Monday, June 22, 2009

Chickpea Fries with Romesco Sauce

Louis and I had our 10th wedding anniversary back in March. My mom offered to take Ella for the whole weekend, so Louis and I went off to celebrate in the way that we usually do. By eating lots of good food and drinking lots of good wine, in a beautiful place. Arguably, one of the best places in the country to do such things is the Napa Valley. A year or so ago I had imagined that a 10th wedding anniversary would be a great time to go to the French Laundry. But as the time approached for me to try my hand at winning the lottery (a.k.a booking a reservation at the French Laundry), I just could not justify spending that amount of money on one meal. Not when there were so many different places that I wanted to try.

One of the places that I had been wanting to go to is Ubuntu. Ubuntu was recently named one of the ten best new American restaurants by the New York Times and the chef nominated for a James Beard Award. Ubuntu is a vegetarian restaurant with a yoga studio upstairs. As you eat you can see the silhouettes of people doing yoga poses. It is all quite fitting to the nature of the food. The food forces you to be in the moment. To experience the essence of the artfully prepared vegetables. But I guess if you're not in the mood to experience the wonder of biodynamically farmed vegetables you might be pissed off that you just spent $12 for a pile of radishes with a few slices of cheese. But I loved it. I appreciate when dishes are prepared thoughtfully and reverence is given to the ingredients used.

Although Ubuntu excels with their use of vegetables, one of my favorite dishes on the menu was the Chickpea Fries with Romesco Sauce. Chickpea fries are made with garbanzo bean flour and the batter is actually very similar to polenta. In fact, I think I prefer it to polenta. The garbanzo bean flour has a sweet earthy quality and a creamy texture. I haven't tried it grilled yet, but the fried version is delicious. It develops a delicately crisp crust that I found totally addictive.

I made some chickpea fries recently when some friends came for dinner. I realized the following day that I hadn't put the memory card in my camera when taking pictures of dinner. Fortunately the Foodie Hunter was also capturing some lovely images with her camera. She posted some photo's and had some very lovely words as well. I have to say that the most I can ask for when preparing food for others is that they "get" the food. I never haphazardly throw a menu together. I definitely put thought into what I feed people. I take their preferences into account. I also consider the weather and which fruits and vegetables are at their peak. Overall, I try to convey a mood through my food. I think most people would agree that I'm a good cook, but to me, the highest praise comes when someone actually understands my food and my process. So I would like to thank the Foodie Hunter for her understanding. She will always be welcome at my table. This particular menu ended up being:

Grilled Asparagus and Chickpea Fries with Romesco Sauce
Grilled Salmon with a Balsamic Butter Sauce on a bed of Sautéed Corn and Shitake Mushrooms
Honey Roasted Apricots with a Chez Panisse Almond Tart and Olive Oil Ice Cream

Chickpea Fries
Adapted from Ubuntu via Oprah Magazine

1 ¼ cups chickpea flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 clove garlic, finely grated on microplane
1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons parsley chopped
vegetable oil for frying

In a stainless steel pot over high heat, combine chickpea flour, cornmeal, 3 1/2 cups of cold water, garlic and salt. Whisk gently to prevent sticking on the bottom.

Once the mixture begins to thicken and bubble ( after about 3-4 minutes), reduce heat to medium and switch to a rubber spatula. Stir constantly and scrape the bottom of the pot to prevent scorching. Add the parsley. Continue cooking for 6-8 minutes. Taste and correct for seasoning. Lightly oil a 13x9 inch baking dish and pour in the batter. Spread the mixture out evenly and top with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 4 hours until completely cold and set.

Cut into "fries" about 3 inches long. Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a non-stick pan to 375F. If the oil isn't hot enough, the fries will soak up too much oil and fall apart. Cook until the fries are golden brown on all sides, about 2 minutes each on top and bottom sides. Remove and set on paper towels. Sprinkle with kosher salt to taste and serve with romesco sauce.

Serves 4-6

Romesco Sauce

Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Romesco sauce is great as a sauce for vegetables and fish. I usually serve it in place of cocktail sauce with poached shrimp. It can also be mixed with a bit of mayonnaise for a romesco aioli.

½ ounce raw almonds (about 2 tablespoons)

1 ounce hazelnuts (1/4 cup)

½ cup coarsely chopped tomatoes

1 red bell pepper roasted peeled and chopped

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 ancho chili

2-3 garlic cloves peeled

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, more to taste

1 teaspoon hot paprika

½ teaspoon mild paprika


Preheat oven to 325F

Roast the hazelnuts until the skins darken and start to split, 10-15 minutes. While they are still hot, bundle them in a towel, then scrunch and massage them to rub off most of their skins. Pick out the nuts and set aside.

Turn the oven to broil. Spread the tomatoes ½ inch thick in a small, shallow baking dish. Trickle with a little of the olive oil and place under the broiler. Cook until the tomatoes char slightly and bubble. Remove fro the broiler.

Meanwhile, pour a few cups of boiling water over the chili and leave to swell for a few minutes. Drain, then stem and seed the pepper.

Thickly slice the garlic, then pound to a paste in a mortar. Scrape into a processor and add the chili, almonds, and hazelnuts. Grind to a fine, moist paste, scraping the sides. Scrape the tomatoes and pepper and process to a paste. Add the vinegar, paprika, the remaining oil and salt to taste. Taste again adding more salt and vinegar to taste. It should be bright with acidity, otherwise it may taste a little flat or bitter.


  1. THAT was a delicious meal. I love summer-- and apricots.

    And yeah, I'm not a huge banana fan, but the banana "cream" pie was pretty good, so it wasn't ALL politeness. (But I liked the key lime better... ;-)

  2. everything was absolutely wonderful that evening...and i feel very honored to be welcomed at such an amazing table!

  3. That is a most wonderful menu but the thing that I am most intrigued by is the chickpea fries with romanesco sauce.
    I am looking froward to making these and I know my Sicilian boyfriend (who has a passion for all things chickpea) will be an extremely happy man with these in front of him.
    lovely photos by the way.