Thursday, August 5, 2010
Usually when you say the words "hotel food", you just want to run the other way. But in Italy, at least when you are talking about Agriturismi, the words take on a new meaning. Agriturismi, for those who don’t know, are small countryside hotels that are located on a working farm. The movement started about 20 years ago, and has enabled some farms to add just enough revenue to survive and even thrive.
Since we have our own home in the Umbrian countryside, we don’t get the chance to visit agriturismi that often. But over the Fourth of July our own house was rented out, and our friends Laura and Jim were throwing a big party at Laura's home that we didn’t want to miss. So we checked in to the Agriturismo Faina.
The little apartment we had was just fine, but we barely spent any time there since we were too busy partying down the road. But when we checked out on Monday morning there was one thing I definitely wasn’t going to miss: the small - but excellent - offerings of the farm’s products.
Unlike many agriturismi, which just pay lip service to the idea of ‘working farm,’ the Fainas have a huge spread of 400 hectares and produce not only olive oil and wine, but chick peas, honey, and walnuts.
Besides two jars of honey, I snapped up three packages of chick peas, which are a tiny variety that they’ve been experimenting with. After an overnight soak back in Rome, I set them to boil and promptly forgot about them, heading out the door to go shopping with Sophie. We could smell the pot burning from two blocks away.
So, this week I broke open my second bag, and managed not to burn the house down. Here’s the extremely tasty, and vegetarian, stew I made with them. I served a carrot salad on the side, which was pretty, crunchy and refreshing.
As always, ingredients are key. While I always have a can or two of chickpeas in the pantry, I would never think of using them in a dish where the texture and taste of the chickpeas are so important. Using dried legumes is not only better tasting, it’s also much cheaper. And not hard. (Ok, I did almost burn the house down, but that’s my problem).
Chickpea, Peppers and Tofu*
1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas
1 large onion
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 large red pepper
1 large yellow pepper
1/3 pound firm tofu
salt & pepper
dried red pepper, either Aleppo or Urfa
Soak chickpeas for at least 6 hours. Drain, and place in pot of water. Lightly salt, and boil until tender. Drain.
Chop onion and garlic and saute in olive oil till softened. Add chopped peppers and cook till softened, adding salt, pepper and red pepper to taste. When everything is about done, add chopped tofu and heat through, letting the flavors meld. Taste and correct for seasonings. Add parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve.
*Obviously the dish is fine without the tofu.