Chard and Chickpea Pasta with Golden Raisins

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I’m Catholic.  For a few years I was related to a bishop by marriage. I attended a Franciscan parish throughout childhood. I can pray in English, Spanish, and Latin. There was even a summer in high school when I went to Mass every morning, although that might have been more for seeing my then-boyfriend than for spiritual nourishment.

But my relationship to my childhood faith has changed. It changed for a million reasons. Some of these are benign- studying at a Lutheran college, marrying a Protestant, attending Anglican services while living in England. Others are not. I’ve had deep qualms with the theology and disgusts with the institution. I walked out of Mass once when a Priest compared the Affordable Care Act to Maoist persecution of religion and the congregation applauded. I’ve seen fellow Catholics defending the Muslim ban, conveniently forgetting that a hundred years ago our faith was targeted in the same way. But I keep being drawn back to the Church, with reservations and with uncertainty. For all of its flaws and darkness, Catholicism is still the way I best understand God.

This week marked the beginning of Lent. Lent is one of my absolute favorite times of year. I love it for many of the same reasons as I love New Year’s. There’s an austerity and a resolve. At Mass on Ash Wednesday the priest spoke about how Lent is not a time of punishment, but of reflection. That it doesn’t exist because we are bad, but because we can be better. Lent is an invitation.

Rituals matter. And these rituals are one aspect that keeps dragging me back to the Church, over my anger and over my concerns and over my doubts.

Not to find theology lessons in my dinner, but I find meals like this particularly suited for Lent. They are simple and nourishing. There is time for questions and contemplation. Meals are rituals just as the liturgical calendar is.

But onto the pasta. Pasta is one of my favorite meals- I make it two or three times a week. Sometimes I avoid posting pasta here so I have make other foods. My most made pasta is a fail safe formula of greens and seasonings and a can of beans. It’s sustained me for many quick lunches, back-of-the-pocket dinners, and lazy date nights involving Netflix.

Here, we get the greens in beautiful rainbow chard. The stems are sauteed in a healthy dose of olive oil with garlic, capers, and golden raisins. The leaves are added in thin ribbons with a can of chickpeas, and the whole dish is topped with a good handful of feta cheese and a flurry of chopped walnuts.For a bowl of food that looks quite monochromatic it tastes like sunshine- here earthy, here a hint of sweetness, here the mellow richness of garlic. It’s a slightly Greek-esque pasta, hearty and full of good things. Having never been to Greece, I imagine this pasta would be perfect to eat on a rooftop overlooking the sea. As it is it’s perfect to eat at a dining room table, huddling in from the cold, glorying in the mundane.

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Chard and Chickpea Pasta with Golden Raisins

If you do eat fish, I would highly recommend adding two or three anchovies in with the olive oil. They melt into the oil and make everything taste just a bit more savory and a bit more like the sea.

Serves 2-4

8 ounces fusilli or other short pasta (I like whole wheat for this)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 large bunch of rainbow chard, stems diced, leaves sliced into thin ribbons
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon capers
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 fifteen ounce can chickpeas, or 2 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
feta, for serving
chopped walnuts, for serving

Set a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add a good amount of salt to the water.

While the water boils, warm the olive oil in another large pot over low heat. Add the chard stems, garlic, golden raisins, capers, and red pepper flakes with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until everything is soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes.

Cook the fusilli according to the packaged directions, until it has just a bit of bite left. Meanwhile, add the chard leaves and chickpeas to the chard stem mixture and stir well. Let it cook until the chard leaves are beginning to collapse. If the pot runs dry,  add a bit of water. Taste everything, and add salt as necessary.

When the pasta is ready, add about 1/4 cup pasta water to the chard mixture, then drain the pasta and add to the chard. Toss well, and turn the heat up to medium just long enough for the water to reduce.

Serve hot, topped with feta cheese and walnuts.

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Farro and Lentil Salad with Currant and Pine Nut Relish

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Hi! It’s good to be back.

I wasn’t planning on being gone for so long, but the combination of celebrating Christmas/ being with my family/ having 5 consecutive days off/ turning 27 made me reluctant to open my computer. This past week has been packed full of good things, from a 2 hour game of Clue with my family to late night drinks with friends to finally finishing the book I was reading. I hope that whatever you celebrate, your week has been similarly refreshing.

Two weeks ago I wrote about our date nights. Last week, right before my family came into town, I made a version of this salad for a light, pre-holiday date night dinner. And now I’m here to share it with you. The inspiration for this recipe came from The A.O.C. Cookbook by Suzanne Goin, an inspiration of a chef and owner of one of the restaurants I most fantasize about visiting.

But something happened when I was making this salad- I was reminded of work.

Last year there was a meat pie on my station. It was a relatively straightforward dish- meat, potatoes, gravy, pastry. And making everything from scratch was a 4 day process. Even if the recipe was mine to share, I would only share it with the most ambitious of home cooks. And then only with plenty of caveats. A lot of restaurant recipes are like that. Your eye is towards consistency of result. You’re making a huge amount of food. You’re not shying away from sub recipes. And you’re relying on the person who is making the recipe to know how to adjust it.  That makes following any recipe from a restaurant a slightly fraught proposition. My first few weeks cooking at a restaurant I couldn’t stop asking the most annoying questions- I didn’t understand how restaurant recipes differed from the ones I was used to following.

Aaron and I devoured the salad. It was delicious- hippie chic, if you will. And it’s lovely in an earthy way- blacks and browns and greens. But as tasty as it was, I still had some qualms. There were some steps that made little sense. Goin had you reduce balsamic vinegar by half before you added it to the salad, making it thicker and sweeter, but it was so sweet that I spiked the salad with additional vinegar before serving. Farro and forbidden rice were paired together, and they were delicious, but they were cooked separately with almost the exact same ingredients and very similar cooking times. And despite the gorgeous ingredients- sweet, plump currants, toasted pine nuts, peppery mustard greens, gently cooked onions- the salad tasted little flat. If I had been at work, I would have added more salt, but I was wondering if there was another way to bring that spark in.

While eating it Aaron and I started to make notes on how we would change it. It became pretty clear quite quickly that those changes might make it easier. It might be suitable for the home cook who doesn’t possess an infinite amount of pans, a walk-in full of fresh herbs, and an employee whose job is to wash dishes. I swapped the forbidden rice, which can be difficult to find, in for lentils, which also make the salad more filling. I added capers to the relish. Lentils and farro were cooked in the same pot, with the same aromatics. Sweet balsamic vinegar was changed out for slightly less sweet sherry vinegar. The tartness could sing, and finally the sweetness came from the currants and onions alone. Capers rounded everything out. Mustard greens provided a sharp relief. Aaron told me he liked the second version even more. I agreed. I had to order him to stop eating it so I could save some for work on New Year’s Eve (hello, double).

This complex restaurant dish didn’t magically turn into a 30 minute, 1 bowl meal. It still takes time and a few components. But by my account, I halved the pans used and streamlined the process, turning it from a special occasion meal to a leisurely weeknight dish. And isn’t that what we want from a hippie chic salad?

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Farro and Lentil Salad with Currants and Pine Nut Relish

adapted from The A.O.C. Cookbook by Suzanne Goin

This salad is highly adaptable. If you can’t find mustard greens or Aleppo pepper, I would replace them with kale and red pepper flakes, respectively. This salad makes a great light meal. Goin mentioned pairing this with white fish if you’d like a restaurant quality dish, but I found adding a soft boiled egg to the leftovers is a great way to make it more hearty.

Serves 4-6

Salad:

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 an onion, diced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cup farro
3/4 cup French green lentils
2 big handfuls of mustard greens, chopped

Relish:

1/2 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup dried currants
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 an onion, diced
2 tablespoons drained capers in brine
1 small rosemary stalk
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1/4 cup sherry vinegear
salt and pepper

In a medium pan over medium heat warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion, the bay leaves, the chopped rosemary, the Aleppo pepper, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onions have softened and smell incredible, about 8 minutes. Add the farro and lentils, and stir well. Cook, stirring often, for about 3-4 minutes- just long enough so that the farro and lentils start to toast a bit. Add 8 cups of water and a generous pinch of salt. Bring the whole thing to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until both the farro and lentils are cooked through- about 35 minutes. (I started checking at 20 minutes, then checked every 5 minutes after that.) Drain the farro-lentil mixture, then spread it out on a sheet tray to let it cool and dry. Remove the bay leaves.

While the farro and lentils are cooking, place the pine nuts in a small pan over low heat. Stir often, until the pine nuts start to smell fragrant and take on some color. As soon as they’re golden but not dark, tip the pine nuts into a medium bowl. This will only take a few minutes, so make sure to give the pine nuts your undivided attention- they will burn quickly. Add the dried currants to the same bowl.

In a sauté pan, warm 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the onion, the rosemary stalk, the capers, Aleppo pepper, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are just starting to color. Add in the sherry vinegar, and immediately turn off the heat- you just want to warm the sherry vinegar through. Pour the whole mixture onto the pine nuts and currents. Remove the rosemary stalk. Let it all sit and infuse together while the farro and lentils cook.

Once everything is ready, warm the last 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan. It can be the same one that you cooked the onions and capers in. Add the farro-lentil mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon. You want to stir often enough that you can scrape up the brown bits on the bottom before they burn, but not so often that the farro and lentils can’t crisp up. Once everything is warmed through and crisped (this took me about 5 minutes), add in the mustard greens. Stir them to combine well, and let them wilt down. Once they’ve wilted down, add the pine nut-current-onion mixture and stir well. Taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary.

This is one of those rare dishes that’s as good warm as it is at room temperature. And it’s even better after it’s sat a bit, and allowed all the flavors to mingle.

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