This traditional Sicilian chickpea and spinach braise is a resourceful meal derived partly through tradition and partly through need. My grandparents came to Australia in the early 1950s armed with gardening knowledge but little else. While they quickly established a productive vegetable garden, grandads fledgling fishing business didn’t always bring home the catch of the day. This was a meal that Nana devised for one of those occasions. Based on traditional Italian sauce making methods, this recipe combines a few bits from the garden & a few bits from the pantry to make a substantial meal out of very little.
This slow braise really highlights the flavour of your home-grown tomatoes, and you can use any type you like or what’s in season. The spinach, too, can be varied- I tend to use whatever needs to be picked on the day. The pantry ingredients are basic and few, and are things that every Italian cook always has on hand.
Here’s how I made it.
Warm the oil over a medium heat in a non-stick pan, then add the halved tomatoes. While they are cooking, chop the shallots and the spinach.
Once the tomatoes have started to break down (15-20 minutes), add the wine, garlic, chilli & pepper then stir through. Continue to ‘cook down’ the tomatoes over medium heat, for another 30 mins or so. Stir as required so they don’t catch, and add small amounts of water intermittently. The idea is that you are gradually increasing & reducing this tomato base in order to build flavour. Don’t be afraid to add water more than once-in fact, I usually add water at least 4 times, using around 1/3 cup each time.
You’ll only need a pinch of dried chilli powder for this recipe. Used in this way, the chilli deepens the other flavours in the dish, rather than overpowering them. When you can see that the tomato skins have fully separated, remove them from the pan.
Add the shallots them cook them in for about 10 minutes. Remember, this is a ‘slow recipe’, which gains best flavour from time spent cooking it. Heat needs to be kept at a gently-bubbling simmer.
Add the vegeta and 2 cups of the water and mix through. If you’re not familiar with vegeta, it’s a salty vegetable-based stock powder which is lactose-free, gluten free, and suitable for vegans and vegetarians. It’s an excellent addition to tomato-based sauces, soups and stews, and eliminates the need to add salt.
Add the drained tin of chickpeas and stir through. Now is the time to do a taste test, and season if desired. Reduce the heat to low, then add the crushed pasta. Stir it through for 3 minutes or so- it cooks quickly.
Add the chopped spinach and mix through just before serving. You can use any spinach you like or have to hand- the idea is that you use what you have in the garden. This time, I used a mix of young malabar spinach leaves and some brazilian spinach. Low heat will be enough to wilt the spinach, which is all you need. Once the pasta has cooked through and the spinach has been added, there shouldn’t be much liquid left; the dish should be juicy rather than saucy.
Sicilian Chickpea & Spinach Braise (Vegan)
- 1 deep non-stick frying pan
- 1 wooden spoon
- 1 Knife
- 1 chopping board
- 1/3 cup oil use the one you prefer
- 1 bowl fresh tomatoes, cut in half
- 2/3 cup dry white wine
- 440 gram tinned chick peas
- 2 handfuls angel hair pasta
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 2 tsp vegeta stock powder other vegetable stock powder can be substituted
- 3 cups water
- 1 pinch dried chilli powder
- 150 grams fresh spinach leaves
- Heat the oil in the frying pan over medium heat.
- Cut the tomatoes in half and add to the pan.
- Cook the tomatoes gently for 15-20 minutes, stirring as required. Add small amounts of water as necessary so as to create a sauce.
- Once the tomatoes have started to break down (15-20 minutes), add the wine, garlic, chilli & pepper then stir through. Continue to 'cook down' the tomatoes over medium heat, for a further 30 mins or so. Stir intermittently so they don't catch, and add small amounts of water as required.
- When you can see that the tomato skins have fully separated, remove them from the pan.
- Add the shallots to the pan and stir them in. Cook a further 10 minutes.
- Next, add the vegeta and 2 cups of the water.
- Drain the tin of chickpeas then add them to the pan and stir through.
- Break up the pasta in your hand, add it, and mix it in.
- Cook for a further 3 minutes, then add the spinach. At this point there shouldn't be much liquid left.
- Mix the spinach through gently but thoroughly until wilted.