Chickpeas + Spinach / Garbanzos con Espinacas

More than 10 years ago, Sam and Sam Clark of Moro Restaurant in London published their first cookbook.  Simply titled ‘Moro,’ their cooking was born out of an interest in Islam and a love of Spain.

“Linked in history by the Moors’ 700-year occupation of Spain, the two spheres of cooking are connected by what we call the saffron-cinnamon link (Spain and the Muslim Mediterranean).”

It’s a great book, drawing on influence from Spanish food and the foods of “the Muslim Mediterranean” – countries like Greece, Turkey, Egypt,  and Lebanon.  One dish that I have resorted back to time and again is a blend of chickpeas and spinach, with a touch of vinegar and spice.

Chickpeas and Spinach/ Garbanzos con Espinacas

from ‘Moro’ by Sam and Sam Clark

200g chickpeas, soaked overnight with a pinch of baking soda, or two 400g cans of cooked chickpeas, rinsed

6 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

500g spinach, washed

75g bread (preferably white), crusts removed, cut into small cubes

3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 small bunch of fresh oregano, roughly chopped

1 small dried red chili, crumbled

1 1/2 Tablespoons good-quality red wine vinegar (I used the ‘Forvm Cabernet Sauvignon’ vinegar from Spain)

a good pinch of saffron, infused in 4 Tablespoons of boiling water

1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked Spanish paprika (I used ‘Santo Domingo de la Vera (dolce)’)

salt & black pepper

If you’re using dried chickpeas: drain the dried, soaked chickpeas in a colander, rinse under cold water, than place in a large saucepan.  Add just over two quarts of water and bring it to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, skimming off any scum as it builds up, and cook for about 1-2 hours or until soft and tender (the older the beans, the longer they take to cook).  Remove them from the heat, pour off the excess liquid until it is level with the chickpeas in the pan, and season them with salt and pepper.  Set them aside for now.

Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add half of the olive oil.  When the oil is hot, add the spinach with a pinch of salt (in batches- if necessary), and stir well.  Remove the spinach when the leaves are just tender, setting them in a colander to drain.  Set them aside for now.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Fry the bread for about five minutes until it is golden brown all over, then add the cumin, oregano and chili.  Cook for about one more minute, then transfer it to a mortar and pestle or food processor.  Add the vinegar and mash (or puree) it to a paste.  Return the bread mixture to the pan and add the drained chickpeas and saffron-infused water.  Stir until the chickpeas have absorbed the flavors and are hot, then season with salt and pepper.  If the consistency is a little thick, add some water.  Now add the spinach until it too is hot.  Check for seasoning.  To serve, fry a slice of bread in a little olive oil, transfer it to a plate and spoon the chickpea and spinach over it, sprinkling some of the smoked paprika on top.

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Rich Polenta

To say ‘rich polenta’ is in contrast to polenta’s place in Italian food history.  It has traditionally been considered a ‘peasant food,’ serving as an inexpensive (and accessible) filler that can be enhanced by pairing it with small amounts of other foods (ie: rabbit, anchovies, or whatever is available).  There are quick and slow cooking varieties available, and if you’ve tried them both, you’ll know that the slow cooking type is generally better and worth the time.

I came across a recipe for ‘Mushroom Ragu on Polenta’ in the Canal House cookbook (volume no.2) and it was a really satisfying meal.  The recipe calls for a small amount of sherry, which was an unexpected surprise – not only did I get to learn a bit about a fortified wine I wasn’t very familiar with, it added a wonderful aroma and flavor to the dish and I’ve got the rest of the bottle to add to cups of tea.  (side note- I used  an Amontillado sherry)

Mushroom Ragu with Polenta

Canal House Cooking, no.2, 2009

For the Polenta- 

1 cup slow cooking polenta

2 cups of chicken stock

2 cups of water

1 cup of whole milk

2 Tablespoons of butter

salt

For the Ragu-

2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 Tablespoons of butter

1 small onion, chopped

2 pounds mixed wild and/or cultivated mushrooms, cleaned and halved or quartered

Leaves of 4 thyme sprigs

2 Tablespoons of sherry

4 canned whole peeled plum tomatoes

2 cups chicken stock

1/2 bunch of parsley, leaves chopped

salt & pepper

Start with the polenta.  Put the chicken stock, water and milk into a medium, heavy-bottomed pot.  Stir in the polenta slowly and add two generous pinches of salt.  Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is tender, which can take anywhere from 50minutes to an hour and a half.  Don’t be dismayed, and don’t underestimate the time it takes to cook polenta (the cornmeal takes a while to soften).  It will swell and thicken as it cooks- if it gets too thick, add a bit more water.  When it’s ready, stir in the butter and season it with some salt.

For the ragu, heat the olive oil and two Tablespoons of the butter together in a large skillet over medium heat until the butter foams.  Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent, which will take about 3-5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about three minutes.  Add the thyme and sherry (it’ll smell so fantastic!).  Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hand as you drop them into the mushrooms.  Add the stock, parsley and remaining two Tablespoons of butter.  Simmer over medium-low heat until it is stewy and has thickened a bit, about 20 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, put some of the warm polenta in a bowl (wide and shallow works best) and spoon the mushroom ragu over top.  Enjoy it with a bit of the sherry (slightly chilled).