Isn’t it nice when you discover an unexpected treat in the middle of an otherwise mundane day? That’s what happened when I swung by Marina Farms market to pick up a few items. Now, Marina Farms is a gem of a local corner market, tucked away in a bland corner of Del Rey, an LA neighborhood that’s not Playa del Rey, not Marina del Rey, ’cause it’s a bit inland. So it’s just plain old Del Rey. The market is chock-full of an eclectic assortment of fresh, regional produce, bulk nonperishables, and speciality items. In one trip, you can pick up a bag of farro, guacamole-flavored Mexican tortilla snacks, fresh fava beans, sherry vinegar, and a freshly made chicken empanada as a snack. And the prices are terrific.
I was trolling past the bins of fresh mushrooms when my eyes fell on fresh chickpeas. This struck me as a rare and wonderful find. Well, rare to me, since I think fresh chickpeas are become more widely available, much the way fava beans have in recent years. Still, it was a treat to me, so I filled a bag with a couple of handfuls of the fuzzy green pods.
But what to do with them? The fresh chickpeas were familiar, yet…not. Their inch-long pods are peach-fuzzy and papery. Each houses one pea. Occasionally you’ll find two in a pod, but for the most part chickpeas cop an exclusive attitude. Unlike English peas or fava beans, chickpeas are reluctant to share their digs. The pods are delicate and airy–they sometimes make a satisfying pop when you open them.
Inside, the peas are a lovely, pale green. On her blog 101Cookbooks.com, Heidi Swanson accurate describes them as looking like little brains. Yes, like little green Martian brains.
I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. Since they’re fresh, they don’t need soaking or the long-ass cooking time of their dried cousins. After doing some research, I decided that steaming was the way to go. Indeed, it works beautifully. The chickpeas retain their shape, and cooking enhances their emerald hue. They have a lovely, delicate, nutty, vegetal, and slightly sweet quality that begs for simple treatment, like this easy spread.
OK, since I only picked up a couple of handfuls of fresh chickpeas, this has a small yield, but you can double the recipe. I used a pressure cooker to steam the chickpeas, since I appear to obsessed with my pressure cooker of late. You can steam them in a regular saucepan in about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve this spread with crackers or crusty bread.
3/4 cup shelled fresh chickpeas (about 6 ounces unshelled)
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano cheese
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1. Fill the pan of a pressure cooker with water to a depth of 1 inch. Bring to a boil. Place chickpeas in a steamer basket; add steamer basket to cooker. Lock on lid, and bring to high pressure over high heat. Reduce heat, and cook 5 minutes. Release pressure using automatic pressure release OR transfer cooker to sink and run cool water over the rim. Carefully open the cooker, pointing the lid away from you. Drain chickpeas. Rinse with cool water; drain thoroughly.
2. Add garlic clove to work bowl of a mini food processor; process until minced. Add chickpeas, process until chopped. Add olive oil, cheese, and lemon juice; process until fairly smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Yield: about 3/4 cup.