Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Finally, a chilly snap of weather. That is to say, 65 degrees but here in the semi-tropics we Northern-winter born take what we can get to momentarily feel the environment nod to autumn. Even if leaves do not change color and sweaters are things we tell our babies about while holding pictures of our home towns in their snowy, wintry blankets with trees tipped in icicles. Far distant places and memories it would seem.

Except for that "cold" snap I mentioned. That was Sunday. When it seemed one had to take their only chance for weeks to make something warming, something vastly different from the local grouper with key lime butter and a thousand varieties of shrimp which is the norm here year round. Not that I'm complaining. But everyone needs a change now and then.

Food and Wine republished a recipe for Chickpea Spinach Stew in the September issue (cited below). It sounded complex and different. Saffron. Chickpeas and their liquid. Tomato. Spinach. And I certainly would have loved to write to you now how we enjoyed it. But, for reasons having to do with a tiny dancing baby hereabouts, "stew" and only one tomato is not an option. Were it not for these differences in our needs, I know the recipe would have been pitch-perfect. I also know this because in the original form it was deemed a reader favorite, hence the republishing.

A good deal more tomato and water or broth to make it a true soup, then and we were off to a land of chilly air, soup bowl grasping, and sweater dreaming. A land where, happily, an increasingly discerning toddler ate all her soup and her tiny nips of crusty French bread. This soup is gorgeous to behold and even better on the palatte.

Spinach, Tomato, and Chickpea Stew
adapted from this Janet Mendel recipe, Food and Wine '05
Serves 6

Once the soup is heated, do not go on cooking it or you will lose what little liquid is within to condensation and it will once again become a stew. Unless you prefer it.

If you wish to keep it warm for a party, put it in a tureen in a residually warm oven until service time or keep it on the warm setting of a crock pot. The garlic/ saffron/ salt flavor seems to quickly and permanently dissipate if the soup is mishandled over heat. But the good news is that treated gently to reheat, the left over soup is an even better soup than the first. It was hard to believe it could be better but indeed it was.

A note on the spices: If you are not familiar with ground clove, I suggest you taste a bit before using the full amount here, some care for only a hint. The original recipe calls for cumin, which you may care to add. Finally, saffron is a costly ingredient. However, it is a good keeper and a little goes a long way. Trader Joe's Markets have it very reasonably, if you happen to be near one.

3 cups water, divided
10 ounces baby spinach
3 large garlic cloves, crushed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Pinches saffron threads
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
One 15-ounce can chickpeas with their liquid
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes

Pour 1 cup water into a pot and bring to a boil. Add the spinach and cook over high heat, tossing frequently, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain the spinach in a colander, pressing hard on the leaves to extract the liquid. Coarsely chop the spinach.

Using the flat side of a large knife, mash the garlic to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the saffron. Transfer the garlic paste to a small bowl. Add the paprika, cloves and mash until combined. Stir in 1/4 cup of the chickpea liquid.

Wipe out the pot. Place over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the skillet and heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until they are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, crushing them between your fingers as you add them. Add the spiced garlic sauce to the onion and tomato in the pot and cook for 1 minute. Add 2 cups water and return to a simmer.

Add the chickpeas and the remaining chickpea liquid to the skillet. and bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Add the spinach, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. To serve, drizzle with remaining olive oil.

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