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.


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.

Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.

Store bought hummus begone.

Hummus comes from comes from the Arabic word (حمّص‎) for “chickpeas,” and is alternatively spelled hamos, houmous, hommos, hommus, hummos, hummous or humus. Chickpeas are the most consumed legumes in the world.

The chickpea (Cicer arietinum) is a versatile, edible legume of the Fabaceae family. Chickpeas have a long culinary history—they graced tables in ancient Egypt, were savored in old Palestine, and were cultivated in Mesopotamia as a food crop. The English word chickpea traces from the French chiche which was derived from the Latin cicer from which the renowned Roman orater, linguist and philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), received his personal surname. Authorities differ on the origin of Cicero’s chickpea cognomen…some suggest that it came from his oft maligned rural heritage, bereft of ancestors, breeding, or background; others opine that he bore a rather obtrusive wart on his nose which resembled a chickpea; and another school hypothesizes that he was born with an imperfect nose with a likeness of the curled up bean.

In Spain, chickpeas are called garbanzos, in Italy, ceci, in Portugal, grao-di-bico, in Greece, revithia, and in India, gram.

Chickpeas are a nutritional blockbuster, providing hefty doses of dietary fiber that help lower cholesterol and blood sugar, and magnesium and folate that protect against heart disease. Much like other legumes, they are rich in carbohydrates and protein.

Hummus with tahini (sesame seed paste) is buttery and creamy, with a nutty flavor that offers hints of lemon and fresh grassy notes from the parsley oil.


1 16 oz can chick peas or garbanzos, drained and rinsed
3-4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, minced and smashed to a paste
1/2 T cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 t sea salt
1 T tahini, well stirred
Juice of one lemon
Pinch of cayenne
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

Parsley oil
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C fresh parsley leaves

Pinch of paprika
2 T pine nuts, toasted lightly

Smash the minced garlic to a paste with the salt. In a food processor, purée the chick peas with the garlic paste, cumin, tahini, lemon juice, cayenne and olive oil, scraping down the sides, until the hummus is smooth; add salt to taste. If necessary, add water to thin the hummus to the desired consistency and then transfer to a bowl.

Clean the food processor, then purée olive oil with the parsley until the oil is bright green and the parsley is minced. Transfer the parsley oil to a small jar.

Drizzle hummus with the parsley oil and then sprinkle it with paprika and pine nuts.

Pourboire: the longer (and more authentic) version of hummus entails 1 cup dried chick peas soaked overnight.

Rinse the soaked chickpeas well and drain them before putting them in a saucepan and covering them with ample cold water. Bring to a boil, skim off foam, adding 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook over medium heat until the chickpeas are very soft, about 1 1/2 hours. Drain the chickpeas, reserving their cooking liquid. Follow the remainder of the recipe above except increase the portions of tahini paste to 1/2 cup and fresh lemon juice to 1/4 cup.