Versatile Chickpea Stew

2 pounds dried chickpeas -- (about 5 cups)
4 fresh thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves
1 large rosemary sprig
5 large garlic cloves -- minced
5 carrots -- cut 1/2" pieces
4 inner celery ribs -- cut 1/4" pieces
3 onions -- cut 1/4" dice
1 pound salt pork -- quartered
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped parsley
4 thick slices crusty toasted garlic bread
Freshly-ground black pepper -- to taste
Freshly-grated Parmesan cheese

Place the chickpeas in a large bowl; pour in warm water to cover by 4 inches. Soak for 24 hours; drain.

Transfer the chickpeas to a large soup pot; pour in fresh water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil; boil for 10 minutes, skimming from time to time. Drain.

Return the chickpeas to the pot and add 18 cups cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Bundle together the thyme, bay leaves and rosemary; tie with kitchen string. Add this bouquet garni and the garlic to the pot. Reduce heat; simmer for 30 minutes.

Add carrots, celery, onions and salt pork; simmer for 30 minutes. Add salt; simmer until the chickpeas are very tender and the liquid is cloudy and slightly thickened, about 2 hours total cooking time.

Fifteen minutes before the chickpeas are done, remove the salt pork. Finely chop and reserve all the meat. Finely dice a small piece of the fat and add to the meat. Discard remaining fat.

When the chickpeas are cooked, discard the bouquet garni. Transfer about 7 cups of the chickpeas and vegetables and about 5 cups of the liquid to a heated soup tureen. Stir in the reserved meat and parsley.

(Drain remaining chickpeas and vegetables, reserving the cooking liquid. Let chickpeas and liquid cool to room temperature, then store in separate covered containers in the refrigerator. Will keep for up to 5 days.)

To serve stew: Place a slice of garlic toast in each serving bowl, then ladle in the stew. Dust with pepper; serve with grated cheese.

This recipe yields 4 servings stew, plus 8 cups chickpeas and 6 cups liquid.

Versatile Chickpea Stew is located at