Chickpeas Cacio e Pepe with Charred Broccolini
Gentle January thoughts and a recipe from Ottolenghi Test Kitchen
A Wintery Blessing
Bless the darkness for what it illuminates
The stark beauty teaching us to seek
Bare branches that prepare to bloom
Bless the black bear for her guidance in rest
The bountiful harvest nourishing the tender
Slow inhale and exhale until the light returns
Bless the honey bees who know that survival
Is not a solitary act
Their bodies in a constant community of warmth
Moving for the other
Bless the ache within me that knows
Sometimes darkness is not only necessary but divine
And bless the knowing of returning light
January is teaching me to be gentle. With myself, with others, with the world. I went in eager to start in its newness. A clean slate, a fresh beginning and then … meh.
Adam Grant, in his wildly popular NY Times article, calls that “meh” feeling, languishing. “Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.”
It’s obvious by the resounding response in the comment section and his Ted talk that has now been viewed millions of times that many of us feel seen naming the little gray rain cloud hovering over January. There’s a strange (but welcomed) comfort in the validation and communal “yes, I feel the same” sense emmenating in the world right now.
So, what do we do with that? While I will be the first one to explain the merits of sitting with our feelings, to feel them deeply and allow them (even the not-so pleasant ones) to teach and guide us in their own way. I do also think it vitally important to take the necessary steps towards feeling whole and purposeful again.
Gentle January has shifted my priorities from productivity to care. I’ve spent hours in the middle of the day embroidering the tender lilacs I’m eager to return in the spring. At the drop of the hat I’ll ditch the inbox to pluck the keys on our new (to us) piano. And I’ll step into the kitchen to cook gentleness into dinner. Lately that’s been a balance of lightness and comfort; a place where cream and cheese blanket the dense wintery vegetables who call the darkness their home. Next to that a crisp salad with peppery raw turnips and sweet carrots mingling in a bright vinaigrette. Or chickpeas (still referred to by Ivy as her “worst enemy bean”) cooked until velvety tenderness in a Parmesan rind flavored broth.
With age (and perhaps a bit of wisdom) the scripture that has become an eye-roll inducing cliche “this too shall pass” turns into a wave of truth I ride to wait out the gray. I use it as comfort knowing that these current feelings aren’t cementend; they will wash away like low tide and high tide will return and bring with it something new. I don’t sit at the shore just willing the high tide to return but I’ll stay with the low tide knowing that, yes, I’m going to say it, this too shall pass. And perhaps in the sitting and resting I’ll find something there.
In the meantime, gentleness and chickpeas.
Chickpeas Cacio e Pepe with Charred Broccolini
The recipe for chickpeas oven baked in a parmesan laced broth comes from the new book by Ottolenghi, Ottolenghi Test Kitchen. For me, it’s a recipe made with pantry staples (I’ve been saving those flavorful rinds for something just like this) and very little prep work. It’s not one that I can decide to make 15 minutes before dinner but the lingering roast in the oven perfumes the house in a way that has me dreaming of Italy.
I only made a few adjustments to the original recipe. I added salt in the beginning and took the direction of 1-2 rinds quite loosely and added more like 3-4 with zero regret. Ottolenghi tops his with chili spiked sautéed spinach but I had broccolini on hand so there you go.
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
8 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1-2 parmesan rinds (60g), plus 3/4 cups/ 80g finely grated parmesan
1 1/2 cups / 300g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in plenty of water and 1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking soda
Salt and black pepper
7 tablespoons / 100 g unsalted butter
1 bunch broccolini
1 small lemon
1/4 teaspoon chili flake
Heat the oven to 350F
Put two tablespoons of oil in a large, high-sided, ovenproof saute pan for which you have a lid, and place on a medium-high heat. Once hot, add the garlic and cook for about 90 seconds, until it’s fragrant and just starting to colour. Add the parmesan rinds, drained chickpeas, baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 5 cups 1.2 litres water and a very generous amount of coarsely cracked black pepper (at least one teaspoon). Bring to a boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface as it does so, then cover and transfer to the oven for an hour and 15 minutes. Give the pot a good stir then cook for another 30 minutes, until the chickpeas are very soft and the liquid has reduced by about half.
When the chickpeas are done, remove the lid and, while they’re still hot from the oven but not on any heat source, add a quarter of the butter cubes and about 15g grated parmesan, stirring until the butter has melted into the sauce. Repeat, adding a quarter more of the butter and 15g parmesan each time, until you’ve used up all the butter and 60g cheese. Finally, add another very generous grind of coarsely ground black pepper.
At this point you want the chickpeas to be so tender they are nearly falling apart and the broth has become a thickened sauce that coats the whole pot.
Set aside and keep warm while you prepare the broccolini.
A large cast iron pan is best for this.
Zest the lemon then cut in half. In the dry pan set over medium high heat sear the lemon for 2 - 3 minutes until blackened on the cut flesh. Using tongs remove the lemon from the pan and set aside. Add the broccolini in a single layer to the pan and let char, 3 - 4 minutes before flipping and repeating the process on the other side for another 2 - 3 minutes. Once deeply charred add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, a good squeeze from the charred lemons (you may start with half the lemon and taste. I used the whole lemon and loved it but Roman’s face was puckering), chili flakes, and a hefty pinch of salt. Cook until tender.
Transfer the warm chickpeas to a serving bowl or platter then top with the charred broccolini. Sprinkle the lemon zest over all of it and if you’re feeling so inclined, finish with even more grated Parmesan.