here for a printable recipe

This is one of our family’s traditional go-to pastas.  Use whatever kind of pasta you like, but short pasta works better as opposed to spaghetti or linguini.  Campanelle is my default shape for this, but bowties (farfalle) work great too.  You can leave out the chicken or substitute with tofu or shrimp.  Throw in some kale instead of the spinach, if you like.  It's all good!

1 pound pasta, such as campanelle, cooked to al dente (1 minute less than box instructions)
1 lb of chicken breasts (or thighs)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ cup white wine
2 cups diced tomatoes (cherry tomatoes or romas)
A good handful or two of fresh baby spinach leaves (optional)
1 can artichoke hearts in water, drained, quartered
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted (1/4 pound)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil
½ cup toasted pine nuts
 1 ½ cups grated parmesan cheese
1 cup pasta water, reserved

Prep Work...

Slice, dice or otherwise cut up your chicken breasts or thighs into large-ish bite-sized pieces
Cook the pasta in lots of boiling, salted water for 1 minute less than the box directions.  Reserve 1        cup of the cooking water right before draining the pasta.  Do not rinse.
Mince the shallots and the garlic
Chop the tomatoes and quarter the artichokes
Toast the pinenuts
Slice the Kalamata olives

Instructions:
Heat oil in a skillet over medium or medium high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and then add it to the pan. Saute until just cooked through.  Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Add a little more olive oil to the pan if needed, and then add the shallots and garlic to the skillet. Sauté on medium heat for 2 minutes.   Add dried basil, oregano, crushed red pepper and garlic, and sauté for a couple more minutes and then add wine to the pan.  Simmer for 2 minutes and then add the tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and feta cheese to the skillet. Simmer for another minute.  Add the chicken back to the pan and stir to combine.

Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and add the pasta cooking water as necessary to create a creamy sauce.  Toss to coat the pasta.  Stir in the spinach, if using, and then cover the pan and let it sit off the heat for 5 to 10 minutes to allow the pasta to absorb the sauce a little.  

To serve, pour the pasta into a large serving bowl, top with parmesan, fresh basil and toasted pine nuts.

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