Falafel and the Living is Easy

Falafel tends to make a more frequent appearance in my kitchen during summer, probably because it pairs so well with most of the summer vegetables in the garden: it can be made well in advance, before the day’s heat sets in. It is also the ultimate budget meal- one packet of split dried fava beans goes a long way. Not chick peas I hear you say? While I’m quite happy with my chick pea/Israeli/Lebanese version of this famous snack, these days I prefer Egyptian falafel, more accurately known as ta’amia.

Dried split fave beans after soaking for 24 hours then draining.

Lunching well for less than one dollar per head is also very appealing. Frugal opulence, thanks to the hours we spend in the orto, tending herbs and vegetables. When it comes to home-made falafel, the most costly ingredient will probably be the deep-frying oil. I usually make a hummus or tahini dressing to pair with them as they do need the wetness of a good sauce or dip. Serve with a salad of shredded Cos lettuce, finely cubed cucumber, spring onions, mint, and salt tossed about with a little oil and lemon juice.

Crunchy falafel made from split fava beans. Buy these beans at a Middle Eastern shop for around $4 a kilo,

This recipe serves 4. Or two with leftovers for later.

  • 250 g dried split fava beans, covered in cold water and soaked overnight or up to 24 hours.
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 5 spring onions, finely sliced including all the green section
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp besan flour
  • 1-2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • 1-2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • a small handful of sesame seeds
  • a tablespoon of water to help in blending, if needed
  • Oil, for frying (rapeseed, rice bran or sunflower)

Drain the fava beans and wash thoroughly, especially if the soaking water has begun to foam. Add them to a large food processer along with all the other ingredients except the sesame seeds, water and oil. Blend until reasonably smooth. You may need to stop the motor and rearrange the contents as you go. Use the water if you feel the mixture is too dry. Finally add the sesame seeds and pulse through.

Place the mixture in a covered bowl and refrigerate for at least two hours or until ready to deep fry. I often rest the mixture overnight.

Add enough oil to a small wok or pan, enough to at least cover the falafel balls. Test the oil by flicking in a tiny piece of the mixture. If it sizzles, the oil is ready. Scoop out mixture by the tablespoon and shape with your hands into small balls.  Add to the pan of hot oil, making sure that you don’t overcrowd the pan. Adjust temperature of oil if too fast or slow. The falafel should cook evenly and not too quickly. Turn to brown on both sides then drain on paper towel.

falafel bowl

Makes around 22 falafel. Serve with tahini sauce, or hummus and salads.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The secret is out. The best falafel in Melboure can be found at Very Good Falafel, Sydney road, Brunswick, where the hipster version gives the local A1 Bakery Lebanese snack a run for its money. http://www.shukiandlouisa.com/

Pasta del Giorno. Casarecce, Silver Beet and Chickpeas.

My best meals are  usually spontaneous and unplanned. Ingredients present themselves from the Spring garden: I wander about, basket in hand, and pick a few likely candidates to make the Pasta Del Giorno ( pasta of the day) while Mr T digs out a cheap, light red wine, to go with it. He does most of the hard physical labour in the orto, carting wheelbarrows of compost about or making fences and mowing grass, so a proper lunch is in order most days. I add a few pantry staples and a new combination is born.

Today’s pasta takes around 20 minutes to prepare and cook. Meanwhile, have a munch on these radishes while I boil the pasta water.

Simple starter, with unsalted butter or Boursin
Simple starter. Fresh pulled radishes with unsalted butter or Boursin

Pasta del GiornoCasarecce con bietola, acciughe, e ceci./ Casarecce pasta with silver beet, anchovies, and chickpeas for two or three people.

budget
Another budget dish that is deeply satisfying.

Recipe for two or three.

  • 180 gr casarecce pasta ( I prefer De Cecco brand)
  • 6 anchovy fillets in oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra
  • a pinch of ground chilli flakes
  • 4 medium-sized young silver beet leaves including stems.
  • a few tablespoons of chickpeas, well-drained, from a can. ( reserve the rest for another use)
  • black pepper
  • more oil and parmigiano to serve

Method

In a heavy based deep sided frying pan, add the oil and stir fry the garlic and anchovies together, mashing the anchovies as you go.

Add the chilli and finely shredded silver beet leaves, stirring well. Add a handful of chickpeas to the mixture. Turn heat down to very low or off until the pasta is ready.

Meanwhile cook the casarecce pasta in a large pot of salted water and as per packet directions. Keep a cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta OR, simply scoop out the pasta with a large wire strainer and add to the frying pan of sauce. The second method retains enough liquid to loosen the sauce.

Turn heat to high, then toss around in the frying pan, distributing the ingredients well. Season with black pepper. Consider adding a little more oil or cooking water. Serve in hot bowls with grated parmigiano. Salute!

niam
‘Delizioso….no way are the chooks getting this’ quote Renato.

The Bossy Stuff or Basics for Beginners.

It is easy enough to create a nourishing and well-balanced pasta dish so long as a few basics are observed:

  • Start with a flavour base for your sauce. Each soffrito should match the ingredients and the season.
  • Don’t overload your pasta dish with too many ingredients. Choose around 2-3 main ingredients to star in the sauce.
  • Choose a pasta shape that will match or showcase your ingredients.
  • Consider how to make your sauce wet. Short, fat pasta shapes are hard to digest if the sauce is too dry.
  • Save some of the cooking water at the end to add to the sauce.
  • Add the pasta to the sauce, and toss around in a large pan. This technique guarantees that the sauce is well-distributed through the pasta, and reheats as well. ( Don’t serve the cooked pasta in a bowl and plonk the sauce on top. Aussie style, alla 1970s – very stodgy )
  • Time the cooking of the pasta and taste it for doneness. Al dente or to the tooth means a little undercooked and not too soft. Remember that the pasta will continue to cook when added to the sauce.
  • Always heat the serving plates. A good pasta meal can become instantly cold through the omission of this step.
  • Use large shallow bowls for serving. Large deep bowls are better for Asian noodle dishes. Small ‘old school’ bowls are good for breakfast cereal.

One Bowl Meal. Chickpea and Pumpkin Soup.

We live on top of a ridge. The night, which now descends in the afternoon, fills the valley with blackness. The winds spring up, the loud turbulence filling the black void with a sea of sound. Below and around us, a black restless sea. The house bones creak as it braces itself for a rough night. It isn’t an old house but it likes to complain. The TV commentaries sound hollow, it’s all bad news anyway, and the white wine tastes too thin. On nights like this, I can barely hear myself cook.

winter herbs
winter herbs

Minestra di Ceci e Zucca

Chickpea and Pumpkin soup. A meal in a bowl. For 4

  • 2 Tablespoons EV olive oil
  • one onion, finely sliced
  • two cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • one stick celery, finely chopped
  • sea salt, ground
  • rosemary branch, around 10 cm long, stripped and finely chopped
  • 2 cups small diced pumpkin, such as Kent or Butternut
  • 2 cup cooked chickpeas and some of the cooking liquid
  • home-made vegetable stock ( or chicken if you prefer)
  • a drizzle of good oil to serve

I always start with a little soffrito. Heat the olive oil and gently cook the onion slices until very soft but not brown, then add the garlic, rosemary a few grindings of salt, and the celery. Continue cooking until soft, then add the diced pumpkin, stir about, then the cooked chick peas. Cover with stock and a little of the chick pea water. (if you have used canned chickpeas, rinse well and discard the canning liquid as it tastes quite foul, I’m not sure why).

Cook for 30 minutes on low heat. Add a small handful of broken pasta if you wish. I used left over broken pizzocheri or buckwheat pasta. Raise the heat towards the end of cooking. As the pumpkin has been diced, most of it will disintegrate and thicken the soup.

As this is a sweet soup, add more salt at table to counteract this. Dress with a drizzle of good oil. A very sustaining one bowl meal for a dark windy night.

 

Pasta and Chickpeas

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Pasta e Ceci ( Pasta and Chickpeas) is my favourite Italian comfort food. Economical to make and extremely nourishing, it is a little wet like a soup, but substantial like a meal. Akin to Pasta e Fagioli ( Pasta and beans), I begin to make this dish for lunch once Autumn turns the next dark corner.

There are many versions around, but they are all noted for their simplicity. Don’t feel the need to doctor it or add things. Classic Italian dishes taste so good because of restraint.

The basic recipe

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup EV olive oil
  • one small fresh red chilli, finely chopped
  • two garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
  • 3 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or the equivalent from a can, plus a little juice.
  • salt, pepper
  • a handful of small pasta, for example, small macaroni, digitali, or torn fettucine
  • EV olive oil, to drizzle
  • lots of grated parmigiana

Soak chick peas overnight and cook the following day until done, or use the quick soak method. Drain when cooked.

Add the olive oil to a heavy based soup pot. Fry the soffrito ( the rosemary, garlic and chilli) gently for a minute, then add the tomatoes. Cook for a little, add a splash of water. Meanwhile cook the pasta in salted water, drain, and retain some of the cooking water.

Below- a few soffrito ingredients) ImageAdd the cooked chickpeas to the hot tomato mixture, add salt and pepper to taste and 1/2 cup of pasta water. Heat, then add the cooked pasta. Serve in large, warmed shallow pasta bowls with a drizzle of your best oil and some grated parmigiana cheese. Red wine and bread ? Yes please.Image