Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Jonesin'


There seems to be a conspiracy underfoot. No matter where I look, I see beautiful pictures or descriptions of the ultimate pasta dish. I think it started on January 4th, which was officially National Pasta Day. I'm starting to think there is a National Day for every food on the planet, but this one does actually deserve its own day of recognition and appreciation in my opinion. Shortly afterwards, I received the latest issue of Bon App├ętit in the mail and this image graced the cover. Then Zagat started a digital battle with #ItalianWeek when they selected the 12 best Italian restaurants in New York City. That's right, a measly dozen spots. Manhattanites don't go quietly into the night when their personal favorite is left off the list, so they went to great detail online explaining why their #1 place deserved to be on the list. It was pretty much food porn. Ever since, I've been jonesin' to carb up. And when you get in that mood, it's pretty hard to convince yourself to have anything else. 



I did want to make a ridiculous meat lover's dish, like wild boar ragu, but fresh boar is pretty hard to come by in Santa Barbara. Where is my cousin when I need him?! Yes, I'm referring to my cousin who used to hunt squirrel in college and cook them in his dorm room microwave. Be thankful you were not his roommate. But I am the first in line for his deer sausage. Anyway, I was trying to keep things a little in check so recalled a recipe for a preserved lemon and chickpea pasta with parsley pesto that looked really appealing, even though it was a complete 180 from my original vision/craving. Maybe I just wanted the satisfaction without the guilt for once. What I knew I wouldn't do was sacrifice on taste and this did not disappoint.  



I'm not really a pesto fan even though I love basil. For whatever reason pine nuts make my mouth taste like dirt. I have no issue with any other nut out there, but pine nuts and I have no love affair. So I was pleased to see this pesto was made from toasted almonds and parsley. As expected it tasted as vibrant as the color. 



The addition of preserved lemons (which I happened to have and am always looking for recipes to use them, but this recipe alone is reason to go and procure—or make—a jar) really brightened the dish and added the perfect layer of acid that all dishes need. The sauteed chickpeas bring a lovely creamy dimension to the dish while the spinach delivers another pop of color, texture and nutrition, if you care about that. 



The result is a pasta very much full of life. It's still comforting and super satisfying but not so heavy. And did I also mention it comes together in probably less than 30 minutes, which is a heck of a lot shorter than any meat sauce that would need to simmer away for hours? It definitely hits the spot if you're jonesin' for pasta or are just looking for an easy, yummy and nutritious Meatless Monday dish.



I served it with a salad of roasted brussels spouts, carrots, shallots and a little bit of diced pancetta (I am far from a purist!) over a bed of frisee and radiccio with sliced, juicy pears and crumbled goat cheese (although I wanted to use blue cheese but had none) drizzled with a grainy mustard and red wine vinaigrette. Yum!  

HaHaHaHaHa!!! I just now realized that I also intended to serve a nice crusty baguette with it but flat out forgot about it! I just now recalled it as I went to type this paragraph and then opened the oven door to find the tinfoil-wrapped loaf still in there three days later! 



Good lord, am I blonde. Anyway, I guess the pasta alone gave me the carb fix I needed.  

Preserved Lemon and Chickpea Pasta with Parsley Pesto
from The Year in Food

Ingredients
8 oz pasta of choice (I used whole wheat spaghetti)
1/3 cup plus 2 tsp olive oil, separated
15 oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped
2 cups loosely packed baby spinach
2 quarters preserved lemon, chopped (substitute zest of lemon + 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice—but it won't be as good)
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pecorino for garnish

Directions
1. Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add a drizzle of olive oil and cook pasta according to directions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and then drain. Set aside in pot to keep warm. 
2. While pasta is cooking, heat a medium skillet over a medium-low flame. Add 2 tsp olive oil. Add one clove of the minced garlic and stir for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the chickpeas and saute for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
3. Meanwhile prepare the pesto. Combine the remaining clove of minced garlic with the 1/3 cup olive oil, parsley and almonds. Puree in a food processor until a coarse paste has formed. 
4. Toss the warm pasta with the spinach to wilt. Add the pesto, chickpeas, preserved lemons and gently toss. If a little dry, add some of the reserved pasta water for creaminess. Note: I definitely had to add the pasta water. 
5. Taste to see if the preserved lemons provide enough saltiness. Season to taste with salt and pepper as desired. Shave some pecorino on top and serve immediately. 
Serves 4

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