On the second shelf of my pantry, next to the soy and Worcestershire sauces, sit two cans of garbanzo beans. Those two cans are permanent fixtures. If I use one, the next trip to the grocery store I buy two more, because if I were ever to be caught in the kitchen without garbanzo beans, I'd be like a fisherman without his line. Those nights when I arrive home after a long day at work (plus, a stop at Target and the library)--when I'm too weary to bread, brown, and bake anything as sophisticated as chicken alla parmigiana and my hunger is too impatient to let frozen fish defrost--I'd have to resign myself to cheese and crackers. With garbanzo beans in the cupboard, though, I don't have to stoop so low. The simple slip of the can opener around the sealed edges of a tin can means that dinner is no more than 20 minutes away.
I dice an onion, wiping away the tears, then a red pepper, and if I have it, a carrot. Into a pan of hot, shimmering oil olive, I throw all three, letting them soften and begin to brown. Then, I add the beans, shaking the pan and tossing them in olive oil and vegetables. The heat penetrates and the beans begin to brown and pop. That's when I pour a lightly beaten egg into the mixture, sprinkling in salt, cracked pepper, and flecks of freshly chopped parsley. I first learned of fried garbanzo beans in Spain. Often when mamitas have rehydrated too many beans for their midday chorizo and garbanzo stews, they'll use the extras to make a quick dinner just like mine. Or sometimes, they'll add onions, spinach, and sausage for a more meaty dish. But the idea is always the same: quick, healthy eats. Over the years, garbanzos have become my go-to meal when I need something fast. My friends, I know, have similar favorites. The Puebloan always has enchilada sauce on hand so that he can quickly dip his tortillas in it, before filling them with sautÃ©ed beef, and topping them with a fried egg for an easy Southwestern supper. The well-traveled Russian has a way with Asian ingredients. Whatever she has in the fridge gets served over rice noodles. Having an in-a-hurry meal standby is like having a friend you can count on to pick you up when your car breaks down. And since it's so darn important, I suspect, that most home cooks have one. What's yours?