Tag Archives: Pulses

MUSSELS WITH CHICKPEAS

I love mussels: they are just so quick to cook, sustainable, economical and so flavourful. By using different herbs and adding a variety of ingredients you can vary the looks and taste of mussels and have a new dish every time. Mussels are called cozze in Italian.

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Mussels or vongole (pipis or cockles) cooked with pulses (usually chickpeas or cannellini or lima beans) feature in many cuisines – Italian, Moroccan, French, Spanish and Greek and there are likely to be more examples. Each cuisine may have a few variations: as an Italian I use parsley, the French recipes may suggest using thyme, Moroccans may add harissa and the Spaniards may add chorizo. Fennel is in season and its aniseed, liquorice -like flavour compliments the taste of any seafood.

I also like to accentuate the taste of the fennel by adding 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds or instead of the wine, using one of the anise flavoured alcoholic drinks, like Ricard, Pastis or Pernod (French) or Raki (Turkey). Ouzo (Greek) and Sambuca (Italian) are sweeter in taste (contain sugar) so unless you particularly like sweetness do not use too much. I have mentioned the most popular of the alcoholic beverages, but there are more in other countries.

I use a lot of wine or alcohol in my cooking but this is not compulsory. I do not use salt when I cook mussels as they release their own liquid and this is usually sufficiently salty.

1 k mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup white wine or ½ cup of anise flavoured alcohol and ½ cup of water or if you have cooked the chickpeas yourself, use the liquid
1 bulb fennel or 3 stalks of young celery
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups of cooked chickpeas (home cooked or canned)
pepper or chilli flakes
 
Prepare the fennel: remove the tough outer leaves, slice the fennel and chop finely any of the fronds. Because I prefer to have some crunch in the fennel I slice it into medium -thin slices, but if you prefer it to be soft, slice it very thinly. Substitute the fennel with celery if you prefer.
Use a heavy bottomed large saucepan with a tight fitting lid, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and sauté the garlic, sliced fennel and fennel fronds.
Add chickpeas, parsley, pepper or chilli flakes to taste and 1 cup of liquid – either wine or anise flavoured alcohol and water – and bring to the boil.
Add mussels, cover and cook until they open.
Serve with the broth. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top. Use bread to mop up the juices.

PASTA E FAGIOLI (Thick bean soup with pasta)

These colourful beans are fresh borlotti; their pods look even more amazing. They are not in season in Victoria, they are coming from Queensland, but I bought some last week at Stall 61-63 in The Queen Victoria Market – this is where I buy all of my Italian vegetables. In Italy, when the fresh beans are available they are considered to be a treat.

Probably every region of Italy has a version of pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) or minestra (soup) di fagioli. It is called pasta e fasoi in Trieste, pasta e facioli in Calabria, pasta ca fasola in Sicily and mnestra di fasö in Piedmont; the list goes on.

There may be a slight difference between the two dishes in the amount of liquid used, but they are both thick soups, and in fact so thick that they are also referred to as wet pasta dishes.

This version of the recipe is pretty universal all over Italy, but probably the greatest variation is that in various parts of Italy the cook places sufficient liquid in the soup to cook the pasta in it, whereas in other regions the pasta is cooked separately, drained and dressed with the cooked beans. Rice instead of pasta is more commonly used in the north of Italy.

Not every greengrocer sells fresh borlotti nor are they always in season but dry borlotti  (soaked overnight)are also widely used for this dish. Do not add salt to the water when cooking dry pulses – it makes them tough.

Fresh borlotti beans do not need to be soaked, but lose their colour when cooked. Soak beans in cold water overnight – they will swell so it is important to put them in plenty of water.

1 kilo of fresh beans will shelled left me with 450g; this is sufficient quantity for a plate of soup for 2-3 people.
Wet pasta dishes with pulses are commonly cooked plain and presented with a drizzle of oil.
INGREDIENTS
borlotti beans, shelled, 450g
carrots, 2 finely sliced
celery stalks, 2 in bite-sized slices
fresh bay leaves, 2
short pasta, 300 – 400g ( depending on how wet you like the soup)
onion, 1 finely chbut preferably keep them whole – this will depend on how fresh the dried beans are, but fresh borlotti will take much less cooking time. Add salt to taste.
Cook the pasta.
Either add more water to the pan and cook the pasta in the soup or cook the pasta separately – I like to add stock or water with a good stock cube, salt and freshly ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil, to taste
PROCESSES
Drain the beans if they have been soaking.
Place sufficient water to cover the pulses and add the carrot, the tomato, celery and bay leaves (this will be the broth).
Bring the soup to the boil. Add the parsley. Cook the pulses until soft (20– 40 mins), but preferably keep them whole – this will depend on how fresh the dried beans are, but fresh borlotti will take much less cooking time. Add salt to taste.
Cook the pasta.
Either add more water to the pan and cook the pasta in the soup or cook the pasta separately – I like to add stock or water with a good stock cube at this stage and cook the pasta in the soup.If you are cooking the pasta separately combine the cooked pasta and use the soup to dress the pasta.
Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and freshly ground pepper or chili flakes (as is more common in the south of Italy) and serve.
SOFFRITTO
I sometimes like to garnish this soup with a soffritto:
Heat about ¾ cup of olive oil in a wide pan, add a clove of finely chopped garlic and the parsley (use the parsley in the soffritto instead of cooking it in the soup).
Sauté on high heat – it should sizzle and the parsley turn bright green – then pour over the soup.

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SICILIAN VESPERS and MINESTRA DI CECI (Chickpea Soup)

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Pulses for sale in Palermo (chickpeas on the left)
Giuseppe Verdi composed the music for the opera I Vespri Siciliani (Sicilian Vespers) and along with the common operatic themes of love, guilt and duty; it commemorates the Sicilian revolt, which began at Easter in 1282, when the citizens of Palermo rose up against their oppressive Angevin (French) rulers. The French were massacred and Sicily was presented to Peter III of Aragon.
It is said that the revolt began when the church bell was rung to indicate to the worshipers that it was time for the evening service. The church was the Chiesa di Santo Spirito in Palermo (the church is now also called Chiesa dei Vespri). In the Catholic Church, the evening ritual is known as Vespers (a series of chants, litanies and prayers held each evening and  that are especially popular for the Easter Vigil). Whether it happened on the Easter Saturday, Monday or Tuesday is uncertain – I have read so many different accounts.Later the revolt become known as the Sicilian Vespers.
The Sicilian for chickpeas (ciceri, riciri cicirri) is a difficult word to pronounce correctly if one is French. Whether it is myth or fact, it is said that Sicilians held up a chickpea and asked those suspected of being French to tell them what it was. Those who were able to pronounce the word correctly were spared and those who mispronounced the word were unmistakably French and slaughtered.
It is a time to eat chickpeas and to celebrate Sicilian solidarity.
Rosetta who lives in Ragusa uses rosemary to flavour a very simple, but wonderful wet pasta dish she makes with chickpeas.
Ceci is the Italian word for chickpeas. The soup or wet pasta dish is fairly dense.
INGREDIENTS
chickpeas (dry), 500g,
pasta, 200g
rosemary, several sprigs
extra virgin olive oil, to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
PROCESSES
Soak chickpeas in cold water overnight – they will swell so it is important to immerse them fully in water.
Drain the water and change it (optional). Place sufficient water to cover them, add rosemary and bring slowly to the boil. Cook the pulses until soft but preferably still whole.
Drain the chickpeas and return the water to the pot. Add more water if necessary. Add salt and when the water has started to boil again, toss in the pasta and cook till almost to your liking (do not overcook).
Add the chickpeas, a good slurp of your best extra virgin olive oil and freshly, ground black pepper and serve.
 
Earlier posts containing chickpeas are:
PANELLE  (chickpea fritters – photo above = Antica Focacceria di San Francesco, Palermo)
MINESTRA DI CECI CON FINOCCHIO (Chickpea soup with wild fennel)

 

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CHICKPEAS SOUP WITH WILD FENNEL (Minestra di ceci con finocchio, erba selvatica)

Many associate eating soups mostly in winter, but this is not the case in my household. Although the soups I prepare in summer may not be as hearty as my winter ones, they will often contain pulses.

I enjoy eating chickpeas, borlotti, cannellini beans or lentils in soups but I also enjoy them as salads.

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And this is what brings me (yet again) to writing about wild fennel – I find a bowl of any of the above pulses presented in their broth and flavoured with wild fennel very refreshing. The extra virgin olive oil drizzled on top of the soup when it is presented to the table, makes the soup even more aromatic.

I never eat soup piping hot (Australia inherited this custom from the English) and in summer I present my soup cooler still.

This wild fennel plant and several other large bushes of wild fennel grow not very far from where I live, (in the centre of Melbourne). And this is where I do a little foraging. These plants are very robust and persistent and supply me with either foliage or seeds during the year (I know I need to be very careful about not picking plants that have been sprayed).

There are no seeds on this plant yet, but as the weather gets hotter there will be bright yellow flower heads which then will turn into dry, hard, brown seeds in late summer – I will be back to collect these and together with some dry oregano, chilli flakes and extra virgin olive oil, I will marinate this year’s black olives which are still in their brine.

The softer, younger foliage is also excellent used as a herb, raw in salads or when cooking fish.

Unlike the commercial bulb fennel, wild fennel does not have a bulb – the young shoots are used. In the photo below you can see the shoots within the larger foliage – they are the denser looking part of the two sprigs below; usually they are a lighter colour. When I collect the fennel, to keep the young shoots fresh I also collect the larger stem, where they are embedded. I find the stalks and the more mature, green fronds too tough to eat and the flavour too intense.

It is necessary to soak the beans (or chickpeas) overnight, and although it is said that the lentils will not need soaking, I like to soak them for about an hour beforehand. Some cooks discard the soaking water – it is a common belief that changing the water will help to reduce the flatulence suffered when eating pulses. Also reputed to help is the addition of a pinch of fennel seeds (other countries use dill and caraway) therefore adding fresh fennel to this soup should function in the same way.

For this soup, I am using chickpeas.

INGREDIENTS
chickpeas, 400g
carrots, 2, left whole
garlic, 2- 3 cloves, squashed
wild fennel, 3-5 young shoots, left whole
salt, to taste
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup (or more to taste)
PROCESSES
Soak chickpeas in cold water overnight – they will swell so it is important to put them in plenty of water.
Drain the water and change it (optional) Place sufficient water to cover the pulses and add carrots, a little extra virgin olive oil, garlic cloves and fennel (this will be the broth).
Bring the pulses to the boil. Cook the pulses until soft but preferably still whole. If using lentils they will cook quickly, but the other pulses may take 20– 30 mins. Add salt to taste.
Remove the carrot and some of the fennel. Cut up the fennel that you choose to eat and return it to the soup. Cool to desired temperature.
Ladle into bowls. Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and serve.
Other recipes using wild fennel can be found in previous posts.
See

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