Back in my twenties, my drink of choice was a vodka soda, clean and crisp with a slice of lemon. My thirties witnessed a turn toward wine, as befits a stint in Paris. And now that I’m entering my forties—which, for the record, hasn’t happened yet, but is coming soon enough, EGADS—I have a new drink: dry sherry. Yes, it’s the favorite of vicars, old biddies, and the Crane brothers, scoff all you like. The true secret is that sherry is full of golden, nutty, caramel notes and it’s delicious. It’s also an ideal drink to accompany tapas, such as smoky Spanish chickpeas with spinach. AND it’s one of the few aperitifs that can be described as a tipple, which is really quite titillating.
Sherry is produced in the Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO (Denominación de Origen) of Andalusia, Spain, which is reflected in its Spanish name, vino de Jerez. Unlike regular wine, it’s fortified: a strong distilled spirit is added to the cask after fermentation, and the alcohol content increases with aging. As I learned in Talia Baiocchi’s new book, Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret, sherries span a wide spectrum, from delicate—fino, dry and pale—to heavy—Oloroso, dark and rich (and my favorite). And, yes, sometimes they’re sweet—as in the case of Harvey’s Bristol Cream—though Baiocchi—who is a wine writer and editor-in-chief of the terrific online drinks magazine PUNCH—gives these blended sherries wide berth, generally filing them under the “Mistakes in Alcohol Consumption folder.”
With chapters on everything from production to consumption (e.g. cocktail recipes), Sherry offers an extremely detailed look at a very complex wine. It also includes a wealth of addresses for sherry towns and producers, and I suspect it would make an excellent travel guide to the region. I appreciated the practical advice on storing open sherry (best in the fridge), glassware (she recommends stemmed white wineglasses, though I love my vintage ware), and food pairings. Baoicchi offers an old Andalusian saying: “Fino and manzanilla if it swims, amontillado if it flies, and oloroso if it walks.”
Of course, no discussion of sherry would be complete without tapas, which allegedly originated in Andalusia’s taverns. The book offers a few recipes, but I was captured by the “garbanzos con espinacas”—a stew of chickpeas and spinach enrichened with breadcrumbs, smoked paprika, and the bitter bite of fine olive oil.
The recipe comes from New York City chef Alexandra Raij, who was inspired by a dish at El Rincóncillo, Sevilla’s oldest bar, founded in 1670. “This simple chickpea, spinach, and bread stew has long been one of the bar’s specialities,” writes Baiocchi, “and no matter whether it is hot outside, the long bartop is always littered with steaming plates of it.” The dish starts with dried chickpeas (making it a perfect candidate for a pantry cleanout); breadcrumbs are toasted in garlic-flavored olive oil, and then pounded into the chickpea broth, creating a thick, creamy sauce that’s heightened by a generous scoop of smoked paprika. The tender beans and chopped spinach are suspended in this luscious sauce.
It’s a simple meal and crusty bread is a great accompaniment—though one day I’d love to spoon it over garlic-rubbed toast. And to drink? Sherry, of course.
Smoky Spanish chickpeas with spinach
Adapted from Sherry by Talia Baiocchi
8 oz dried chickpeas, washed, sorted, and soaked overnight
1 onion, halved
1 carrot, peeled
1 head garlic, plus 3-4 smashed cloves
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 10-oz package frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
In a large pot, combine the chickpeas, onion, carrot, and head of garlic, then add enough cold water to cover everything by at least 4 inches. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that arises. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the chickpeas are tender and creamy, about 2 hours. (I usually cover the pot and simmer in the oven at 325ºF.) Drain the chickpeas and reserve the liquid. Discard the vegetables.
In a large, clean pot, heat five tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic cloves and stir until the garlic turns golden and fragrant. Remove the garlic. Add the panko breadcrumbs to the hot oil, stirring until golden, about 4 minutes.
Add the paprika, cumin, and cayenne, then 2 cups of the chickpea cooking broth. Over a high flame, boil the mixture, stirring vigorously to break up the breadcrumbs. Cook until the liquid evaporates, the mixture is dry, and the breadcrumbs start to stick to the pan—about 10 minutes. Add another 2 cups of chickpea broth. Stir briskly, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring often, until the sauce is smooth and creamy, like a roux—about 10 minutes—adding dashes of fresh water if the sauce becomes too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Add the chickpeas and spinach to the sauce and heat the mixture through. Taste again, and season if needed. Serve drizzled with high quality olive oil.