The first wedding anniversary gift theme is, traditionally, paper. Since I've already gifted Danny too many cookbooks, there were two ways to go with this: tickets to an event or a dinner reservation.
I reserved a couple of spots for us at a chef's tasting menu in town.
And as I turned a couple of pages in a flipbook Danny made for me, I realized he had also made a dinner reservation for us. In Spain. On a hill in the Basque country at a restaurant where the food is described as "techno-emotional" and has been ranked as one of the best in the world.
My 11-year-old sister put it plainly: Danny won.
The next day I stopped at a bookstore and picked up a travel guide to Spain. As I read about pintxos, the small snacks we'll eat at Basque bars, I learned we'll be treated to dishes fragrant with garlic and red pepper, and plenty of seafood from the nearby northern coast.
I decided to make dinner inspired by our future trip. Though the highlight awaits in northern Spain's town of San Sebastián, I am hoping we can also make it to Seville in the south, which is where we are likely to find espinacas con garbanzos (spinach and chickpea stew) on a tapas menu.
Chickpeas are one of my favorite beans for their nuttiness, texture and versatility. This deceivingly simple stew with spinach elevates them with a couple of steps. There's a garlic paste that transforms into a smoky, spiced sauce, which amps up crushed tomatoes. And there are raisins, which some people may be tempted to leave out. I grew up eating picadillo, a ground beef stew dotted with raisins, so I've loved the pop of sweetness against a savory dish ever since. The second time I made this recipe, I increased the amount of raisins called for.
I also nearly doubled the spinach since its volume always dwindles more than expected when cooked, and I used canned tomatoes and increased the amount as well. This becomes an easy weeknight meal with a side of crusty bread. Pop a few thick slices in the oven, and when they're toasted, rub the bread with the cut side of a garlic clove. Serve it all with a cana — that's beer in Spain — or a glass of vino tinto or vino blanco.
Ileana Morales Valentine lives in St. Petersburg with her husband. For more of their kitchen stories, visit her blog, ALittleSaffron.com. Say hello at email@example.com.