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Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.
Before we get to the soup course, and I’m warming it up now, I have a totally straight-faced question:
How did people feed their children before freezers? On nights when there was nothing remotely edible in the house, did the parents send the children outside to fill up on wild garlic and chickweed? How much chickweed did that require, exactly? And isn’t chickweed really hairy?
The freezer, along with those alarm clocks that change color when it is no longer the middle of the night, makes modern parenthood possible. But I have a problem: I never know what to freeze—that is, when I set out to make meals for the freezer, I go cold: I forget what I used to make, or wanted to make, or I refuse to make the same damn thing again. I am a self-contradictory bundle of desires: I want comfort and novelty.
You know how this story ends: we have nothing to eat and I send Isaiah outside to pick chickweed.
If you are not this way, I need your suggestions. If you are, I have my own to offer: a rich winter-weather soup, adapted from Zuppe. It has chickpeas, farro or barley, kale, pixie dust; it is wholesome but not prudish. It sounds, in other words, like something no child would ever eat. But mine did, in quantity.
The reason he did, I think, is my current chickpea cooking method, which is stolen from Melissa Clark: it involves a lot of salt and a lot of oil, some aromatics and a cheese rind, all added at the beginning. The bean broth is seriously salty and oily; the palate follows close behind, panting.
I know there are complicated debates about when salt and fat should be added to beans. (Before! After! Halfway! During the full moon!) But all the exegesis makes me dizzy. You know the duel in Raiders of the Lost Ark between Indiana Jones and the black-robed, sword-twirling villain, where Indiana wearily watches all the fancy swordwork—and then shoots him with a gun? That’s how it feels adding salt and fat at the beginning: unsporting, unfair, but undeniably effective.
This is a one-bowl dinner. (You do not need bread. Don’t get distracted.) Everything goes in the same bowl. Speaking of which, has anyone figured out why things mixed together on a plate can be deeply problematic, but things mixed together in a bowl pass without comment?
Don’t answer that. Right now, I need your help: freezer, meals, children, go.
Adapted from Zuppe by Mona Talbott (Little Bookroom, 2012)
Serves 6 to 8
1 pound chickpeas, dried
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
4 garlic cloves
2 onions, diced
3 carrots, diced
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 bunch kale, preferably Tuscan
3/4 cups pearl barley (or use a cup and a half and no farro)
3/4 cups farro (or use a cup and a half and no barley)
Photos by James Ransom