Clowns & Chickpea Soup

January 20, 2012

The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.
~Mark Twain

While on the folly of moral high grounders, just imagine that during one 24-hour spell: (1) a dropout governor and loser vice presidential candidate, who was woefully under scrutinized by her own party before “they” recklessly placing her on the ticket, ironically excoriated the country for electing the current president without properly vetting him; (2) in an embarrassing vote recount, a bigoted, right wing former senator was now declared the winner of a recent state caucus, reversing the previous results and defeating the party’s front running, perfectly coiffed mannequin candidate after all; (3) that same flip-flopping, scantily taxed, front running sycophant who has been warbling patriotic–even misinterpreting America The Beautiful–and touting good old fashioned homeland work values, has been surreptitiously shifting his funds to offshore tax havens; (4) a current governor with decidedly conservative, homophobic values has dropped out of the race and now endorsed another candidate, a former House Speaker who has repeatedly heralded the sanctity of established monogamous marriages; (5) while the second wife of this same pontificating Speaker gave a tell all interview where she revealed that this self-annointed high browed historian sought an “open marriage” with her all the while having a sordid affair with his now third wife; (6) then later that evening, the remaining pretenders suit and tied up to spew their pious demagogy onstage before raucous partisans at a national “debate.”

The stuff of statesmen and diplomats? Not even Twain or the esteemed dramatist Molière could have concocted such inane political satire. Makes me want to take a long shower, slip into some jammies, pop some popcorn, and tune into Fox “News” or CNN while humming And where are the clowns?…Send in the clowns.

Given yesterday’s lunacy and in honor of the ancient Roman orator, linguist and philosopher Cicero (from which ceci was derived), some velvety, soulful chickpea soup seemed in order. Often, solace can be found in legumes.

PASSATO DI CECI (TUSCAN CHICKPEA SOUP)

Extra virgin olive oil
1/4 lb pancetta, cut into 1/2″ lardons

1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Sea salt

1 lb (2 C) dried chickpeas, washed, then soaked in water overnight
2 qts chicken stock
4 sprigs fresh thyme, tied in twine
2 bay leaves
1 qt water

Extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 sprigs rosemary, stemmed with leaves finely chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 C artisanal bread, crust on, cut into 1/2″ cubes

Extra virgin olive oil
Mint leaves, chopped

Lightly coat the bottom of a large pot or Dutch oven with olive oil, add the pancetta and bring to medium heat. When the pancetta starts to become crispy, add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, crushed red pepper and season lightly with salt. Cook the vegetables until they become aromatic and begin to soften, about 6-7 minutes. Do not brown.

Drain and discard the water from the soaked chickpeas, rinse them in a colander and add to the pot. Add the chicken stock, thyme, bay leaves and 1 quart of water. Bring the liquid just to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until the chickpeas are very soft and nearly falling apart, about 1 1/2-2 hours. Turn off the heat, season with salt and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, deeply coat a large skillet with olive oil, add garlic cloves, rosemary leaves, and crushed red pepper and bring to medium heat. Remove the garlic once it is golden and before it burns. Then add the cubed bread and cook until just crispy and golden. Season with salt and remove the croutons to a bowl for use later, reserving the garlic-rosemary oil.

Add the garlic-rosemary oil to the soup. Purée (in batches if necessary) the soup by pulsing in a food processor or blender. Correct the consistency, if necessary–if too thin, cook some more to reduce, or if too thick carefully add more stock. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Ladle into shallow soup bowls, drizzle very lightly with olive oil, then top with croutons and mint.

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Two Resolutions: Quinoa

January 11, 2010

No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office.
~George Bernard Shaw

Now that the bubbly clinking and sloppy midnight kisses with bosses and wives have become faint memories, the time has come for many to pursue and accomplish those well intentioned yet often unattainable resolutions for the upcoming year. That annual ritual of setting goals for the new year—an effort to start afresh and recast our role in life—is now in the past. Now, we have to endure the tedium of making good on them. Lose weight, live for the day, find a mate, stop smoking, exercise more, cease biting your nails, get a promotion, find a job, quit your job, get a tattoo, have more sex, travel exotic, sleep more, drink less, bungee jump…and the list goes on.

Other primeval civilizations, including Babylonia, celebrated the vernal and autumnal equinoxes with revelrous festivals as a means of ringing in a new year. The western tradition of new year’s resolutions began in ancient Rome when worshippers offered resolutions of good conduct to the deity named Janus, the god of beginnings and guardian of doors and entrances. Always depicted with two faces, one on the front of his head and one on the back, Janus could look backward and forward simultaneously—an innate skill sorely lacking in today’s politicians. When the Roman calendar was reformed, the first month of the year was renamed January in homage to Janus, establishing January 1 as the day of new beginnings. So, at midnight each December 31, the Romans envisaged Janus looking back at the old and forward to the new. Retrospect and foresight at once.

Unfortunately, studies have suggested that new year’s resolutions are often a pointless exercise. Few of us achieve them, and most revert to our previous bad habits. We break our carefully crafted resolutions of self-renewal and denial, and become dispirited, even despondent in the process. Some research has suggested that some 80% of adult Americans completely give up on their new goals by Valentine’s Day (especially the ones about finding mates or lovers). Many of those who fail neurotically focus on the downside of not achieving their declared goals.

Neither new year’s resolutions nor “how to’s” are my bag. And do not expect me to sermonize about “health food.” But, it has been suggested that those who do attain their resolutions usually choose specific and deliberate objectives which have staged or shortened deadlines and commonly treat occasional lapses in the plan as just temporary setbacks. A suggestion for those who absolutely demand resolutions for 2010? Shun the traditional deprivation diet with its woeful success rates and focus instead on eating well. Eat to savor, not to diet. Prepare a simple inventory of healthy foods, preparations and menu options…including a list of wellness foodstuffs (e.g., beets, swiss chard, legumes, nuts, avocados, blueberries) that you enjoy but have not been eating. Food that is vibrant and light, full of nutrients but not spartan or bland. Incorporate them as staples. Then, buy, cook, eat and repeat.

Well textured and slightly nutty flavored quinoa fits that 2010 resolution bill. And stylish to boot, with all those self enthralled Hollywood waifs scarfing up this mother seed of the Incas. From the plant Chenopodium quinoa, quinoa are actually seeds related to their hale and hardy cousins, beets, chard and spinach. Protein rich quinoa’s fully rounded amino acid profile is especially well endowed with the amino acid lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair. It is also a superb source of manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, riboflavin and phosphorus.

Now, on to my flagitious potato pancakes tonight.

QUINOA & CHICKPEAS

1 t cumin seeds
1 t coriander seeds
1 t red pepper flakes

3 C chicken stock
1 1/2 C quinoa, well rinsed
1/2 t sea salt
2 sprigs thyme

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced

1 C canned chick peas, rinsed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat, and add the cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Toast in the pan, stirring or shaking the pan, until they begin to smell fragrant, and transfer to a bowl. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then add red pepper flakes and coarsely grind by pulsing in a spice or coffee mill. Set aside.

In a medium heavy saucepan, add the chicken stock, quinoa, salt and thyme. Bring to just a gentle boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to reach a low simmer, cover the pan and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 12 to 15 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs. Set aside.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt and pepper, cumin, coriander and red pepper, and stir together for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the remaining olive oil and stir in the cooked quinoa and chick peas. Stir over medium heat to heat through, several minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Mold the pilaf into ramekins or timbales and unmold onto the plate.

QUINOA WITH LEMON & HERBS

3 C chicken stock
1 1/2 C quinoa, well rinsed
1/2 t sea salt
1 bay leaf

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
3/4 C fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 C fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 t lemon zest
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium heavy saucepan, add the chicken stock, quinoa, salt and bay leaf. Bring to just a gentle boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to create a low simmer, cover the pan and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 12 to 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, basil, parsley, thyme, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Pour the dressing over the quinoa and toss until all the ingredients are coated. Season to tasted with salt and pepper, and serve.