One fine fall Friday six years ago (which by the way, was nothing like today. It’s raining. I love it!) I sat at my desk eating my peanut butter sandwich, my go-to this-is-what-I-pack-when-I’m-in-a-hurry lunch. It had been a rushed, busy day and I was going into a busy weekend with company coming and no time to have planned my dinner, so I thought I’d look up some recipes. I have no memory of what it was I googled that day but I do remember that in the middle of the search page was a link that led me to the first food blog I’d ever seen. And with just one click I tumbled down into a wonderful rabbit-hole, filled with the most wonderful stories, writing and recipes. I’ve been in free fall ever since.
That first food blog lead me to others. There were just so many incredible people about there, chronicling their kitchen stories along with their lunch, more than happy to tell you about the difference between chimmichurri and pesto. They spoke about home cooking or what they ate in restaurants. After that first mad connect-the-dots dash through the links on each page I identified a few well-written blogs with outstanding voices that captured my imagination. One of those was The Wednesday Chef by Luisa Weiss.
As most blog readers know, Luisa began hers as a place to document her experiences with the recipes printed in the New York Times and Los Angeles times, but over these past seven years, it has evolved into so much more. She writes about recipes with a clarity and honesty, unflinching in her analysis of the flaws of a recipe. When she endorses a recipe with whole-hearted effusiveness, you can be sure it works and you really should get into your kitchen quite quick to cook it. The Wednesday Chef is where I’d ask someone unsure about cooking and food to begin. She can locate and write about the most interesting recipes. It is her writing though, more than anything else, that kept me coming back to this blog. When Luisa urges you to make meatballs or try that Hainanese chicken and rice, she may well be your good friend, standing in the kitchen with you, discussing dinner and voicing her opinion. A good friend that will not allow you to eat canned soup for dinner, but won’t judge you for ordering takeout.
Of the many blogs I’ve read over the years, The Wednesday Chef is one that has remained consistent and evolved along with its writer. Her life has changed and she has moved continents but she has never wavered in telling us about the food she was cooking and eating along the way. I returned to her blog every week and firmly believe I could read about her making and eating a piece of buttered toast. I could, because Luisa would find a way to write about that with both verve and gravitas. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I learned she was writing a book.
In her book ‘My Berlin Kitchen’, Luisa writes about her life and the food that has nourished her through it. Amidst writing about being an only child with parents separated by an ocean, she writes about gooseberry cream cakes and elderflower syrup, asparagus salads and jam doughnuts. She talks of fake baked beans with authority, and even though I revere Heinz vegetarian canned baked beans doctored with nothing more than chilli powder (I like the sweetness with the backdrop of heat), I find myself intrigued by the possibility of try these out. That is what good food writing does for you. It brings you to your kitchen with renewed energy, ready to try out things you thought you had possibly no interest in doing.
I finished this book on a fine early fall morning much like the day I discovered her blog. Only this time, I was in Golden Gate Park with a book, some baby carrots and some hummus in hand. One of the final recipes in the book is a pasta with chickpeas, tomatoes and chilli. There are a lot of beautiful recipes in there, this one appealed to me at once. I couldn’t quite imagine how the same ingredient that was key to the cool hummus in my hands would taste with pasta. I’d never had the combination before. I knew I had to try it.
I followed most of her instruction faithfully, using dried chickpeas instead of canned and using only rosemary. But I couldn’t bring myself to follow her instructions in regards to the garlic. I didn’t discard it as she instructs and I used more than one. One clove is not enough for this garlic-loving household. We don’t care about garlic breath, in fact we consider it essential to ward off those Breaking Dawn superfans. (They are out in droves for those special screenings tonight and they scare me.)
I also doubled the chillies. (I know. It’s a malediction, but I’m stuck with it for life.) Luisa mentions Calabrian chillies are best in this recipe. I had Calabrian chilli paste in the house so I used a tablespoon of that. I also crumbled three Dundicutt chillies into the recipe. If you want to go precisely by her directions, use two dried chillies only.
We pressure-cooked the chickpeas with the rosemary, cutting a large amount of time out of the recipe. Good thing too, as it has now been decided that this needs to go on our weeknights roster. It is a perfect dish for tired days. With the pressure cooker, the entire dish was read in about 45 minutes, about less than half of that was time the chickpeas spent in the pressure cooker. The flavour of rosemary weaves its way through the ingredients and ties everything together. Despite the increased chilli quantities, this dish did not scream, it simmered with gentle heat. There is some purée left over but it will be a tasty addition to any dal, so I’m happy to have it. It was as solid a dish as the pantheon of those by other chefs that Luisa has long written about. This is such a filling, easy and comforting recipe. I look forward to curling up in my favourite rocking chair with a generous bowl of this and a second read of Luisa’s lovely book.
Pasta e Ceci with Rosemary and Chillies
Adapted very lightly from My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss
Makes 3-4 servings
Dried chickpeas – 1-1/2 cups
Rosemary – a full, fresh sprig, leaves stripped
Tomatoes – 3 (Luisa asks you use plum tomatoes), cored and cut lengthwise
Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Garlic – 2 cloves, minced
Small dried chillies – 2, crumbled
Calabrian chilli paste – 1/2 tbsp
Penne – 8 oz
Salt – 1-1/2 tsp plus more as needed
– Soak the chickpeas for eight hours or over night then drain.
– Pour into the pressure cooker and pour water until there is an inch of it over the chickpeas. Add the salt and the rosemary leaves. Boil per your pressure cooker’s instruction. Alternatively, you can boil the chickpeas and rosemary in a covered vessel for about an hour and a half until softened. In this case, salt the water about ten minutes before they are done.
– Move off the heat. Drain and reserve one cup of the boiled chickpeas. Use an immersion blender to purée the rest in their broth.
– Place a pan over medium heat. Add the oil when hot and the garlic when the oil shimmers.
– Add the tomatoes, chillies and chilli paste and cook until the tomatoes break down. Mix into the chickpea purée. Season with some salt and pepper as necessary.
– Boil the pasta until al dente. Drain and mix it in with the chickpea sauce. Add the reserved whole chickpeas and toss to combine. Check seasoning again.
Grate some Parmesan over and serve immediately.