If there is a book out there that shouldn't be judged by it's cover, this is it! :)
I'm a visual person. As an illustrator with an education in graphic design, I can appreciate beautiful cookbooks. That said, when it comes to recipes, I learned to be skeptical of the pretty pictures in the glossy pages. They influence your opinion with a visual that, in the end, isn't about the taste but about presentation. I love a good presentation but let's face it, it's worth zilch if the recipe isn't good! If only we could lick a page and find out! :) I like rustic food. Tasty peasant food. The comforting kind that helps you let go of the stress and worries at the end of a long day. It's not always pretty or picture friendly but it quickly gets overlooked when it leaves you with a happy tongue and a distracted mind. This basic book can deliver that kind of satisfaction. Arthur Schwartz was a restaurant critic for the New York Daily News. He is a knowledgable food lover who can also find great pleasure in a simple, home cooked meal made with mundane ingredients. You can feel his enthusiasm in the book which is pared down enough for the basic cook. I truly enjoyed reading this one.
I wanted to ignore it the day I saw it in the bookstore. I was in my early 20s and had no idea who Arthur Schwartz was. I just stared at the cover, feeling sorry for the poor design sitting ugly in a sea of beautiful books. Now I wonder if that was designed on purpose so that it could stand out because it worked! Almost defiantly, I picked it up. Mainly out of curiosity. I admit, I appreciated the title as I had been asking myself that question too many times. I felt like it was worth a look inside. After perusing through a few pages, I felt guilty for judging. Arthur Schwartz was no fool. I was! Here was a food lover who knew how to improvise with a small larder and tackle the challenges of a late night craving or unexpected guest. He was talking my kind of language! I read a few recipes in the entry 'Beans and other legumes' and then further under 'Tomatoes'. My mind was made up. SOLD! I dropped the pretty books that I wasn't too sure about and took this one home. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Thank you Mister Schwartz!!!
Before I sound like a lame book reviewer (too late?), I'm going to talk about the recipe I love. Actually there is two which I cooked so many times, I stopped counting. They're both simple, quick and tasty chick-pea soups. One has Italian flavours and is from the late Marcella Hazan's The Classic Italian Cookbook (Harper's Magazine Press 1973). It's so flavourful! The second one is a chick-pea chili soup with Mexican, Southwestern flavours. Another winner. Marc never complains when those soups are served. Usually after the kids are in bed. Tonight it was rainy, grey and a bit cold and I was in the mood for one of these soups. I was feeling like having the Mexican chili version but mainly had the ingredients for the Italian so I did a cross over. It didn't disappoint. Like always, Marc approved. My only wish was for a second bowl but the first one was quite generous.
This is my improvised version thanks to Mister Schwartz. I would love to have dinner with this man!!
I wish I had a picture to share but it was too good and I like to eat hot. All I have is this! ;)
Chick-pea and tomato soup with rosemary
Adapted from Arthur Schwartz's What To Cook When You Think There's Nothing in the House to Eat and Marcella Hazan
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 cup of olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves chopped fine, or dried and finely crushed between your hands
28 ounce canned tomatoes, roughly chopped with their juices
19 ounce can chickpeas, drained
3 cups beef broth, or 1 beef bouillon cube dissolved in chicken broth or water (see Note below)
Salt, pepper to taste
Note: About the beef broth. I rarely make homemade beef broth and I rarely buy it in a can. That said, I often find myself buying bouillon cubes to cheat. What I often have is homemade chicken broth. It tastes great but somehow beef holds better in this recipe. I felt guilty once to add a beef bouillon cube in my homemade chicken broth but the end result was so good in my soup that I never looked back. This is a quick recipe when you are stuck with what you have. If you have beef broth great. If you have a beef bouillon cube to throw in water, fine. If you have homemade chicken broth and a beef bouillon cube, even better! :)
In a medium saucepan, over medium-high heat, sauté the onions in the oil for 3 minutes. Add the garlic, stir and cook 2 more minutes. Careful not to let it brown. Add the finely chopped rosemary, stir around and add the tomatoes with their juices. If they're not chopped, you can break them with a spoon. Cook for 20 minutes. It will start looking like a sauce. Add the drained chick-peas, stir and add the broth (the original recipe says to add 1 cup but I always end up adding more liquid and the soup still gets thick), stir it all together and let simmer for an other 20 minutes. I often let it simmer for 30.
Taste, add salt and pepper. Purée all or part of the soup in a blender, food processor or food mill. An immersion blender is the best for this. It allows me to control what I want directly in the pot. I like to chase the tomatoes if too big but I like this soup chunky. If you prefer it smooth, go for it but personally I think this soup deserves texture. Reheat if necessary (I never need to and always burn my tongue). Serve in bowls with some grated parmesan.We don't always have some but I always drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil on top and hopefully have a chunk of bread with butter to mop the bowl. It's that good! Happy flavours!!