Something comforting: a plated dish

I really love stewed chickpeas. Actually I just love chickpeas in general. And luckily, I got to cook with them more often these days because I need them for their aquafaba. However, with all of the vegan meringue I have been making, I still need to get rid of the actual chickpeas themselves. So this dish is actually a perfect way of doing that. We have chickpeas that were stewed in tomato and spices, similarly to a shakshuka, chickpea popcorn that is sprinkled with za’atar spice, and then we have ricotta two ways, being in a gnocchi, and simply whipped, and radishes two ways, one being sliced, and the other being in an herb oil. And on top of that, to round out this Mediterranean flavor profile, I made my own take on merguez sausage, albeit a completely vegan alternative, using the same spices from merguez, but instead of actual meat, I used dried figs that were rehydrated in vegetable stock, and roasted pine nuts and mushrooms. I took inspiration from an old episode of Chopped, where contestant Lauren Gerrie took fig newtons and blended them with spices and baked them to make them taste like crumbled sausage. I adjusted the spicing to be more Mediterranean, using cumin, garlic, chilies and fennel or anise seed to take the figs and really impart a lot of aggressive, bold, savory flavors into it, just so that the figs are really there to act as a body and a texture as opposed to tasting like an actual fruit or being too sweet.

When it comes to this dish, it’s basically a shakshuka meets a cheese plate meets a pasta dish. There’s quite a bit going on in terms of the dish itself, since we have stewed chickpeas with za’atar chickpea popcorn, ricotta gnocchi, whipped ricotta, fig “merguez”, shaved radish, and radish-mint oil. The fig has synergy with the ricotta, as figs and cheese work well. The ricotta gnocchi just soak up the stewed chickpeas, while the chickpea popcorn adds crunch and works really with with contrasting the creamy ricotta on top. The radish is really there to add freshness and another crunch, while the herb oil adds another vibrant note to the dish, and breaks up the aggressive spicing between the stew and the merguez. It’s almost like three different dishes but they work together in harmony to create an entirely new dish. I named it “Something comforting” since it’s not a dish that anyone has quite had before, but despite that, it still has great flavors that work well together, and most importantly, it tastes comforting and warming, between there being pasta and a stewed element. There’s nothing really about this dish that is pretentious or uninviting, in my eyes.

For the chickpea stew:
3/4 cups chickpeas
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup vegetable stock
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon sumac
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon ghee
2 cloves of garlic
1 shallot, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Sweat out the garlic, shallot, bay leaves, spices, and chickpeas in the ghee first until the shallot is translucent. Hit with the tomato paste and stock, and then stir until the paste has dissolved into the liquid. Simmer with the lid on for 30 minutes. Take off the lid and reduce any liquid by about half, and add in your butter to finish.

For the whipped ricotta:
3 tablespoons ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon olive oil
a pinch of salt

Mix together.

For the herb oil:
1/4 cup mint leaves
1/4 cup radish leaves
1/3 cup canola oil
a pinch of salt

Blanch and shock the leaves first. Transfer to a blender and puree with the canola oil. Finish with salt and pass through a sieve to remove any solids.

For the fig “merguez”:
1/4 cup dried figs
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup vegetable stock
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup button mushrooms, pureed
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon dried cumin
1 teaspoon dried paprika
1 teaspoon chili flakes
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon anise/fennel seed
canola oil

Rehydrate the figs in the vegetable stock. Sweat out the garlic, pine nuts, and shallot with the spices(minus the anise seed) first, then add in the mushrooms and the figs. Allow to cook down by about half, and then puree in a food processor. Toast the anise seed in oil in a nonstick pan and add in your pureed mixture. Allow that to cook down on low heat until all of the liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally.

For the chickpea popcorn:
1/4 cup chickpeas
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon sumac
a pinch of salt
canola oil

Fry off the chickpeas in the oil first. Drain on a paper towel. Combine the other spices and sprinkle on top of the cooked chickpeas to finish.

For the ricotta gnocchi:
8 oz ricotta cheese
1/3 cup all-purpose flour + more for rolling
1/4 cup semolina flour
3 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese
1 egg white
a pinch of salt
a pinch of black pepper

Combine everything but flour first. Add in the flours and pour the dough onto a floured surface, dusting the surface of the dough to help it dry it slightly. Cut into 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch pieces. Poach in salted water for 3 minutes, or until they begin floating to the surface, and finish in the stewed chickpeas for 30 seconds.

To garnish:
Shaved radishes

To plate, start with the gnocchi on the bottom. Sprinkle on top the merguez and the popcorn. Quenelle on the ricotta. Garnish with shaved radishes. Take some of your shaved radish and mince finely, and toss in the herb oil to top.

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