THE STORY: When I married into an Italian family, I had never eaten a chickpea. If you were raised where I was, in Michigan farmbelt’s Saginaw Valley, you ate navy beans. End of story.
Next chapter: marriage, a new family, a new cuisine. On Christmas Eve my wife’s family ate chickpea soup. These were chickpeas from a can (always Progresso), cooked with whole garlic cloves, rosemary, salt and pepper and olive oil. When we sat down to eat, a pasta dump had also occurred, enough tubetti (my mother-in-law called them bucanotti) to thicken and fortify the soup. It was bliss.
For some reason it never dawned on me–for 25 or 30 years!–to wonder why we ate chickpea soup only on Christmas eve. I started fooling around, getting into chickpea cooking. Most recently this soup came about–chickpea with Swiss chard. Like most soups, it’s a combination of leftovers. In this case, planned leftovers.
NICHE: A first dish, like a pasta. Also substantial enough to stand on its own.
PREP TIME: 15 minutes
COOKING TIME: chard, 1 hr. Chickpeas 2 hours
2 cups dried chickpeas (3 cans)
2 cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper
Leftover Swiss chard
Soak the chickpeas overnight, rinsing them once.
Chop and lightly saute a medium size onion in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add your chickpeas, enough to fill your pan no more than half full. Warm the onion and chickpeas on low heat in the pan until you hear the cooking sound.
Add water, enough for the surface to be an inch or so above the level of the chickpeas. Add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 2-3 hours, maintaining the water level at an inch above the chickpeas. For added thickness, add a few more tablespoons of olive oil. The chickpeas will soften and get a little ragged as they cast off some of the husk. When you start to see husk, if the chicks are soft, they’re done.
Save some greens from a previous meal. Spinach would be fine. But chard might be better. Stir the leftover chard (a cup or more to add color and density) into the pan with a cooked chickpeas. Cook it for another 30-60 minutes, maintaining the level of the broth, just over the surface of the soup.