It starts with two ordinary cans of chickpeas and a can of tomatoes, and transforms into something so much more than the sum of its parts. The saucy, tender-yet-chewy beans, and the healthy handful of spinach, all smothered in a thin robe of gooey Muenster cheese, alongside a loaf of freshly-baked crusty bread... It's heavenly.
As I am with many a new recipe, I was a little apprehensive about this one. I don't cook much with saffron, and I was afraid this meatless dish might not be super satisfying as a main course. But I have to tell you that this is one of the most satisfying dinner's I've had in quite some time. It is just delicious and hearty. I couldn't stop shoveling it in my mouth! I hope you love it, too.
A note about saffron: Saffron is among the most costly spices in the the world. Good thing most recipe use just a pinch! I got mine from Trader Joe's and thought the cost quite reasonable for a spice I use so rarely.
Basque Skillet Beans
from the Moosewood New Classics cookbook
1/4 tsp. crumbled saffron threads
1/4 very hot or boiling water
2 Tbsp. oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. chopped onion (about 1/2 of a medium onion)
1 minced fresh green chile (I omitted this and added a pinch of Aleppo pepper flakes)
1 14.5-oz. can tomatoes with juice
1/2 c. dry sherry
2, 15 oz. cans chick peas, drained and rinsed
2 c. fresh spinach, chopped
2-3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
ground black pepper
sliced Muenster cheese
In a small bowl, cover the saffron with the hot water; set aside.
In a 12-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic, onions, and chiles, if using, and sauté for 5 minutes or so. Crush the tomatoes into the skillet using your hands or break up the tomatoes in the skillet with a wooden spoon. Add the juice from the can, the sherry, and the saffron in its liquid.
Stir in the chickpeas and bring the mixture to a simmer. Let simmer for 10 minutes or so, until liquid is reduced some and sauce begins to thicken just a bit. Add spinach and continue to simmer until the spinach is wilted but still bright green. Remove from heat, add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Cover the top of the mixture with slices of Muenster and place under the broiler until bubbly and golden. Serve with hunks of crusty bread. Eat with abandon.