Friday’s Hot Tip: What’s Cookin? Penne with Spinach & Chickpeas

The hardest part about giving up a lot of wheat and gluten is giving up pasta. Fortunately there are several companies who have come up with rice pasta. Tinkyada makes excellent gluten-free pasta but at $3.99 or more a bag, it can be quite expensive. I buy Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Pasta and find it to be just as good. By using rice pasta I don’t have to stop making my favorite pasta dishes, such as this incredibly delicious penne with spinach, chickpeas and tomatoes tossed in an olive oil-based sauce.

This recipe is a very slight variation on one I got from Kirsten over at NilsenLife. I love chickpeas and especially love them in this dish, which is so full of garlicky tomato-y chickpea goodness that I often eat more than I should in one sitting. I use baby spinach leaves instead of frozen – while I’m loving spinach more now as an adult, I still have issues with frozen spinach. It’s just not aesthetically pleasing.

Earlier this week I visited Kirsten at her home and we briefly discussed our love of this dish. We were in agreement about the addictive qualities of this dish, but couldn’t quite define what makes it so…craveable. The olive oil? The garlic? The combination of flavors? Whatever it is, this pasta dish is well worth turning on the stove for, even during these hot summer days. Pro tip: if you have leftovers, try them cold or at room temperature – still tastes fabulous.

Penne with Spinach and Chickpeas in Garlic Sauce

5-6 oz. loose fresh spinach OR 1 small pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed
8 oz. penne pasta
1/3 C olive oil
3-6 garlic cloves (depending on how garlicky you like your food, or if you are trying to ward off vampires)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
1 15-oz can of chickpeas, drained but not rinsed
Kosher salt & ground pepper
1/4 C grated Parmesan (optional)

Clean spinach, discard stems. (Chop leaves if they are on the large side.) Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 2 minutes. (Don’t let the garlic burn!) Add the tomatoes and chickpeas and cook 2 minutes more. Add freshly ground pepper for added zing. Throw in the chopped spinach, add kosher salt and stir well. Turn off the burner and allow the spinach to cook on its own – it will be much fresher & bright green in color.

When the pasta is done, drain it thoroughly. Add pasta to saucepan or mix pasta with sauce in a separate bowl. Sprinkle on the Parmesan, and toss again. You can have this pasta without the Parmesan if you have issues with dairy products, but the cheese adds another lovely flavor to the dish.

Serves 3-4 (Pro tip: use entire bag of penne and spinach if you’re feeding a larger group.)

From My First Breath*

“So, does Sacramento feel like home?” T-Wizzle asked me. It was the third time she’d asked me that question in the last three months. And for the third time I couldn’t give her a clear answer.

For many years I haven’t felt a sense of home in the way that others do. I will remain longer than I should in apartments and townhouses that do not meet my needs, but I also avoid making investments in furniture until absolutely necessary. I have never hung drapes or curtains, and I have never done major remodeling. I bought a house with Mr. X but we never got around to decorating it. We didn’t build knee walls or repaint bathrooms in an attempt to make the house truly ours; we never quite made that house our home.

But I have also designed and planted a garden, much to the surprise of others – and myself, to be honest. More recently, I installed a new shower head in my apartment and, when I discovered how easy it actually was, I cursed my narrow-mindedness for not installing one in the last place I lived. I have hung pictures around the apartment and installed shelving in my kitchen to accommodate my pots and pans. Between these tasks and getting involved in the community, I do have more of a sense of home than I ever had when I was living in Southern California. In many ways my new town reminds me a lot of where I grew up on the East Coast. But it’s still not quite home.

Because while decorating a kitchen and installing shower heads can mean one considers a place to be home, I don’t believe that material goods create that feeling of home, that sense of this is where I belong. That feeling comes from something much deeper. Home is that elusive smell in the air in the town where you were born. It’s recognizing the once-vacant lot where you once played ball with your friends. It’s holding on to the belief that the world you knew at the age of five is the biggest, widest, most fabulous world that ever was, or ever will be.

Last night I was with Pops, Aunt Gigi and Uncle Roy as they found their childhood home. I listened quietly as they recounted stories from their early years: stories of dollhouses and comic books, neighborhood friends and schoolhouse bullies. I saw Roy beaming with bliss at the discovery that the  built-in milkbox he remembered playing with as a toddler was, indeed, exactly where he remembered it was.

And even though I never lived in that neighborhood or spent time in that house as a child, in that moment, I felt home, too.

This post was inspired by Kirsten’s entry for the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival, hosted by Peter Pollock.

*The title of this post comes from a line in a Depeche Mode song, “Home.”