All The Things I Eat

Baked Feta with Tomatoes and Black Chickpeas

By on Friday, November 19th, 2021 at 10:14 pm

Baked feta with black chickpeas

Tossing feta with tomatoes isn’t exactly a new concept, but baking it together became a popular life hack thanks to TikTok. We didn’t make that. Instead, we baked ours with black chickpeas from Rancho Gordo following a Smitten Kitchen variation.

Way back in 2018 Finnish blogger Tiiu Piret posted a recipe for her baked pasta combining feta, tomatoes, onion, and honey before tossing with spaghetti. Nobody really paid much attention.

Then in February of 2019, Finnish video blogger Jenni Hayrinen posted her version of the uunifetapasta, the baked pasta. She baked a block of feta cheese with cherry-sized tomatoes and also tossed it with spaghetti. Besides loving spaghetti, the Finnish people also loved her recipe. Stores sold out of feta cheese. Despite its popularity, it remained a relatively unknown in the United States.

Then MacKenzie Smith posted a version to TikTok in June of 2019. The concept is simple: toss tomatoes and olive oil in a baking dish; add a block of feta to the center of the pan; add some red pepper; bake it; break up the melted cheese into a sauce and add pasta. She tossed it with rotini, a shape more suited to holding the sauce to the pasta. I’m not saying her pasta shape choice had anything to do with it, but six months later she had more than 3m views. Imitators followed, and the copy and re-mix nature of TikTok encouraged more versions with tens of millions of views of posts using the hashtag #bakedfetapasta.

The dish is simple to make, but also pretty to watch on TikTok. It proved such a hit that by January 2020, there were feta cheese shortages with people buying it all up so they could make their own baked feta, and this was long before “supply chain” problems were leaving shelves empty of basic foods.

Thursday night rolled around and my wife and I were both exhausted. I had handed in the final proofs for Red Sauce earlier that week, and I had a late night boozing it up with neighborhood dads in celebration. Well, only one was a neighborhood dad, the other is our neighborhood friend who lives upstairs from us. But you get the idea.

Anyway, my wife was working a lot and I was working a lot. We had our box of Rancho Gordo beans. We wanted a one-pot solution to our dinner problem.

Deb Perelman, aka Smitten Kitchen, doesn’t like combining feta and pasta, so she invented her own version of the viral baked pasta, sans pasta. This version includes chickpeas in the one-pot bake. The beans are a substitute for the pasta, and with the addition of nice loaf of bread, is a fulfilling vegetarian meal that feels like an old world Mediterranean dish.

Okay, so its actually two pots if you count the fact that the chickpeas had to be cooked before they were put into the baking dish with the feta. Most people would just open a can of chickpeas, making this an easy meal to prep, but we’re overachievers.

The Rancho Gordo bean box had arrived with black chickpeas. The Black Garbanzo bean, aka the notorious Ceci Neri, is an heirloom chickpea from Italy. Rancho Gordo suggests salads, soups, stews casseroles, curries and pasta e fagioli (pasta fazool, if you are speaking with a north Jersey accent). The Ceci Neri is rare. Currently you can order some from Rancho Gordo, but they sell out fast.

These cooked down in their bean pot for a while, a bit longer than we expected really. The skins really are thicker than regular chick peas, and that might have something to do with it. Once they were cooked, we were ready to start our one-pot meal.

My wife tossed everything into the pot while I took baby for a walk. Although I didn’t cook, I did buy baby a butternut squash which he proceeded to lick. That’s not how you eat a butternut squash, baby.

Anyway, the baked feta came out of the oven looking beautifully golden. We served the pan right on the table and sliced up some bread to soak up the oil. It wasn’t the first time my wife baked up this feta, but I had always assumed it came out of a cookbook rather than evolving from a viral TikTok. Either way, Deb Perelman is totally right: this doesn’t need pasta.

baked feta with black chickpeas and a nice loaf of bread that soaked up the oil

And here is the baked feta with a rustic wooden spoon for scale.

baked feta with rustic wooden spoon for scale

Cassoulet Is Never Quick

By on Friday, October 29th, 2021 at 7:21 pm

A cassoulet using Rancho Gordo beans and d'artangan duck sausage

Subscribing to the Rancho Gordo bean club can sometimes feel oppressive when you are sitting on a stockpile of beans and know another box just around the corner. I knew we needed to use up some of the beans we’d been accumulating so I pulled out the box of white beans to assess what we had. Sure enough, a full bag of cassoulet beans ready and waiting.

What I love about this dish is that it’s basically impossible to screw up. Sure, you can try to rush a cassoulet and that isn’t going to help it much. You need time in the oven to crisp the top. But as long as you can braise it for four or five hours, it pretty much cooks itself.

At this point I don’t even bother looking at cassoulet recipes. Maybe I should have. I made a few mistakes on this, but it sure turned out fine just the same.

First I had to boil off the beans. We had some old rosemary in the back of the refrigerator — just enough to toss a sprig in. What I forgot to do was boil the carrot and the celery with the beans, but honestly with five hours for braising, it was fine to add them later.

When the beans were cooked, I started cooking the pork belly. I wanted a little brown on the meat and render some of that fat for frying everything else. I also cut up a few strips of bacon. before adding in some duck sausages from D’Artagnan. I used these instead of the more traditionally duck confit for two reasons.

First, The Meat Hook didn’t have any in stock. I’m not even sure if they still stock duck confit. The last time I had to go all the way to Dicksons Farmstand in Chelsea Market.

The second reason is duck confit is really heavy. The duck fat is great and I love using it for roasted potatoes to go along with the cassoulet, but there isn’t anything light about it. The sausages were a perfect substitute, especially since there should be sausages in the dish anyway.

Once I browned off the meat, I chopped an onion, garlic, celery, and carrot browning in the rendered fat. I added in the beans. I wasn’t too worried about layering properly because I was only using a pound of beans with a wide brimmed pot. Having extra surface area really helps develop that great cassoulet crust. I topped off with a cup of chicken broth. Twenty minutes in I realized I forgot to add the can of tomatoes.

The pot when in the oven. After half an hour I took off the lid to allow the browning to start. About four hours later she was ready to come out with a nice crusty top. The single pound of beans and swapping out duck sausage was a great choice for two people. We had a filling dinner and lunch the next day with a little left over for the weekend.

Curried Chickpeas

By on Thursday, July 26th, 2012 at 5:33 am

Curried chickpeas served alongside brown rice

I wanted an inexpensive meal without having to clean a lot of pots.

Curries are good to fit that description because they cook up quickly in a single pot and the ingredients list is generally cheap once you have the necessary spices.

Ordinarily I keep a well stocked spice rack. But I found myself entirely out of cumin, one of the critical spices in building a full flavored curry. But since I was hungry and not terribly interested in venturing out to find the missing spice, I went ahead and cooked up the curry — a base of garlic and onion followed by canned chickpeas — sans cumin. Near the end I tossed in some tomatoes.

The result was a fragrant, hearty meal for about two dollars a serving. While I might have noticed the missing cumin, you wouldn’t know it from looking at the photos. And in the end, that’s all that really matters, right?

Peasant Style Ceci Peas

By on Thursday, April 26th, 2012 at 6:00 am

Ceci peas, or chickpeas, cooking on a stove pot

Everyone has their own comfort food. For me, its chickpeas over egg noodle bow ties.

I don’t actually know if this dish is “peasant style.” As a child, I only knew the meal as “chickpeas.” But all cooked up, they feel like peasant food, and for the price of somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 a serving, its hard to argue this isn’t peasant food.

The chickpeas are cooked in olive oil and garlic and then tossed over pasta. My preference is for little mini bow ties. Since they are about the size of chickpea, they match up together well.

My mother often made chickpeas and bow ties for my brother and I and it became one of the first meals I learned to cook on my own. I would have eaten them every night.

As an adult, I’ve modified the recipe on occasion. I’ll add carrots and/or peas and/or artichokes. I’ve augmented the chickpeas with tomato sauce. I’ve eaten them without the pasta, as a side dish.

A few years ago in Italy, my cousins produced a branch of the chickpea bush. We were all sitting around in the small yard drinking wine. We then beat the chickpea branches, wrapped in a cloth, with a large wooden log. The force pushed the chickpeas, then hard as pebbles, out of the papery shells. They collected in the cloth, and then afterward were cleaned. The following night we had chickpeas for dinner.

Chickpeas cooking in a pot

Garlic glove
Olive Oil
Box of egg noodle mini bow ties

Mince the garlic. Lightly heat in the olive oil. Rinse the chickpeas and add to the garlic. Add parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Live dangerously and add a pat of butter. Cook the chickpeas until they soften. Toss over noodles.

Optional: add peas, carrots or artichoke hearts.

Lastly, these photos were shot on 35mm film with a Minolta X-GA.