Confession time: I haven't blogged in two weeks because I was too busy eating my way through Italy. Boo hoo, right?
For seven too-short days, I was traipsing around the booted country in search of the coffee culture there: Starting in the north and making my way south, I attempted to learn everything I could about espresso in its birthplace. How it's made, how it tastes, how people drink it, what it means to the daily life of the average Italian. From Venice I made my way to Florence, leaving the Tuscan hills behind then for Rome, and finally stopping in Naples.
I drank an almost ridiculous amount of coffee. In fact, I drank so much coffee I was probably lucky no one turned me in to some local governing officials as a potential danger to myself. I drank so much coffee I was halfway delirious: It took me three solid days of traveling before I managed a night's sleep lasting longer than a half hour.
And yes, it was worth every restless, jittery, slightly-queasy-from-caffeine moment.
Naturally, I did my level best to counteract the coffee with heaps and heaps of the most delicious food I could get my grubby little American paws on. In fact, "delicious" doesn't really begin to describe it: Some of what I ate over the course of that week was the most exceptional, fresh, inspired, warming, and nourishing food I could ever have imagined.
The simplest meal (panino of garlicky spinach and mozzarella) filled me joy, the most basic of ingredients (grilled eggplant, fresh bread) were elevated by the greenest-tasting olive oil I've ever experienced. Sitting alone in an empty dining room or at the end of a busy bar, walking through the streets munching an apple from a street vendor, window shopping at the endless stream of gelaterias that dotted every city: I was in heaven, and I fell in love at first bite.
Naturally, the first thing I did when I came home was attempt to re-create the most perfect thing I ate, for the benefit of Mr. Nervous, who wasn't along for the ride this time. A twist on the traditional Roman dish minestra di ceci e pasta (chickpea soup with pasta), the following is inspired by a dish I encountered in Florence, at a vegetarian restaurant I couldn't help but visit over and over (and over) during the brief course of my stay there.
Hearty and healthy, this is honestly one of the highlights—not only of the trip, but also of my life.
Make. This. Now.
|1 tbs white vinegar|
1 small onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped mushrooms
needles from 1 sprig rosemary, minced
salt and pepper to taste
2oz dry orichette pasta
1 cup water, plus a tad more
1 can (16.5oz) chickpeas, drained
|In a medium to large stock pot, heat the vinegar over medium-low, adding the garlic and onions when it starts to sizzle. Cook until translucent (5–7 minutes), and don't worry if there are brown bits on the bottom of the pot: We'll get them later, and they'll be delicious. |
Mix in the mushrooms and cook until they start to sweat, using the liquid they release to scrape the bottom of the pot clean (see?). Stir in the rosemary, salt, and pepper, being sure to coat the mushroom mixture evenly with it. Cook for 3–5 minutes, or until the rosemary becomes very fragrant, and add the dry pasta to the pot, coating it in the slurry as well.
Once everything is evenly incorporated, add the cup of water and allow it to come to a gentle boil, after which lower the heat and simmer for 6–8 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, toss the drained chickpeas with a bit more salt and pepper, and mash them into a paste with a fork. If desired, add a little water (up to 2 tbs should do it) to create a smoother texture. Once you've worked the clumps out, stir the paste into the soupy mixture, and bring everything back up to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and simmer for another 10 minutes. Serve hot, with additional sprigs of rosemary as garnish if desired.
Full disclosure: I've been home fully four days and have made this twice already, enjoying the leftovers for a few days in a row, dreaming Italian dreams… Sigh.