After reading Robert Harris’s entertaining novel IMPERIUM about the Roman orator, essayist and politician Cicero, and his parlous ascendency to the position of consul in ancient Rome I assumed I’d gotten most of the salient details of his life. I was wrong. Pull up a plate of Spicy Chickpea Cakes with Romesco Sauce–it’s an interesting story.
Cicero means “chickpea.”
Along with the debauchery, the dissipation, the appetite for combat and slaughter as entertainment (and all of this was two millenia before HBO) the Romans paid homage to a mirror culture of virtue, modesty and self-effacement dating from the days of the Early Republic. By Cicero’s time in the Late Republic this was a tradition more honored in the breach than the observance, but one holdover was the the use of a humble cognomen, a Roman third name which often served as the family identifier, as in Marcus Tullius Cicero. Or Marcus Tullius Chickpea. To be fair, Cicero’s family was not alone in this affectation. Other Roman families called themselves Lentils or Beans or Peas (Lentulus, Fabius, Piso). Cicero’s family probably raised chickpeas.
I’ve spent the week taking my office apart–it was beginning to resemble something out of John Aubrey’s BRIEF LIVES, towers of books and papers threatening to entomb me. I’d forgotten what it was like to box up twenty cases of books, or schlep furniture up or down a couple of flights of stairs. Putting a new office together seems to drag on forever–shifting software from one dying computer (a PC) to one that speaks a different language (an iMac). Sometimes you just need an escape, something that fills your head and your belly. Marcus Tullius Cicero. Spicy Chickpeas with Romesco Sauce. I like to think he would have enjoyed them, maybe with a dash of garum. Ken
Spicy Chickpea Cakes
- 3/4 cup dried chickpeas, cleaned of stones and dirt
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 stalk celery, peeled and diced
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons ground toasted cumin
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoon harissa
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1 extra large egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup chick pea flour
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup Romesco sauce
- Cover the chickpeas with water, and soak for 8 hours, or overnight. Drain.
- Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrot, season with salt and pepper and cook 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook 1 minute.
- Add bay leaves, cumin, chickpeas and add water to cover by 1 inch. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 30-45 minutes or until the chickpeas are tender and all the liquid has cooked off so they’re almost dry. If the beans are done but seem too soupy, increase the heat and boil to reduce the juices to a glaze. It’s okay if they start to brown a bit. It’s added flavor. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat. Cool.
- Remove and discard the bay leaves.
- Put the chickpeas in a food processor and pulse 3-4 times to coarsely chop. Add 2 tablespoons chickpea flour, harissa, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, parsley, cilantro and egg and pulse to just combine. If the mixture seems a little wet, add a tablespoon or two of chickpea flour.
- Pour the remaining chickpea flour onto a plate. Form the chickpea paste into 8 balls; roll in the chickpea flour to coat well; then form into patties, 3 inches across and ½ inch thick. Set on a rack and refrigerate 30 minutes to firm up.
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
- Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the chickpea cakes and cook on each side 5 minutes or until crisp, golden brown and heated through, adding an additional tablespoon of oil when they are flipped. Transfer to the oven to keep warm. You may have to do this in two batches, depending on the size of your pan.
- Serve with Romesco sauce, some Greek yogurt, and a refreshing salad that might include cucumbers, arugula, tomatoes and scallions.
- 2 red peppers, roasted and peeled
- 1 dried pepper, soaked in warm water to cover until tender (about 30 minutes), then stemmed and seeded—ancho, pasilla, guajillo. You want a pepper with some heat and a rich flavor
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ¼ cup toasted almonds
- 2 tablespoons toasted hazelnuts
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Pinch hot red pepper flakes, optional
- Combine the roasted peppers with all the remaining Romesco sauce ingredients in a food processor and pulse to purée to a coarse paste. Season with salt to taste. I f it seems flat, add a drop of vinegar. If you’d like more heat, add a pinch of hot red pepper flakes.
After last week’s meat-centric post of the rich 8-hour lamb, I was inspired to do something at the other end of the spectrum. These are easy, spicy, lively and fill the protein slot as a meat alternative. They’re substantial and rich in flavor so they benefit from the spicy kick of Romesco sauce, the cool fresh flavor of yogurt and a the crunch of a salad.
Romesco sauce is one of my all time favorite pantry staples. I discovered a recipe for it many years ago in a magazine article by Claudia Roden, and now use it on everything from fish to vegetables to roasted meats. This recipe provides leftovers—it’s great in a turkey sandwich. My version is fairly heavy on the nuts. Feel free to reduce them if you prefer a more peppery sauce. I used a dried red bird chili and a dried pasilla pepper with the fresh roasted red peppers. The flavor of the sauce will change depending on what kind of dried peppers you use, but that’s what makes cooking fun.
When peeling roasted red peppers, stand by the sink. Rinse your hands, not the peppers as you peel. If there are a few charred bits that cling to the peppers and make it into the Romesco sauce, that’s okay. They add a bit of smoke to the flavor.