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August 13, 2007

Garbanzo II: The Fry Boy Experience


The notion of fried beans usually prompts one to think of mashed pintos, topped with a little shredded cheese and usually served alongside a fried burrito and pitcher of green margaritas at a chain with a name like Tortilla Pete’s or La Cucaracha’s Cafe.


Let us bring down these walls of assumption, and broaden our thinking. The bean we call garbanzo may also be fried, left whole and served with pasta.


The garbanzo is better known by the name “chick”, which it’s most often called when left out on all-you-care-to-eat buffet lines at wacky, madcap chain restaurants with names like Flicky’s and Hobo Joe’s Laff Riot X-Press. You might pile them atop iceberg lettuce and alongside a spoonful of cottage cheese while waiting for the waitress to bring out your X-treme Cheeez-burger or your Bourbon Steak made of a hunk of beef soaked in genuine whiskey flavoring.


In its natural environment, however, the garbanzo prefers less wild and madcap surroundings, which is why it works so well as the main ingredient to hummus – a dish requiring copious amounts of lemon and garlic to turn it into something other than a bland off-white paste.


If properly cajoled, it can be coaxed out of its shell. Properly cajoled, that is.


The best way to do this is by heating it in a skillet with some olive oil. It’s important to use olive oil, because it is an oil familiar to it. Like anything suffering from a modicum of shyness, it prefers to come out of its shell with those that it knows and respects, and among the cooking oil, few are more loved and respected than olive oil.


Heat the olive oil in a thick skillet, and when it begins to warm – you will know this when you hold your hand over it and the bottom of your hand begins to feel warm – add some minced garlic and crushed red pepper. How much red pepper you add depends on two things – the strength of the peppers used to make it, and how much heat you want in the dish. It is well worth understanding, right now, that most people call this combination of bean, pepper and pasta “Thunder and Lightning,” and you should adjust amounts accordingly (if you use too little, it will be “Distant rumble of Thunder and Lighting.”


Now, gently fry your soft beans (either by using canned beans, which is an insult to everything good on Earth, or by the time-tested method of soaking and boiling in water with a little baking soda added), constantly stirring, until they begin to pop. When this happens, it will be obvious – you will hear a “popping” sound. You will know that you’ve arrived at this baby bear moment – it’s “just right” – when your garbanzo beans have a hue of golden brown. If you allow them to go too far, they will literally come out of their shells, leaving little translucent husks strewn about the bowl.


Turn your attention to your pasta. There is an old rule about pasta and pasta sauces. The noodle must fit the sauce, the sauce must fit the noodle. That is, if you have a smooth sauce, you should use a long noodle. If you use chunked sauce, you must use shorter, chunkier noodles.


The garbanzo bean, gently fried, is a small ball. It will want to be eaten with pasta of comparable size. Consider the small shell, which can make a cup for the ball-like fried garbanzo. Also consider rotini.


Boil water for the pasta, and cook 8-10 minutes for al dente. Drain into another pan and turn into a big bowl. The other pan could prove useful if, in your frying, you reduced your oil too far. It is a cheap way to introduce moistness without upsetting the mood too greatly. The water will still have the starchy goodness of the boiled pasta.


Mix the beans and pasta together, and add a handful of fresh-cut parsley. This will add not just the taste of the parsley, but will help break up what will be golden brown garbanzos, reddish brown pepper flakes, and yellowish pasta with some bright green. On top of this, you would be well advised to grate some fresh parmesan cheese.


Using a plastic spatula, fold everything in together and add some salt. If you have too little oil, you may use some of the pasta water held in reserve – but only sparingly – to turn the pasta and bean combination moist.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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