20 December 2010

Pretty darned fantastic

Can we all get together and agree that chickpeas are pretty darned fantastic?

For one thing, they really do look like miniature naked chickens, and that can't do anything but improve them. Further, there's no complaining about any food that has multiple, fun names. Chickpeas has a whimsical ring to it, the kind of word that I like to use for finger foods like roasted, spiced chick peas and falafal. Garbanzo beans, then, are like the chickpeas' smoky, all-the-boys-love-her older sister, sultry, mysterious, and brooding. Garbanzo beans are just cool.

So really, could it be anything but garbanzo beans in this dish? What happens when you mix garbanzo beans with chard, and cook them both with handfuls of shallots, scads of garlic and buckets of olive oil? Good things happen. Magic happens.

I stumbled upon a recipe for Roasted Garbanzo Beans and Garlic with Swiss Chard several years ago in a Bon Appétit, and I believe I made it for dinner that night. I've made this dish countless times since, a cure for an uninspired fall, the winter blues, or a misty spring day alike.

The original recipe, provided by Michael Psilakis, was mindblowing, but it was no suprise: what wouldn't be good with 1 ¼ cups of olive oil? I'm not anti-fat by any means, but my frugal wallet winced at roasting the beans in that much oil, just to drain it off. Sure, I could (and did) reuse it, but still. I slashed at the amount until I found the perfect level of olive oil—all of the flavor and none of the waste.

As if roasted, garlicky, herb-covered garbanzo beans bathing in velvety chard wasn't enough, I dare you to find a way not to serve this. I've had it under seared salmon and aside roast chicken. I've tossed it with pasta; I've added stock for a soup. I've topped it with a runny-yolked poached egg (oh, the unctuous sauce that resulted!); I've drained it and stuffed a pita for a sandwich. Truly, the versatility of this dish knows no bounds.

I waited all day to finish this post so that I could take photos; unfortunately, I was at work with nothing but my leftovers to eat, so they were gone before I got to my camera. Still, I've got more garbanzo beans in the refrigerator, so I'm sure I'll make more in the next week, and I promise you pictures at that point. Until then, I exhort you—soak some garbanzo beans tonight, or get out a few cans and start immediately. You won't be sorry.

Roasted Garbanzo Beans with Swiss Chard
Adapted from this Michael Psilakis recipe on Epicurious, from Bon Appétit

This dish calls for a large amount of garlic, but as most of it is roasted, and the rest lightly sautéed, it offers a mellow flavor. Use whatever kind of chard you like; the red chard, which I usually buy, will stain the broth and the beans lightly pink.

For the garbanzo beans:
3 cups cooked, drained garbanzo beans (or about 2 cans, rinsed well and drained)
1 teaspoon fennel seed
2 bay leaves
2 shallots, thinly sliced (can replace with ½ red onion)
10 cloves garlic, peeled
salt & pepper
¼ cup good olive oil

For the chard:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced (see above)
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 bay leaves
1 large or 2 small bunches chard, ribs removed and leaves coarsely torn
1 ½ cups mild broth (I prefer vegetable stock)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Toss the drained beans with the herbs, shallots, garlic, and liberal amounts of salt & black pepper (at least ½ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper for me). Drizzle the olive oil over, toss lightly, and cover the dish tightly with foil or its lid. Place in the oven and roast, stirring once or twice, until the beans are tender and a light gold color, and the garlic and shallots have relaxed completely. Remove from heat and set aside (can make a day ahead if desired; bring to room temperature before proceeding).

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, deep pot. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for a minute or two, until fragrant. Add the bay leaves, then about a third of the chard. Stir well until wilted, then add remaining chard in batches. Add the stock, bring to a boil, and cook until the chard is tender, 5-10 minutes. Add the garbanzo beans, mix well, and cook one to two minutes more, until the beans have absorbed a little of the broth. Adjust seasoning as desired, remove bay leaves and serve.

Serves 4 as part of a main dish (with an egg, pasta, etc.), or 8 as a side dish

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