We were four tonight at our table: joining us for dinner was Monica (of Gastromonica fame, and one of my favorite cooks and people) and her partner. A high-risk strategy for dinner, B and I decided to try a new recipe from Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook: a Spanish-style stew with chickpeas, clams, and sausage. The meal was sufficiently fantastic that we forgot to take any photographs.
The night before you want this stew, cover 1 ½ cups dried chickpeas with plenty of water, and let soak overnight (beans will double in size). In the morning or mid-day, drain the chickpeas and add a small white onion, one or two carrots, a celery stick if you have one, some bay leaf, some fresh thyme, and 1 Tbsp of salt; cover with water, bring to a boil, and simmer on low 90 minutes. Let the beans cool in their liquids. When you start cooking, drain the chickpeas and discard the veggies.
In the bottom of a large pot, brown 1 lb pork sausage (we used the breakfast links from Highland Hills, as it was all that was left when we got to the market today), crumbled or cut into small meatballs, in 1 Tbsp olive oil. Remove the meat to a bowl, and discard the liquid. Meanwhile, finely mince a large white onion, or, more easily, chop it coarsely and then puree in the food processor.
Add a little more olive oil to the pot and cook the onion until lightly browned. Meanwhile, finely mince (puree in food processor) one fennel bulb and lots of garlic, and add to the onion, along with a little salt. Cook a bit longer, and add one medium-spicy pepper, in small diced, and 1 Tbsp paprika. Also add a handful of small or two medium-large tomatoes, cut into medium dice.
Clean 3 lb manila clams while the vegetables cook.
Finally, stir in the chickpeas and the sausage, and cover and bring back to a simmer. Then add ½ cup white wine, ½ lb young braising greens or chard cut into ½-inch strips, and the clams. Cover and cook five to ten more minutes, stirring once or twice, until the clams have all opened.
While the clams cook, lightly toast some slices of a nice bread, and rub each slice with a clove of garlic. Serve the stew in shallow bowls, with a slice of bread at the bottom of each bowl and the stew spooned over it.
Accompany the stew with good company, fun conversation, and a nice Pinot Grigio (also set out the remaining bread with some butter). After the stew, serve a lettuce salad with a sherry vinaigrette as a palate cleanser.
Open a bottle of fine Moscatel, and move from the dining room table to the living room couch. Set out a plate of figs from the neighbors tree, cut into quarters with a dollop of a nice sheep's cheese on each, and sprinkled with chopped almonds and honey. Conclude the meal with macadamia-and-white-chocolate cookies.