Dear readers, for the first time ever, I am writing a recipe. The dish is green garbanzo soup, a real seasonal palate-stunner. I invented it last weekend, when my girlfriend and I elected to have some friends over for dinner. Since we both were going to be busy during the day preceding the occasion, we shopped and did much of the cooking the night before. After drinking a few beers at the 500 Club and watching the wurst (Germany) come up short against the hams (Spain), I strolled down to Bi-Rite to rustle up ingredients: for the soup, a huge bag of garbanzos in their fuzzy green shells, a quart of chicken stock, a head of garlic, a leek, and way more hazelnuts than I needed. I had butter and good olive oil at home. I’d also stumbled across a few threads of tired-looking saffron tucked away in a cupboard.
I was all set. We had lots of dishes to prepare, of course, but the night before I was focused on crafting an enticing, verdant elixir with which to prime the appetites of our guests — prior to the impending assault of assorted cheeses, breads, olives, pickled peppers, octopus and tomato salad, roasted corn relish, watermelon with salt, and two bastardized briks — one with ancho-and-roasted tomato-stewed heritage pork, currants, and cilantro, and the other with morels, thyme, feta, beet greens, chard, and kale.
From green garlic shoots, to slender asparagus, to sweet early-season cherry tomatoes, I have, with regard to the realm of edible vegetation, a tendency to prize fresh young things. When I saw the green garbanzos nestled like weird little grubs in a big basket in the Bi-Rite produce case, I was consumed by the desire to harness their youth, pea-like flavor, and agreeably grassy pallor, and express them fully and vigorously in a simple yet well-calibrated dish. To work such magic, I began by chopping the leek and letting it slowly fall apart in a pot glazed over with a half-stick of butter. Meanwhile, I roasted four unpeeled cloves of garlic on a hot, dry cast-iron skillet, just the way Rick Bayless taught me. When the peels were flaking off, the exterior blackened in places, and the cloves delectably squishy to the touch, I turned off the burner, let them cool, peeled them, and stirred them into the pot with the creamy, cooked-down leeks. I added the stock, about a quart of water, and the saffron. Then, I realized I had forgotten to separate the beans from their pods. Cursing, I turned off the other burner, grabbed the bag of beans, and got to work.
About an hour, two beers, and two-and-a-half episodes of Eastbound and Down later, I shelled the last bean and headed back to the kitchen. When I heated up the pot again, I realized I’d severely misjudged the amount of beans I’d need. Each relatively large pod contains just one or two tiny pellets. I would have required a wheelbarrow to haul the quantity of beans I truly needed, and an entire television series to make shelling so many bearable. Cursing, I flung open the fridge. I would have to improvise. I spied half a head of cauliflower. The beans would, I thought, dance prettily with such fair white curds as a partner. I hacked the cauliflower up rather brutally and tossed it in the pot with the beans for a steamy dip. Fifteen minutes later, after a nice simmer, everything was tender. I turned off the heat and added salt and pepper.
That’s when I started — as Dave Chappelle would say — f**king up. Using a small, lidless blender better suited to smoothie-making instead of a food processor (ours fell prey to mold a few months ago), I tried to do the soup in four or five very small batches, covering the top with a plate. This was happening after 11:00 p.m., around the time I become capable of doing nothing besides sleeping, drinking, or watching movies requiring little intellectual investment. I should not have been cooking really, much less handling hot liquids. I accidentally pressed the “liquify” button instead of “puree”, and a surge of pale green came bubbling up, rattling the plate, sending a steaming froth cascading out and across the table and floor. I screamed like a small spoiled child, clutching my seared right forearm with my left hand, also incidentally very badly burned. Sickly drops flecked the wall next to the blender. I suddenly realized the front of my shirt was hot, wet, and green. Cursing, I dived for a towel. After mopping up what I could see in my exhausted haze, I limped off to bed.
I awoke to find a trail of ants the size and shape of a patch of body hair churning around the area of floor I’d soiled with soup and failed to properly clean. On the other hand, once strained, the soup — now cool and the appealing color of green tea ice cream — tasted fantastic — rich and lively, with depth provided by the roasted garlic and the chicken stock, texture courtesy of butter and my hapless blender, the beans and cauliflower intertwined in a nutty, herbaceous, harmonious embrace. Later that night, we would serve it in tiny to-go espresso cups with toasted hazelnut crumbles, finely chopped parsley, and neat drizzles of olive oil. I botched the first cup by accidentally dumping in about a shot or two of oil — and cursed — but the rest turned out fine — once I let the lady handle the pouring. Out in the dining room, conversation paused. Everyone was quiet, sipping away. My hand and forearm throbbed a little bit. I was sweating under my apron. So much shelling, so much spilling, so much cursing — and yet the soup managed to hold. It was good, the way I’d wanted it to be. Things don’t always fall apart. The process of creating something so simple and easy might have been unnecessarily tortured and chaotic, but the result, blessedly, was pure and refined, even serene — swirling green peace in the bottom of a soup spoon.