In Scout’s How to Cook Vancouver series, we will be striving to combine our addiction to dining out with our passion for cooking by challenging ourselves to make Vancouver’s best restaurant dishes in our own homes.
Campagnolo has both the pre- and post-drinking snack game on lockdown (downstairs for civil pre-drink eats, upstairs for freewheeling post-drink eats, obviously). Nothing preps you for a night of beer-crawling or wine-slinging like something crunchy, salty, yet somehow substantial and nourishing. I always feel terribly virtuous tucking into those burnished chickpeas amidst my first glass of the night and feeling the punchy zing of just-enough lemon, the slow-growing undercurrent of chile, and the brightness of mint singing on my tongue. After all, adulting is just about treating your stomach better prior to alcohol ingestion (okay, also making better wine choices, that helps significantly). Although Campagnolo’s recipe for the original crispy ceci is accessible online, the joy of my home-cooked rendition comes from the rapid simplicity of this dish.
No overnight soaking of dried chickpeas and no deep-frying, two steps that, while amazing in a restaurant environment, feel somewhat prohibitive for a dish that is so perfectly craveable on a Tuesday post-work (and post-stiff drink). My changes come inspired by the unflappable Alison Roman and her frighteningly easy weeknight herbed chickpea dish. Swap out a few ingredients for Camp’s Italian flavour palette and tweak the prep to maximize chickpea crispiness and boom: a home cook-friendly, weeknight favourite homage to my forever bar snack is born. Will the chickpeas be exactly as crispy as you remember them at Campagnolo? I mean, no, of course not – not deep-frying something will never give you as much crunch as something that was intended to be submerged in bubbling oil, but you will certainly still feel accurate in labeling these as being crispy (just not deep-fried crispy). As a final note – you may notice that I ask for “good-quality” chickpeas, which is just basically my way of saying “maybe don’t buy the chickpeas that cost literally 99 cents when the entire bulk of your recipe is reliant on chickpeas?” Just a thought.
Serving note: To upgrade from the world’s best pre-drinking snack to an actual meal, you could swap out the spinach-lined shallow bowl for a plate and serve the ceci over a thick swoop of labneh or greek yogurt, with grilled bread on the side for scooping. Popping a couple of jammy soft-boiled or lacy-edged fried eggs on top would also never be discouraged.
Serves 4 as a side or starter (but 2 hungry people could easily demolish it as dinner).
1 28-oz can good-quality chickpeas (or ~1 ½ 19-oz cans)
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large lemon, finely zested and juiced + extra wedges for serving
2 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
¼ cup finely chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
¾ cup baby spinach, lightly packed + an extra handful for serving
Red chile flakes, to taste
Plenty of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Directions | Drain and rinse the chickpeas thoroughly in a fine-mesh strainer or colander. Lay out ~3 feet of paper towel on your workspace then repeat so you have a long, double-thick layer of paper towel ready. Shake the rinsed chickpeas onto the prepared towel and use another length of paper towel to rub them completely dry. Be quite vigorous in your rubbing as you want to both dry the chickpeas and also flake off some of the looser skins. Once the chickpeas are dry, start picking off the loose skins left behind. I know this seems like a fussy instruction but removing some of the loose, coarse skins ensures more crispiness in the absence of deep-frying. By no means am I expecting all of the skins to be removed – just pick away all of the loosened ones. Shake the prepped chickpeas into a large, cold skillet along with the smashed garlic, olive oil, and a generous amount of salt and pepper. I use a 12-inch cast-iron skillet and it works a treat; you should be aiming for a single layer of chickpeas to ensure even browning. Set the pan over medium heat and don’t touch for at least 5 minutes.
In the meantime, ensure that your remaining ingredients are assembled and at the ready. Your greens should all be chopped and measured out, and the lemon should be finely zested and juiced. When the chickpeas begin sizzling loudly, start stirring them occasionally (every 3-5 minutes or so), always settling them back into an even single layer after tossing. When the chickpeas are splitting and have turned a gorgeous golden hue (~20 minutes total, but could be more or less depending on your stove’s fortitude), turn off the heat but leave the pan on the element. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, letting the juice sizzle a bit in the hot pan. Add in the scallions, chopped herbs, baby spinach, and 1 (or several) pinch(es) of chile flakes. Toss well, taste, and season with additional salt, pepper, lemon, and/or chile flakes as needed (keep in mind, Camp’s ceci are lemon-forward and the heat tends to build bite-by-bite). The spinach should wilt slightly but not completely shrivel up. Serve the chickpeas immediately by laying another handful of spinach in a large shallow dish/bowl and spooning the chickpeas overtop. Provide lemon wedges for additional acidity, plus of course, all of the wine.