Last summer, by absolute luck, I scored a last-minute reservation at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Cafe in Berkley, California. It was during the height of the busy graduation season, and the chances of booking a table on the day of the request was highly unlikely. But it happened, and I was ushered into the cafe to a table near the window and proceeded to order nearly everything on the menu. Now, I've always been a fan of Alice Waters, but after that meal, I finally got what she was about. Every ingredient felt like the purest, most potent form of itself. Afterward, I enthusiastically delved into her cookbooks and discovered that with some careful choices, it was possible to achieve something similar at home.
Cooking fresh from the pantry has meant more than ingredients to me — it's about the inspiration, as well. How can I bring something new to my cooking without shifting too far from practicality? Turns out Alice has the answer and it comes in the form of this warming soup. I used the dried chickpeas and pancetta the first time I made this soup, and the results were as delicious as expected. The second go around, I had canned chickpeas and bacon on hand, so I used those in their place. And instead of the chickpea-cooking liquid, I used more broth. Recipes are beginnings; they are inspirations. At the end of the day, just go where your pantry leads you.
Alice Waters' Chickpea and Broccoli Rabe Soup
Makes about 2 quarts
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 slices pancetta or bacon, chopped fine
1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 onion, diced
4 oregano sprigs
A pinch of dried chile flakes (optional)
4 garlic cloves
2 cups cooked chickpeas, canned or prepared from dried
2 cups chickpea cooking liquid (see note below)
2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 bunch broccoli rabe
A Drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and pancetta; cook for 3 minutes; and then add the carrots, celery, onion, oregano, and chile flakes. Cook, stirring now and then, until soft and lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Turn down the heat if the vegetables start to brown too quickly.
When the vegetables are cooked, add the salt, garlic, and cooked chickpeas. Cook for a few minutes, and then pour in the chickpea cooking liquid and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, trim off and discard the woody stems from the broccoli rabe. Wash and drain, chop coarsely, and add to the soup. Cook for another 10 minutes. Test a large rabe stem. If it is not tender, cook the soup a few more minutes. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.
Serve garnished with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Variations: Use 1 small bulb of fennel in place of the celery; use cannellini or borlotti (cranberry) beans instead of chickpeas.
Canned Beans: If using canned beans omit the chickpea liquid and use 4 cups of chicken stock or broth
Reprinted with permission from Art of Simple Food II by Alice Waters, copyright (c) 2013. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.