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Bright Flavors for Cold Days

This is what happens when you make something delicious in January, jot down the ingredients but nothing else, and then forget to write up any notes on the actual steps of cooking said dish. Voilà, less of a recipe and more of a flavor profile. In January, it offered a bright spot for endless (and dark) cold days. But I think it also works for the tentative transitioning into the hope of Spring. I do remember that this was delicious, like a hint of Italy in winter:

Orecchiette with chickpeas and onion, capers, and parsley

You’ll need:

  • about 1 cup orecchiette, or other small shape pasta (small shells or possibly farfalle, but ideally something that can hold the occasional caper)
  • an onion, on the small side, roughly diced or just sliced into thin strips
  • about 15 oz canned (and rinsed) or cooked chickpeas, more if you really like chickpeas
  • 1 – 3 Tbs capers, the smaller kind, about half of them chopped a bit, for variation in texture; the amount depends on how much you like capers
  • a generous handful of fresh parsley, chopped (maybe half a bunch or so)
  • a fresh lemon, for zest
  • some dry vermouth or white wine
  • some white wine vinegar

As you can see, the ingredient are mostly staple pantry items that you can keep around as a fall-back option when you have no idea what to make, though not everyone always has fresh parsley and lemon on hand (ahem).

Rough sketch of the cooking steps: Get the pasta water going. On your second burner, start with the go-to pat of butter/splash of olive oil (1 Tbs or so) or a combination of both, the pan on medium-low heat, and let the diced onion brown a bit, gently. Meanwhile, cook the pasta, and remember to keep back a bit of the pasta water before you drain it.

Once the onion has reached a satisfactory state of softness, and whatever level of browning you prefer, add the chickpeas to the pan, stir. Add a splash of dry vermouth (or white wine) – more if things look too dry. Optionally, add some past water too.

Give it a minute.The pasta should be done about now. You don’t want to overcook it because it’ll finish cooking in the pan with everything else. Slightly underdone is better than too soft.

You can now either add about half the chopped parsley or keep the whole thing until the end, depending on how fresh and green you like it. Add the cooked orecchiette (I believe that means little ears, yum) and stir gently to combine. Now, the capers. Into the pan with them too. If things get dry, add pasta water or a bit more vermouth.

Time for the parsley now. Give it another quick minute, and you can turn off the heat already, since the pan will stay hot enough. Finish everything off with a bit of freshly grated lemon zest and Parmesan, and a dash of white wine vinegar for balance. You may want to taste first, before adding the vinegar, to see if you like it as is. I go easy on the lemon zest but add more if you like it lemony. The Parmesan is optional (well, not for me but follow your taste). That should do it. The days should get warmer soon.

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