Friday, March 7, 2008
Ohio always breaks my heart
Tuesdays, I generally work from home, which meant that instead of obsessively reading every scrap of information coming out of the primaries in Ohio and Texas (and Rhode Island and Vermont), I tried to calm my nerves by making a very slow-cooked chickpea, celery, and porcini soup with pecorino cheese, from Paula Wolfert's “The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook.” I must be the kind of person Paula Wolfert thinks is “passionate,” even all by my lonesome, because I love this book.
It was a very slow soup, even when I halved the following ingredients:
1 cups dried chickpeas
¼ t. baking soda
½ oz. dried porcini
pinch of sugar
3 imported bay leaves
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, grated in a food processor
2 garlic cloves
2 cups thinly sliced celery ribs
1/8 t. Italian or Greek oregano
freshly ground pepper
pinch of hot pepper flakes
curls of pecorino or manchego cheese
It had to be started the night before, with the dried chickpeas soaking in water with a little bit of baking soda, and the dried porcini mushrooms soaking in its own water with a pinch of sugar in the fridge. I followed the directions very precisely.
The next morning, I grated a small onion in my food processor and placed it with the chickpeas, 2 bay leaves, 3 T. of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and water to cover the chickpeas by an inch in my small two-quart dutch oven. Paula Wolfert says you’re supposed to use a clay pot like the Italian peasants, though you can buy a sand pot that works just as well in Chinatown. I figured a French-made Staub was good enough.
This part was freaky—I put it in a cold oven, cranked the heat to 450 degrees, and then let it sit for 30 minutes. Then I turned it down to 250 degrees and let it cook for three hours. Yes, three hours.
When the three hours had almost expired, I heated a garlic clove in a pan of hot olive oil for a little bit, then tossed in the celery and oregano for about 2 minutes. I added the drained, chopped porcini mushrooms with the soaking liquid, then the chickpeas and its cooking liquid, and a little more water. I also added a cup of homemade chicken stock, even if the recipe didn’t call for it. It bubbled away on medium heat for 20 more minutes. How easy is that?
And then it was done. Just a good amount of salt, generous amounts of freshly ground pepper, a pinch of hot pepper flakes, and curls of pecorino cheese.
The soup was wonderful. It was warming and satisfying, so much more than you would imagine chickpeas, celery, and mushrooms to be. The chickpeas had an honest texture you never get in canned beans, the mushroom flavor was silky smooth, and the cheese added an intense salty sharpness. I loved it. I love even more that like so many Paula Wolfert recipes, it comes from peasants who can't be bothered by complicated steps, resulting in directions so simple I could more or less recite them to you by heart.
So there was one bright spot that Tuesday.