Springtime in Vermont is the inspiration for this verdant, unintentionally vegan dish. Its colors and flavors mimic the experience of what it’s like to step out the back door right now. Yards and fields are alive with buds, blooms, and blades of grass – all exuberant and exploding in what seems like fifty shades of green – while the final bits of last year’s spent, yellowed stalks are making way for the summer palette and warm days ahead. It all has me thinking how we see in the natural world has a way of informing our internal cravings. This must explain why I’m thinking a lot about spinach and chick peas these days.
So, on the one hand there’s good old Mother Nature – and a bunch of nearby farms – making me very hungry. But on the other, there’s a talented chef named Seamus Mullen whose cookbook Hero Food has found its way to my kitchen counter. Its recipes are luscious and the pictures appetizing. Mullen’s roots are here in Vermont but his primary culinary inspiration is the Catalan region of Spain – another place near and dear to my heart. He now runs the very successful, hopping Tertulia restaurant in New York and it’ll be the first place I visit next time I’m lucky enough to get to the City.
In the meantime, I feel like I’m getting a little taste of his cooking from the recipe below which is adapted from one in “Hero Food”. Mullen uses pea tendrils in his version but, as they say, “When nature gives you spinach, make a “Spring Baby Spinach Saute” (with a squeeze of lemon to finish it off).” That is what they say, isn’t it?
Spring Baby Spinach Saute with Chick Peas and Toasted Pine Nuts
I know pine nuts are expensive, but this recipe only calls for 1/4 cup of them, and their flavor makes such a difference in each bite of this dish. Don’t be tempted to substitute walnuts here because the results won’t be the same: the delicacy delivered from pine nuts is unique; each bite is full of a crunchy, buttery burst from their addition. The golden raisins add a sweet and surprising balance to the dish and the fresh lemon juice squeezed over everything at the end make it taste just so fresh. The original recipe calls for pea tendrils, but since we’re bursting at the seams here in Vermont with spinach right now, it only seems right to use what is so plentiful.
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups of cooked chick peas (garbanzo beans), preferably organic
1/2 pound baby spinach
1/4 cup golden raisins
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/4 to 1/2 lemon
Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the pine nuts to the pan (do not add olive oil yet). Let the pine nuts slowly begin to brown, shaking the pan frequently to prevent burning. After about 2-3 minutes, once they’ve lightly browned and smell nutty-buttery, add the olive oil, garlic and chick peas. Saute until the garlic begins to color. Toss in the spinach and raisins and cook, stirring, until the spinach just begins to wilt. Season generously with salt and pepper (remember: salt brings out the flavor in a dish!), drizzle with lemon juice and serve. This dish is lovely warm, at room temperature, and also served cold, as a snack. Though I enjoyed it with a salad on the side, this saute would make a perfect accompaniment to a simple roast chick with crusty baguette.