The Smitten Kitchen was my first true Internet foodie crush. I loved the recipes, the family-focused intimacy of the writing, and the economy of the site design.
So when a Spanish style spinach and chickpeas dish rolled across my Twitter feed a couple of weeks ago, and it was from the archives of The Smitten Kitchen, I was very intrigued.
Not surprisingly, I was also smitten by her characterization of this regional classic:
“First off, this dish is not called “spinach and chickpeas”, it is espinacas con garbanzos. Don’t you agree? “Spinach and chickpeas” is something you eat because you should — it is healthy and you aspire to be. Espinacas con garbanzos is something you eat because it sounds sexy, and doesn’t taste half bad either. It’s hearty and smoky with a little kick, you eat it on little fried bread toasts at a tapas bar in Spain.”
This has long been one of my favorite tapas dishes, I’ve periodically tried to recreate it ever since I created Beetuto. My efforts have accelerated over the last couple of months now, but until Deb Perelman’s template the results had been fair to mediocre.
It’s a dual replacement problem: how to fake both the tomatoes and the paprika? Reading the Smitten Kitchen recipe re-kindled my wish to create something that can stand in for paprika, and after years of struggle I found I suddenly had a concept. And, at least for this recipe, it worked.
This is a quick and easy recipe, unless of course you still need to make the Beetuto and procure the curious array of spices needed for the Fauxprika. In which case, you’ll need to plan ahead.
- a generous cup of dried chickpeas, cooked until soft and tender or two 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 6 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 to 1 pound spinach, washed
- 1 1/2 cups of bread cubes from a hearty loaf
- 1/2 cup Beetuto
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground smoked cumin
- 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Fauxprika
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- broth or water as needed
1My children were very confused by this technique for cooking the spinach, and so was I. In a large saucepan over medium heat add a splash of olive oil. When it is hot, add a full handful of spinach along with a pinch of salt. Stir as the spinach cooks, and remove to a plate just as it turns tender. Repeat until all of the spinach is done. As to the ultimate volume, your mileage may vary. I used about a half pound. I wanted more; my son prefers less.
2Add 2 more tablespoons olive oil to your pan and set to medium heat. Fry the bread for about 3-5 minutes (you want it toasty brown all over) then add your last tablespoon of oil and the garlic. It’s easy to overcook the garlic here, so keep it low, while adding the cumin and Fauxprika at the last minute. It’s easy to burn the ground spice at this stage, so if you’re using a pan that holds the heat really well—like cast iron—be ready to transfer the spicy bread out of the pan before it goes over the edge. It can be tough to remove all of the spice mixture, so if you’ve overshot the heat and you fear it will overclock the pan residue you can just toss in the chickpeas and Beetuto to rescue the spices from too much heat.
3Transfer bread and spices to the processing appliance of your choice (food processor, blender, food mill, mortar and pestle) add the vinegar, and grind into a paste.
4Return the mixture to the pan and, if you haven’t already, add the drained chickpeas and Beetuto. Cook over medium low heat until the chickpeas begin to absorb the flavor. This is where the salt and pepper goes, more or less as needed.
5Add the spinach and bring the dish up to heat, adding a bit of water to adjust the texture, since Beetuto can vary in its consistency. (Broth wouldn’t hurt here you’ve got a splash ready to hand.)