A couple of weekends ago Munchkin Granny and I did an Italian vegetarian cookery course at the Vegetarian Society's Cordon Vert Cookery School. I used to see adverts for this school in the back of the old vegetarian cooking magazines which disappeared years ago, and always thought that you must have to be terribly well-off and serious about cooking to go on one. Well, roll forwards fifteen years, and there were MG and I, aprons on, hair tied back, sitting round a shiny metal table in the pro kitchen at the Cordon Vert (and for the record, we're neither terribly well-off nor serious cooks). We'd picked an Italian day, partly because the date worked out well, but partly because we both really like Italian food. We had an introductory talk from the tutor, and then between the group of about 9, cooked a three-course meal which we all shared, family style, at the end of the day. We all made pasta, which I've made before at home, but never so successfully, and divided the other dishes up between us. MG made a lemon risotto cake, and I did a tomato sauce for the pasta, and a Mediterranean chickpea salad. Other dishes included stuffed peppers, baked fennel in cream, focaccia. spicy courgettes, and for dessert, a really yummy marinated boozy orange dish with chocolate vegan ice cream and biscotti. The whole meal was really lovely and we all left weighed down with the amount of food we'd eaten, and full of enthusiasm to get back to our own kitchens.
I haven't tried making pasta again since then, but I was tempted to revisit the chickpea salad. On the day of the course I had made it exactly as the recipe stated, but at home I fiddled around a little. My first substitution was to replace celery with red pepper (neither of us likes celery), and the second was to reduce the oil in the dressing from 4 tablespoons to 1. To be honest, I think that the best would be somewhere between 2 and 4. The 4 Tbsp version did coat the salad more satisfyingly than the reduced oil one, although you still got the zingy flavours of capers, lemon and garlic which are sauted in it in my version. I suppose in my one the dressing was more like a garnish, but either way, the flavours in the dressing are what make the main salad ingredients really come together and stand out. I made it for lunch when Scientist Sister and family popped by and it was a hit with everyone. I had to serve the olives on the side to appease The Scientist's palate, but a little self-assembly never hurt anyone.
I'm sending this Italian salad to Jacqueline and Lisa for this month's round of No Croutons Required, which has 'Mediterranean' as its theme.
Italian Chickpea Salad (adapted from the Cordon Vert School's Italian workshop)
1 Tbsp olive oil (or more)
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp capers, drained and chopped
1 Tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1/2 Tbsp dried red chilli flakes
1 lemon, grated rind and juice
1 can chickpeas, drained
6 sundried tomatoes, rehydrated (or from a jar)
half a pepper, chopped small
sliced green olives, to taste
1 bag mixed salad leaves, including rocket
1. Heat the oil in a small pan, adding the garlic, capers, parsley, chillies and grated lemon rind. Saute for 2 minutes.
2. Place the chickpeas, sundried tomatoes, pepper and olives in a bowl. Pour the garlic mixture and 1 Tbsp lemon juice over them.
3. Arrange the salad leaves in a serving bowl and add the chickpea salad.