Living Below the Line: Penne with Spicy Tomato, Cauliflower and Chickpea Sauce

Look!  I actually managed to create something that tasted good!  It’s amazing how much better food tastes when you manage to avoid the ubiquitous frozen vegetables (note to self: cheap frozen vegetables have absolutely no taste and should be used as a bulk ingredient only – not a flavour one!), when you have just a bit of cooking fat, and when you get to use garlic and chilli at the same time.  Incidentally, I think chilli would be my secret weapon if I were living on a very low budget full time – it’s so incredibly cheap, and provides a good kick of flavour that is sadly lacking from a lot of this food.

While this dish really would be improved by a bit of parmesan, some olive oil, and just better seasoning all around, it’s actually quite fine as it is.  I will probably make this again, and there’s really not much I would change.


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skin from one chicken wing (or olive oil, if you are not living below the line)
175 g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 red chilli (2 if you can!)
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 brown onion, sliced
1 1/2 tins of chopped tomatoes (600g in total)
1 cup of water
3/4 of a cauliflower
450 g pasta

Now what will you do with it?

Well first, she says with an evil chuckle, you will make the schmalz.  True, you could try to caramelise your onion in water, but it’s really not going to be the same.  You do rather need oil of some kind.

To do this, chop up your chicken skin a bit (I didn’t do this, and it made the process much slower), and put it in a dry frying pan over low-medium heat.  It will render down fairly slowly – first the liquid comes out of the skin and then, slowly, you get a little bit of the fat. I recommend using a larger frying pan than seems reasonable, because you will want to fry the onions etc in it afterward – you are only going to get about half a teaspoon of schmalz, and transferring it to a larger pan will be impossible to do without losing half of it.

Once the chicken skin is very shrivelled and crispy and the fat has rendered (ie, there is liquid in the pan), remove the skin and either discard it or eat it (it’s like tiny, unhealthy chicken cracklings, and not half bad).

Add the garlic, onion and chilli to the pan with the schmalz, and add just a little bit of water, too.  Cook over medium heat until you have a good colour on the onion and it all smells pretty awesome.  (This is a technical term)  You can do this the day before making the sauce, by the way.  Keep them in the pan, though.  You might want that tiny bit of schmalz that is left later…


While this is all going on, you will have been cooking the chickpeas.  To do this, drain their soaking water, put them in a saucepan and cover them with cold water by about an inch.  Do not add salt. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until done.  If you soaked them for 12 hours, like I did, and they were fairly fresh to start with (as mine, apparently, were), they may cook to softness in twenty minutes, which is a big shock.  If you only soaked them for four hours and they are old and venerable chickpeas, they may take more like two hours.  Test them periodically to see how they are going.  I use the 7 times tables. No, actually, I use a fork.  Sorry, I’m a bit silly today.  Drain them when they are done.  You can also do this part ahead of time.

Put the caramelised onion mixture into a saucepan, and add the tinned tomatoes the cup of water, and the chickpeas (unless your chickpeas are really, really soft, in which case you will add them at the very end), and simmer for about twenty minutes.  You can add the salt now, too.

Now would be a good time to put the water on to boil for pasta!

Cut your cauliflower into florets and boil, steam or bake until al dente.  Transfer them to the pan in which you cooked the onions, and cook for a few minutes over a medium heat to try to pick up a bit of colour and flavour.  Add the tomato and chickpea sauce back in, and stir together.

Cook the pasta to your liking, and toss with the sauce and the cauliflower.

Serves 4.



The main variation I’d make to this would be to use olive oil instead of schmalz, and maybe serve it with a little grated parmesan.  It’s actually a pretty good recipe.  I might also add a little oregano and black pepper to the sauce, and would use a nicer quality of pasta and a cauliflower that wasn’t quite so soft and sad.  Tinned chickpeas (about 1 1/2 tins) would be a good substitute for dried, and wouldn’t make much of a difference in cost or flavour.

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