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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pasta Shells with Chickpeas and Hominy

Mollie Katzen is a great vegetarian cook and cookbook writer.  I've had her book Vegetable Heaven for years and have many recipes in it that are old standards, along with a few I'm not so fond of.  Actually, I've had the book for such a long time that looking through it the other day with fresh eyes made me see recipes I didn't even realize were there.  Like this one, which she called "Pasta Shells with Chickpeas and an Unexpected Ingredient."  I was intrigued.  The secret ingredient was...

...hominy.  Oh.

Well, that's fine.  There's nothing wrong with hominy.  I just was expecting something a little more interesting.  Or exotic.  But I like hominy; especially the way that it tastes and even looks a bit like hard, wet popcorn.  So we gave it a go for Meatless Monday.

Pasta Shells with Chickpeas and Hominy

1 (15-oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 (15-oz) can white or yellow hominy, rinsed and drained
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 lb fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
3/4 lb medium-sized (1-inch) pasta shells
1/4 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
Coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground pepper

1.  Combine chickpeas, hominy, olive oil, garlic, balsamic vinegar, salt, herbs, and mozzarella in a large bowl.  Stir, cover tightly, and let stand at room temperature.  Marinade for up to 8 hours.

2.  Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling water until it is tender.  Drain thoroughly, and add it to the chickpea mixture in the bowl.  Toss well from the bottom, sprinkling grated cheese and chopped parsley as you go.  Grind in a generous amount of black pepper, and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. 

The Verdict:  Good, but I'd rather it be a side than the main event.

The herbs and vinegar are what make this recipe.  While pasta, chickpeas, hominy and mozzarella all taste good, none of them are highly flavorful foods.  They seem to be a blend of different blands.  In some ways, they work better standing alone as their mellow tastes don't stand out too much when competing with one another.

Hominy was not a hit with my son.  He wanted to try it as soon as I opened the can because, I'm sure, it looks like a fun food.  Almost like a can of tiny snowballs.  But whatever he was imagining it would taste like, it didn't.  He chewed, made a perplexed face, then immediately spit it out in dramatic toddler fashion.  I guess to him it was the "unexpected ingredient" to which Mollie Katzen refers--unexpectedly disgusting.

I think this dish would be great to bring along to a barbecue.  Which, I sheepishly admit, means bringing it to sit along side a big, juicy burger.  Ironic, as it was my Meatless Monday choice.  But it just doesn't have enough going on for me to be a main course.

Just as an aside, I used tri-color shells.  I mention this because the photo looks like a bowl of pasta salad with orange peels.  That's tomato pasta shells.  Boy, wouldn't it be nice to have a professional food photographer to go along with this blog?  My husband would love that, as he already complains that every dinnertime is like a CSI: Kitchen episode with all the flashbulbs.

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