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 protected]