As is clear from a quick glance at my recipe index, I have a pretty big sweet tooth. So much so that I rarely feature savoury recipes on my blog. The truth is, baking for me is relaxation and with a busy job and a fair amount of travel, dinner, while often delicious, typically involves me and Alessandro staring into our empty fridge and trying to come up with something decent to eat. I love cooking big meals for friends, but the occasions where we all manage to get together around our big dining table are few and far between.
The other day, save for a bulb of fennel, some onions and garlic, our fridge and vegetable basket were empty challenging me to come up with something edible based on the little food we had to hand! A quick glance in the pantry and I found what would be the star of our meal – a jar of chickpeas! While Alessandro has converted me to using dried pulses whenever possible, the truth is I am rarely organised enough to soak any at the right moment and most days I definitely lack the patience to wait 1 hour or more for my dinner to be ready.
I also found an open bottle of dry white wine, and decided this was the perfect accompaniment to my dinner and quickly settled on making a ‘risotto’ of sorts. As you will see from the list of ingredients below, this dish is not an actual risotto in that it is made without any rice. You see, moving to Italy is great and I have been indulging in my fair share of pasta, pizza and risotto, fresh sourdough bread, grissini – you name the carbohydrate, I will have eaten it at some point in the past 6 months. But, somehow I am done with all these carbohydrates for now at least and I have been craving pulses and fresh vegetables. Also, the warmer temperatures Rome has been experiencing the last couple of weeks has reminded me that summer is around the corner and maybe it is time to lay off at least some of the heavier food Alessandro and I have been enjoying over the cold winter in time for weekends by the beach.
Chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) are, like most pulses, full of starch, and thus lend themselves perfectly to the slow cooking typical of making risotto. Following the same method as for a traditional risotto (adding vegetable stock ladle by ladle with continuous stirring between each addition) produces a gorgeously creamy and thick dish, similar to a hearty winter stew or thick soup. Nonetheless, I called it a ‘risotto’ due to the cooking technique and the flavour of the dish.
I should also say that things might be a little quieter around here in the next few weeks – Alessandro and I are flat-hunting and packing up our current apartment so I will likely have less time to spend in the kitchen (probably a good thing given that it is basically hot enough to head to the beach, yet also cruel given that summer fruits have started appearing at the market). I will try and pop in every once in a while though to say hi and hope to be back to more regular posting sometime in June.
Chickpea and Fennel ‘Risotto’, serves 2
240g chickpeas, cooked (or the drained contents of 1 can of chickpeas)
1/2 medium-sized fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 glass dry white wine
0.75 liters vegetable stock*
1/2 bunch of parsley, chopped
60g parmesan cheese, grated (you could use other hard cheese, like pecorino, as well)
2 tablespoons olive oil (plus extra for garnish)
*Ale has converted me to making my own vegetable stock (usually a mix of carrots, celery and onion, browned in a bit of olive oil and then slowly simmered in a pot of water, seasoned with salt and pepper) but, in a pinch, you could use ready-made stock or stock cubes.
1. Start by frying the sliced fennel, onion, garlic and fennel seeds in the olive oil on medium heat until the fennel and onion are translucent. Be careful not to brown the onion and the garlic as they will taste bitter otherwise. Add the chickpeas.
2. While the fennel, onion, garlic and fennel seeds are cooking, gently heat up the vegetable stock and keep it on a low flame.
3. Pour the white wine over the fennel, onion, garlic, fennel seeds and chickpeas and stir until the wine has evaporated.
4. Add the vegetable stock one ladle at a time, waiting for the stock to be almost fully absorbed before adding the next ladle, stirring continuously between each addition.
5. Once the chickpeas are soft and have started breaking down (ca. 15-20 minutes), the ‘risotto’ is ready. Add enough stock so that the chickpeas are barely covered. (Note, you may not need the full 0.75l of stock). Remove the garlic clove. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Distribute the ‘risotto’ between two deep plates, garnish with the chopped parsley, a drizzle of olive oil and grated parmesan cheese.