Espinacas con Garbanzos

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The first wedding anniversary gift theme is, traditionally, paper. Since I’ve already gifted Danny too many cookbooks, there were two ways to go with this: tickets to an event or a dinner reservation.

I reserved a couple of spots for us at a chef’s tasting menu in town.

And as I turned a couple of pages in a charming flipbook Danny made for me, I realized he had also made a dinner reservation for us. In Spain. On a hill in the Basque country at a restaurant where the food is described as “techno-emotional” and has been ranked as one of the best in the world.

My 11-year-old sister, Lila, put it plainly: Danny won. BFF, Katie: Danny is smooth AF. All true.

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The next day I stopped at a bookstore and picked up a travel guide to Spain. As I read about pintxos, the small snacks we’ll eat at Basque bars, I learned we’ll be treated to dishes fragrant with garlic and red pepper, and plenty of seafood from the nearby northern coast.

I decided to make dinner inspired by our future trip. Though the highlight awaits at Mugaritz in northern Spain’s San Sebastián, I am hoping we can also make it to Seville in the south, which is where we are likely to find espinacas con garbanzos (spinach and chickpea stew) on a tapas menu.

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(Hangman, because we played several rounds of it on bar napkins during our anniversary weekend in Asheville.)

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Chickpeas are one of my favorite beans for their nuttiness, texture, and versatility. This deceivingly simple stew with spinach elevates them with a couple of steps. There’s a garlic paste that transforms into a smoky, spiced sauce, which amps up crushed tomatoes. And there are raisins, which some people may be tempted to leave out. I grew up eating picadillo, a ground beef stew dotted with raisins, so I’ve loved the pop of sweetness against a savory dish ever since. The second time I made this, I increased the amount of raisins called for in the recipe.

I also nearly doubled the spinach since its volume always dwindles more than expected when cooked, and I used canned tomatoes and increased the amount as well. This becomes an easy weeknight meal with a side of crusty bread. Pop a few thick slices in the oven, and when they’re toasted, rub the bread with the cut side of a garlic clove. Serve it all with a caña—that’s beer in Spain—or a glass of vino tinto or vino blanco.

All we have right now is a dinner reservation in Spain. So Danny and I flipped through our travel guide and wondered aloud all the things we could do, in between bites of espinacas con garbanzos. We opened a bottle of white wine to toast to our future trip. It was a Verdejo, a grape variety from, of course, Spain.

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Espinacas con Garbanzos (Spinach and Chickpea Stew)

This will look like a lot of spinach at first, but it loses volume quickly. I liked how silky and soft the spinach became after wilting it and later simmering it with the chickpeas, but if you’d prefer your spinach to retain its color and a slightly firmer texture, feel free to stir in the spinach after simmering the chickpeas in the sauce.

Serves 4.

1 cup water
1 ¼ pounds fresh spinach
2 large garlic cloves
Kosher salt
Pinch of saffron threads
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of ground cloves (or cinnamon)
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
3 ½ to 4 cups cooked chickpeas (or two 15-ounce cans) with some of their liquid
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
28 ounces crushed or diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)
⅓ cup golden raisins
Crusty bread, for serving

Pour the water into a large deep skillet and bring to a boil. Add the spinach and cook over high heat, tossing frequently, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain the spinach in a colander set over a sink. Use a wooden spoon to press the spinach and release some of its excess liquid.

Mash the garlic to a paste with ½ teaspoon of salt and the saffron. You can do this using the flat side of a large knife, a garlic press or a mortar and pestle. Transfer the garlic paste to a small bowl. Add the paprika, cumin, cloves and black pepper and mash until combined. Stir in ¼ cup of the chickpea liquid.

Wipe the skillet clean using a paper towel, if necessary. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet and set to medium heat. Add the onion and cook to soften, about 2 minutes. Add tomato and spiced garlic sauce and cook over moderately high heat for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chickpeas, raisins and a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Add the spinach, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Transfer the chickpea stew to 4 deep bowls. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the bowls and serve with bread.

(Recipe adapted from Food & Wine.)

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