Chickpeas – a gift from the gods and a staple over here at Gastro Towers. They’re notoriously tricky to cook, but ever since I learnt their secret of success – do it in earthenware and keep them hot & wet until tender, by the way – it’s been plain sailing. In hommage to one memorable lunch in a Barcelona working man’s café (no trendy tapas types in that rinconcito) I riff on their basic premise: legumes long-simmered with barely identifiable cured pork products; nuggets of ham, chunks of chorizo and morsels of morcilla bobbing about amongst root vegetable hunks dropping anchor in a spicy broth. Add a tangle of shredded cabbage and you have a warming one-pot dish that improves over however long your leftovers last: an unbeatable bowl full of beautiful flavours.
When it’s been a while since the last time I refer as always to the ever-reliable Elizabeth Luard’s The Food of Spain and Portugal. When chickpeas are the legume in question I work from her recipe for Cocido Madrileño, but adapt the meat main players to match those inhabiting my fridge; I suggest you do the same until comfortable with the routine, which stripped down to skeleton basics is cooking everything together on a long, steady simmer. Get the chickpeas right and the rest follows suit. Don’t know about you but I think when it comes to traditional recipes, striving for authenticity out of context is an absurdity, what’s imperative is to stay within the spirit. And I like to think I do…
Cocido Madrileño comes to Kent – serves 2 twice
250g dried chickpeas (a cup and a half or so)
optional but nice: a pinch of saffron, lightly toasted – I do it in a serving spoon held over a gas flame
2 teaspoons black peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 onion, cut in sixths through the root, stud 3 segments with a clove
2 ribs celery, in 2cm slices
2 large carrots, sliced in 5cm hunks
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 juvenile turnips, chopped in 2cm pieces (no need to peel if sufficiently young)
same again but with waxy potatoes (if you remember, unlike me)
2 bay leaves and some parsley stalks tied into a faggot – these silicone cooking bands do a great job
1/2 a small savoy cabbage, shredded fine
Indispensable Meats, rations approximate
- dry-cured ham or bacon, cut into lardons – about 100g?
- chorizo – 1/2 a supermarket one
- morcilla – 2 or 3
Ms Luard utilises a chicken in her cocido but I don’t fancy that idea at all and would rather stick with pork: remember what I said about authenticity!
Rinse, then soak chickpeas overnight in plenty of water in their earthenware pot. Drain, then add enough water to cover by 5cm. Add the ham and chorizo (in one piece), onion, celery and carrots, plus garlic cloves and the faggot of herbs – don’t stir in any of these additions, just let them sit on top of the chickpeas – then top up with water to barely cover them. Pour over a couple of quick glugs of olive oil. Place over gentle heat and replace lid. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour.
Reach down with a spoon through the vegetables to the chickpeas and retrieve a couple to check if they’re tender. They should be, but if not cook another 30 minutes or so and check again. When all is well add the turnips, potatoes and cabbage: stir these into the pot and return to a simmer. Place the morcilla on top and cook through gently for half an hour to an hour – whenever you’re ready to eat, this stew will happily oblige. Retrieve and discard the herbs, slice the chorizo thickly and remove the strings, if any, from the morcilla – which should have broken up into delicious crumbly bits and stained the cooking liquid an enticingly dark hue - then return these to the cooking pot, stir about a bit then ladle generously into shallow soup plates. Serve with some good, honest bread and sleep well afterwards.