I was given a book for our wedding: an unassuming citrus green paperback book called Quick Vegetarian Pleasures. (And no, it is not from the Marital Aids section of Barnes & Noble.)
We're not vegetarian. We even (I'll whisper this) eat bacon. With gusto. But I'll tell you: when you live in a flat where the bathroom is out the door/down the stairs/ and around the corner, you're paying for groceries with funds kindly provided by Sallie Mae Corporation and the Big Treat for the evening is a cup of decaf coffee (you being too skint for wine or even a cheap lager) - vegetarian dining is very economical, and therefore profoundly appealing.
I seized this cookbook with all the fervor of a newlywed with a kick-ass set of knives and methodically cooked my way through almost every single recipe. And then cooked them all over again (skipping the one disgusting recipe for Garlic and Herb Tofu Spread, aka Repel All Humans You Speak to the Next Day Spread.)
The one dish that we kept coming back to - in fact, kept making every single week - was Penne with Spinach and Chickpeas in Garlic Sauce. (See, I'm not a hater on the garlic. Just a hater of the Garlic Clove Masquerading as Spread.) By now, the cookbook opens of its own accord to this recipe - the sign of a well-loved page.
I still make this, almost every single week. It has weathered the pernickety tastes of meat-eaters, of spinach-hating vegetarians, of all 3 of my kids, and even of the more adventurous friend over for a visit. It's amazing. Maybe not as amazing as Pomegranate Chicken, but so very much more doable on a rainy Thursday night.
So here you go. I'm giving away all my best party tricks this month.
Penne with Spinach and Chickpeas in Garlic Sauce
1 10-oz. package loose fresh spinach or 1 10-oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 lb penne
1/3 C olive oil
6 garlic cloves (alarming, but so good)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 med tomatoes, diced small
1 15-oz can of chickpeas, drained but not rinsed
1/4 tsp salt**
1/4 C grated Parmesan
Clean spinach, discard stems. (Chop it up if largeish leaves.) Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook til al dente, 12-15 minutes. [I can't believe I just typed instructions on boiling pasta.]
Now the sauce: heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 2 minutes. (Don't let the garlic burn!) Add the tomatoes and chickpeas and cook 2 minutes more. [A small note on the chickpeas: I like to open the can, and just drain them by holding the lid on and turning can upside down. This leaves a little brine on the chickpeas that make the sauce more....unctuous.] Then, throw in the chopped spinach, the salt, and 1/3 C of the boiling pasta water, and stir well. [**note on the salt: I add a ridiculous amount of salt. Waaaaay more than the 1/4 tsp it calls for. But you'll have to make it to your taste. Just be at the ready with the saltshaker. I'm just sayin.] Here's the important bit: TURN OFF THE HEAT NOW. IF YOU'RE COOKING ON ELECTRIC [WHY?] TAKE IT OFF THAT BURNER. The spinach will cook on its own, and be much fresher & bright green if you don't cook the whole schlemeil any more.
When the pasta is done, drain it thoroughly. Put it back in the pot, or a large serving bowl. Pour the sauce over it, and toss well. Sprinkle on the Parmesan, and toss again. In our house, we skip the bit where you stir the parmesan in, and just add it to our individual plates at the table.
Oh, and put the salt shaker on the table. It just adds so muuuuuuuuuuuuuch.
The only people who should skip making this are those who literally retch at the thought of spinach in their home. Or are deathly allergic to say, chick peas. The rest of you? DINNER. DINNER TOMORROW. TRY IT.