Chickpeas. Garbanzo beans. Ceci. Whatever you call these millenia-old, nutty-tasting, protein-rich legumes, they're a must for any serious eater's pantry. Dusted with ground cumin and coriander and a little salt, and then roasted until they have a satisfying crunch, chickpeas make a savory movie-watching snack. Pure and blend them with lemon juice, olive oil, tahini (hulled sesame seed), garlic and salt, and you have a creamy hummus to dip pita crisps in or to slather on sandwiches. Pulverize them into flour and make Farinata, the traditional Ligurian chickpea cake, which could easily obliterate the four o’clock crash. But the best part about chickpeas, I think, is that they are substantial enough for a meatless main course that will please almost any omnivore.
If you’re looking for a dish to cook for Meatless Monday, are a vegetarian, or are just looking to cook healthier meals, the Catalan Chickpea stew from New York Times "Recipes for Health" columnist Martha Rose Shulman’s new book is a great place to start (recipe below). Simple to make, and even better if it’s prepared a day or two in advance, the stew has a deep, tomato-y flavor and is fantastic with a small amount of chorizo or spicy chicken sausage thrown in like a garnish.
The dish presents a wide variety of fun wine-pairing options, too. Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine that traditionally comes from Penedes in northeastern Spain where this dish originates, plays up the lightness of the stew and ties all the lingering flavors into a neat little bow. The Gran Sarao Brut Cava Penedes ($9.99) is one of our favorites, with its Granny Smith apple-like fruit, crisp impression and easy-on-the-wallet price tag. If you’re not a fan of bubbles, try a white Rioja like the 2009 Bodegas Muga Blanco Rioja ($16.99) or the 2003 Marques de Murrieta "Capellania" Blanco Rioja ($14.99), both of which are predominantly made from Viura, and have citrus zest qualities that complement the flavors of the dish, plenty of acidity to stand up to the tomatoes. The slightly oxidized quality of the Capellania matches the earthiness of the chickpeas, and is a great introduction to the style, being a bit rounder and riper because of the hot 2003 vintage. If you prefer to play up the heartiness of the stew, try matching it with an old school Rioja, preferably one with some age on it, like those from perennial staff favorite Lopez de Heredia, or a bottle of 2000 Señorio de P. Peciña Reserva Rioja ($29.99), which drinks like a wine four times the price. High-toned cherry notes, sweet tobacco, earth and perfectly integrated tannins framed by boisterous acidity make the stew taste almost sultry and decadent, and would play particularly well in the spicy-sausage spiked version.
Catalan Chickpea Stew
From The Very Best of “Recipes for Health” by Martha Rose Shulman
Yield: 6 servings
1 lb dry chickpeas soaked 6 hours-overnight in 2 quarts of water
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green or red bell pepper, chopped
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
½ tsp dried thyme
Ground black pepper
1 dried cayenne chile or ¼-½ tsp red pepper flakes
Drain the chickpea and put them in a large pot with enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Add the bay leaf and bring to a gentle boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer for an hour, occasionally skimming off any foam. Add salt to taste and simmer another hour or until tender. Drain through a sieve set over a bowl to reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid. Remove the bay leaf and set aside.
Heat olive oil in a large, heavy pot and add the onion, cooking over medium heat until it begins to soften. Add bell pepper. Cook peppers and onions, stirring often, until both are tender. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and juice, thyme, salt and black pepper to taste. Cook, stirring often, about 10 minutes or until the tomatoes cook down slightly. Add the chickpeas, cooking liquid and cayenne or chile flakes. Return to a simmer and stir. Reduce heat to very low, cover, and cook gently for 30 minutes to an our until the beans are tender and the broth is fragrant.