red pepper one disappeared of its own accord, and I’m still working on the whitefish one.
Here’s another one I’m still working on: beans. As in, legumes/pulses. (Not green beans. I love those.)
I’m always kind of fascinated that other people go out of their way to eat beans: that they actually like them. In England, baked beans on toast was everyone’s favorite storecupboard meal, from tiny children on up; and since I’ve moved here, every cookout I’ve attended has included a huge, enthusiastically consumed dish of baked beans on the buffet table. I know people who eat beans and rice as part of their regular dinner repertoire, and they’re not even vegetarians. And don’t even get me started on chili.
I’m pretty sure my aversion is a texture issue. When I think about beans, I think about biting into an insufficiently cooked one: the pop between your back teeth as you puncture the tough outer membrane, the grainy, too-chewy interior, like a tiny underbaked potato. I’ve carried this strong sensory impression with me well into adulthood, and I’ve continued to have a knee-jerk reaction. And yet I’ve developed a taste for minestrone, daal, and more recently, refried beans (no texture issues there) and my oldest sister’s spicy bean dip (ditto). But I hardly ever buy beans, and I cook them even less.
My ongoing everyday cooking challenge offered an excellent opportunity to change this, so I started with the easy option: cooking chickpeas from scratch. I’ve got about a half-dozen cookbooks that rave about how much better chickpeas are when you soak and cook them (as opposed to opening a can), and I know I already like chickpeas in other forms (hummus and falafel). So I bought a bag, soaked them overnight, and cooked them in the slow cooker in chicken stock and water. And you know what? The cookbooks are absolutely right: they are really, really good, and worth the (not very great) effort involved.
The other night I used some of them to make pasta e fagioli. This was a staple of meatless winter Friday nights growing up, except my mother always used navy beans. I think chickpeas are a substantial improvement.
Pasta e fagioli
You can, of course, use drained, canned chickpeas for this. But the home-cooked chickpeas do have a more complex flavor and substantial texture. And I introduced a sneaky technique to make sure any fussy eaters (me included) ingest some, by hook or by crook.
1-2 cups tomato sauce (or fresh or canned tomatoes)
1-2 cups chicken stock (or water)
1 cup prepared chickpeas
½ cup small pasta
salt & pepper
pecorino romano cheese, grated, for topping
Heat tomatoes in a medium-sized saucepan on low-medium heat; if using fresh or canned tomatoes, crush or puree them if you want a smooth soup. Add about half the chicken stock/water; you may want to add more later, depending on your preferred consistency.
Puree half the chickpeas in a food processor with a splash of the chicken broth to the consistency of a thin hummus. Stir into the broth as it’s heating. Check consistency and add more broth as desired.
Once the soup liquid is thoroughly hot but not boiling, add pasta and stir carefully to distribute throughout. Continue stirring every couple of minutes to make sure it doesn’t stick and allow the pasta to cook in the hot liquid (~10 minutes).
A few minutes after adding the pasta, add the remaining chick peas to heat through.
When pasta has cooked al dente, taste and then add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately, topped with a thick layer of grated pecorino romano, and enjoy cucina povera at its best.
Serves 2 with leftovers. Can be doubled or tripled easily.