Per­sonal touch

Rachel Roddy cooks chick­peas

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Rachel Roddy

This au­tumn, dur­ing a train jour­ney from Lon­don to Whit­stable in search of lunch, the best cook I know told me one of his great plea­sures is a tin of mar­row­fat peas, re­heated thor­oughly, then sea­soned with white pep­per and a few shakes of Sar­son’s malt vine­gar. His de­scrip­tion was so good, in­duc­ing such nos­tal­gia for my granny’s pub, and fish and chips sur­rounded by warm news­pa­per, that I sub­se­quently found my­self pay­ing the damn lug­gage sup­ple­ment in or­der to bring a tin and a bot­tle back to Rome.

Then there is the friend who once told me of her af­fec­tion for a tin of can­nellini beans, warmed with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon eaten with cold moz­zarella. Or the man who told me of his de­vo­tion to baked beans perked-up with Tabasco and eaten, with (but not on) heav­ily but­tered toast, on a tea-towel, on his lap while watch­ing TV. Tins of beans, it seems, are pri­vate plea­sures, and not just for speed. Add to this my part­ner’s love of any beans warmed and mixed with short pasta and my own of tinned chick­peas warmed with olive oil, lemon and loads of black pep­per, then mashed with a fork and eaten straight out of the small pan with the slightly melted han­dle.

Ital­ian call chick­peas ceci, which comes from the Latin Cicer ari­et­inum, be­cause each pea is rem­i­nis­cent of a ram’s (Aries) head. They re­mind me of a plump hazel­nut in a pointy hat. Chick­peas hold their own best in a tin, and I feel much the same way about them as my younger self did about cig­a­rettes: if I didn’t have at least one pack stand­ing by, I was twitchy. I also hoard dried chick­peas, for as use­ful as tinned ones may be, soak­ing and cook­ing your own is the way to get su­perb-tast­ing chick­peas with that unique and nour­ish­ing nutty flavour. What’s more, there is the cook­ing liq­uid, cloudy with the starch and good­ness – there­fore flavour and sub­stance – that has seeped from the chick­peas as they sim­mered.

Opin­ions about how long you should soak chick­peas be­fore cook­ing varies dra­mat­i­cally. In her mas­ter­ful book of Jewish food, Clau­dia Ro­den sug­gests one hour is enough, but notes that you can leave them overnight. Mar­cella Hazan also rec­om­mends overnight soak­ing. In Pasta the Ital­ian Way: Sauces and Shapes, Oretta Zanini De Vita and Mau­reen Fant are em­phatic that 24 hours are re­quired. And Jane Grig­son – also Enzo and Lina who run a stall here on Tes­tac­cio mar­ket – let their chick­peas soak for 48 hours – two whole days and nights of plump­ing un­til there is not a wrin­kle in sight. Were my Grandma Roddy still here, she would have taken her “al­ways on the safe side” lead from Jane and Lina, adding an­other few hours “just to be sure” – then mar­velled at the sprouts.

Sim­mer­ing times are equally var­ied, rang­ing from a swift 45 min­utes to a loung­ing six hours (the chick­peas’ size and age makes a huge dif­fer­ence). In other parts of my life, such vari­a­tions would be tire­some. How­ever, when it comes to food writ­ing and recipes, I en­joy these dra­matic shifts in much the same way I en­joy the opin­ion­ated dis­cus­sions that erupt spon­ta­neously in Ital­ian mar­kets about those best meth­ods and timings: “Two hours? Gesù, Giuseppe e Maria – you need two days!” As is so of­ten the case, the an­swer is some­where in be­tween an hour and two days, try­ing and tast­ing, know­ing your chick­peas. I have set­tled upon a 24-hour soak, which means about an hour and a quar­ter sim­mer un­til ten­der. And if you don’t have time, there are al­ways tins.

To­day’s recipe comes from Pa­tience Gray’s Honey From A Weed, a book I have been cook­ing from with re­newed joy since read­ing Adam Fe­d­er­man’s bi­og­ra­phy of Gray’s re­mark­able life. The recipe, orig­i­nally from Cat­alo­nia, be­gins in much the same way as most recipes for braised chick­peas or soup

do, in that you add cooked chick­peas to aro­matic veg­eta­bles – in this case onion, tomato and pars­ley – along with some of the cook­ing wa­ter. The unique­ness of this recipe is that you also add a finely pounded mix­ture of al­monds and gar­lic called pi­cada. This marvellous ad­di­tion both thick­ens and lends the most de­li­cious aroma and flavour to the stew. It is a dish to serve as is, with cheese and bread, or on top of rice or cous­cous. I can imag­ine it go­ing well with braised neck or roast lamb too. It is good to be back.

Soak­ing and cook­ing your own chick­peas is the way to get that unique and nour­ish­ing nutty flavour

Cook’s tip The recipe works well with can­nellini beans. And you could al­ways add a lit­tle rose­mary or chilli to the pi­cada.

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