Soup weather, a.k.a. my favorite season, has arrived! Once the high dips below 90 for several days in a row, I consider it official. There are so many delectable soups to rustle up and dig into, though, and it's really hard for me, as a devoted soupster, to choose which to make first. This year, I settled on minestrone for its calming, vegetableish effects, but I had an ulterior motive...I wanted to try frying some chickpeas, and I decided they'd come in handy as a crunchy crouton for the soup. I'd planned to include chickpeas in my minestrone, so what could be easier than reserving a few chickpeas from the can and frying them up?
[fried chickpeas and red bean "bacon bits"]
Fried Chickpeas Are Forever, and the Red Bean Bacon Bit
Fried (or roasted) chickpeas are popping up everywhere these days, and it turns out, with good reason. They're incredibly tasty. On the inside, they get a little softer than they were when they hit the pan, but the outside gets so brown and crunchy. Hot out of the pan, drained on some paper towels, and sprinkled with salt and pepper, they're like a feather-light peanut. I'm going to make a lot of them this weekend to eat as snacks and a salad topping. I have to tell you about something else, though...after I reserved a few drained chickpeas to fry, I figured I'd do the same with some red kidney beans, just to try them out. So I fried some red kidney beans. The result was bizarre. They sputtered and popped wildly in the pan (I guess due to higher water content and a less structured shell), so much that I had to duck for cover. Their insides pretty much disintegrated. But what remained was a curly, ultra-crispy dark bean husk, that after I'd salted and peppered, when it was safe to approach the stove again, tasted a lot like a bacon bit. A red bean bacon bit, that is. I'm completely intrigued by the thought of sprinkling these bits over whatever's on a plate, but I've got to find a safer way to do it. All suggestions are welcome.
[assorted toppings: fried chickpeas, fried red beans, fried bread cubes, and crumbled bacon. Not pictured: grated parmesan]
This soup is truly versatile, so include whatever seasonal veggies you'd like, and feel free to add tomatoes (I just wasn't in the mood for them this time). Extra herbs are always welcome. When it comes to toppings, I hope you make as many crunchy bits as you feel inspired to; just keep in mind that the textures of the toppings really make a soup like this sing. It's like without toppings = Pat Boone, and with toppings = Adele. You get the picture.
chicken minestrone with crispy chickpeas
- 4 slices smoked bacon
- 1 cup diced white or yellow onion
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 1 huge carrot (or 2 small), diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 9 cups chicken stock
- 1 can (15 oz.) red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (set aside 2 tablespoons of beans to fry if you dare!)
- 1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed and drained (set aside 1/2 cup of beans to fry--or fry up a whole separate can, you won't be sorry)
- 2 cups (uncooked) whole wheat pasta shells or macaroni
- 2 cups chopped cooked chicken
- pinch red pepper flakes
- salt and black pepper to taste
- for toppings: 1/4 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 4 slices baguette or other bread (best if stale), grated parmesan cheese
- Heat a 5- to 8-quart soup pot over medium-high heat. Add bacon slices and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, and set aside. When cool, crumble into small pieces to use as a topping.
- To the bacon drippings, add onion, carrot, and celery. Saute for about 12 minutes, until vegetables start to soften. Add garlic and stir for one minute.
- Add thyme, rosemary, chicken stock, kidney beans, and chickpeas. Add about 1 teaspoon salt and bring the pot to a boil over high heat. When the liquid boils, add the pasta and reduce the heat to medium-high. Keep at a low boil (higher than a simmer) for about 12 minutes, uncovered, until the pasta is cooked (this cooking time should also finish softening the carrots).
- Stir in chicken and red pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm over low heat, covered, until your toppings are ready.
- For chickpeas: heat olive oil in a small to medium skillet over high heat (the amount depends on how many peas you're frying--definitely cover the surface of the pan, with a little tiny bit extra). Roll the reserved chickpeas between layers of paper towel to absorb all their surface moisture. Add them to the pan, stirring to coat with oil, then let them sit undisturbed for several minutes to crisp up and turn brown. Roll them around in the pan every few minutes. They could take 10 minutes to brown, or they could take 5--just watch them. When done, remove them with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate, and sprinkle with salt and pepper while still warm.
- For the kidney beans: if you're up to the challenge, fry these in the same manner as the chickpeas...at least that's what I did, and they tasted good, though the danger level was "uncomfortable." Let me know how it goes.
- For the bread: Cut the sliced bread into cubes, about 1" square (you can include crusts if you like). If the bread is still soft and fresh, dry the cubes out on a sheet pan in a 275 oven for a bit before you fry them. Reheat the oil left in the pan from the chickpeas until very hot. Toss in the bread cubes (in batches if necessary), and fry until they soak up a bunch of oil and get well-browned. Removed to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you fry the bread in batches, add more oil as necessary.
- To serve, top each bowl of soup with a little bacon, a little cheese, some fried chickpeas, and some fried bread.
- Swoon, or sing.
makes 6 servings