Paros is calling me. It seems as if every magazine I open lands upon an image of the out-of-this-world beautiful Greek island sat within the glittering Aegean Sea, a radio presenter name checked it late last week and, this weekend, a postcard fell out of an old Greek cookery book upon which I had written this recipe for this very special dish that originates from the village of Lefkes. Traditionally it is made in a skountavlo, a beautiful earthenware pot which is placed atop an open fire and left to cook for several hours. My version is oven roasted in a heavy bottomed cast iron casserole dish with a tightly fitting lid. Don’t be put off by the long cooking time – four hours! – save the recipe for a rainy day and enjoy the warm herby aromas all day long. The result is a dish of such deep flavour that it’s hard to reconcile it with its simplicity. The original version is slightly smoky from the fire so I add a scattering of smoked chilli flakes to the finished dish; also, the addition of the lemon here isn’t traditional but it lifts the dish beautifully and I really love it that way.
500g dried chickpeas
1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
1 large red onion, finely chopped
200 ml Kalamata extra-virgin olive oil
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground mixed peppercorns
1 lemon, zested and juiced (optional)
Smoked chilli flakes (optional)
How I make it
Place the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with water. Stir in the bicarbonate of soda and 1 tbsp of sea salt, cover and set aside overnight.
The following morning heat an oven to 200C.
Drain and rinse the soaked chickpeas and place in a large heavy bottomed casserole dish. Add all the other ingredients – except the lemon – and cover with cold water. Place the lid over the top and roast for 1 hour. Then turn down the heat to 150C and roast for another three hours, checking the water level after each hour to ensure that the chickpeas don’t dry out (they won’t do if you have a snug fitting lid).
Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for a few minutes. Mix in the lemon juice (if using), drizzle with plenty of olive oil and garnish with the lemon zest and the chilli flakes (if using). Eat warm or at room temperature as part of a mezze table.
Serve with plenty of freshly baked flatbread and whatever else you fancy on the side, here I’ve served it up with with coriander and lemon-baked feta scattered with crisp spring onions.