I recently read Mindy Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. For one thing, she writes about the time she was chosen as one of People’s 50 most beautiful people and the stylist had only one dress that fit her at the photo shoot. Mindy didn’t like the dress, but instead of wearing it anyway, she insisted they cut the dress she did like down the back and stitch it together with some extra cloth so she could wear it anyway. I find that so inspiring. Not just for the obvious reason that she didn’t allow an oppressive beauty standard to ruin a very cool moment in her career, but because it shows how when something doesn’t fit or isn’t right you don’t need to just accept it. You build something new and more suited to you from the materials on hand.
This is what I love about Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, co-creators of The Canal House series. If you aren’t familiar with them you should go to the web site and order all the volumes right now. After years working at wonderful magazines including Saveur, which Hirsheimer co-founded, the pair decided that commuting back and forth to Manhattan no longer fit them. They set up shop in a small but pretty kitchen/studio on the Delaware River in Lambertville, NJ, and from there they create books–both their grand Canal House Cooks Every Day, a tome that won the James Beard Award in May, and their quarterly book-azines. It was a model that hadn’t really be tested before, a new way of working that bypassed the big New York publishing monster and allowed for the creation of something beautiful, gimmickless, and personal.
Melissa and Christopher control every aspect of their projects, and the books reflect their sensibilities both about food and about life. They embrace simplicity in a way that I find very inspiring. I always come away from paging through their newest volume wanting to cook. I still make this soup–a recipe I worked with them to publish through Tasting Table back in 2010! It’s so simple, in fact, that I no longer need to look it up to make it. Its basics are lodged in my brain. It’s a formula upon which I can impose my own tweaks and flourishes, the kind of recipe that keeps on giving.
The same is true of my new favorite from the just released Canal House Pronto! book. I zeroed in on this recipe for Chickpeas Terra E Mar immediately because I not only love its combination of ingredients, but also always have them in my kitchen. That’s key. It’s so helpful to have a few recipes you can rely on when you just haven’t gotten to the grocery store in a timely manner.
As I prepared to make it I did worry about the fact that this kind of recipe–one that is more or less pasta+unpureed stuff–falls into a category of dishes that Dan tends to despise. We call these “pasta tosses” and Dan sometimes says when I’m making one, “that’s not even a recipe.” So I knew that this was essentially a pasta toss but I thought it was crafty and delicious enough to fool him. And I was right! The briny depth of the anchovies, the creamy bite of the chickpeas, the little kick from red pepper flakes all topped off with the crunch of toasted breadcrumbs. It wasn’t until Dan was scraping his fork against empty bowl that he said, “Hey, isn’t this basically just a pasta toss?” Indeed.
It’s so simple I did not need a recipe when I made it again, at Dan’s request, less than one week later.
Chickpeas Terra E Mar
Serves 6 to 8
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
8 anchovy filets
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 to 4 cups chickpeas, or two 15 ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper
A big handful of chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 pound orecchiette
1 cup toasted fresh bread crumbs
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, anchovies, red pepper flakes, and tomato paste. Cooking, stirring until the anchovies melt into the oil. Add the chickpeas and stir until everything is well mixed. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the parsley.
Meanwhile, cook the orecchiette in a large pot of salted boiling water over high heat until just barely tender, a minute or so shy of the recommended cooking time on the package. Drain, reserving some of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot. Add the chickpeas and some of the reserved cooking water to loosen to sauce. Shake the pot gently to mix everything together. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with the toasted bread crumbs. Serve with lemon wedges if you like.