Mine-strone-strone and some Aretha

DSC_0071Fall and Winter mean soup. This is indisputable. Most of the time, homemade soup is healthy, filling, and last for daaaaays. When I go home to Cambridge in the chilly months, my Dad almost always has something or other bubbling on the stove. With the sweaters coming out and the leaves a-changin’, I had no choice but to stock up on heaps of veggies and make Minestrone. Minestrone literally means “big soup” (Minestra means soup, the suffix “one” means big. There’s your language lesson for the day, folksies.)DSC_0007

After a morning of some serious work, I needed a break, and what could be better than blasting this: and chopping vegetables to my hearts content? I ended up with a huge pot of Italian Nonna tastiness that I’ve been eating day and night with chewy Italian farro.DSC_0018

Winter Minestrone courtesy of Giada de Laurentiis and Food Network
*I increased on practically everything, which is largely encouraged in a recipe like this. I also did Kale and little beans instead of Chard and Cannellini. I skipped the potato. I also used regular beef broth, because, I’m sorry, I like Umami sodium-laden things. Not PC, I know. Whatever strikes your fancy, homies.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped [I used 4 stalks]
3 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, coarsely chopped [I used 4 ounces]
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound Swiss chard, stems trimmed, leaves coarsely chopped [I used mixed Kale, because I’m a hipster]
1 russet potato, peeled, cubed [Skipped this]
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained, rinsed [Used little white beans, not Cannellini]
2 (14-ounce) cans low-sodium beef broth [Full sodium, and I used a 32 ounce carton]
1 ounce piece Parmesan cheese rind
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
Salt and pepper

Directions

Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, pancetta, and garlic.DSC_0024 Saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the Swiss chard and potato; saute for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and rosemary sprig. Simmer until the chard is wilted and the tomatoes break down, about 10 minutes.DSC_0031 DSC_0037

Meanwhile, blend 3/4 cup of the beans with 1/4 cup of the broth in a processor until almost smooth. Add the pureed bean mixture, remaining broth, and Parmesan cheese rind to the vegetable mixture [Parmesan Rind makes it out of control delicious..]. Simmer until the potato pieces are tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Stir in the whole beans and parsley. DSC_0055DSC_0045 Simmer until the beans are heated through and the soup is thick, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Discard Parmesan rind [or don’t, and sneakily chew the cheese of the side] and rosemary sprig (the leaves will have fallen off of the stem.)DSC_0057

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.

I’ve expressed my love for Farro before, and I wanted the soup to be EVEN heartier. So, I made some up and sprinkled it on the soup after!:
Rinsing the Farro (necessary step)
DSC_005615 Minutes Later: Chewy, earthy, and, I daresay, healthy!DSC_0062What the doctor ordered:

DSC_0070Go make some soup and listen to Aretha.

An Autumnal Bowl

DSC_0074For me, one of the surest signifiers of chilly weather is soup, specifically butternut squash soup. My dad used to make this for us frequently growing up, and watching the sweet orange concoction cooking down on the stove and then thinning out in the blender always seemed comforting and fortifying, especially against the rapidly decreasing temperatures of autumnal Chicago. When we’d sit down at the dinner table, each plate would be garnished with a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream and an herby sprig. Now I try to make this soup at least once each fall, and encounter trouble only when my feeble arms attempt to break down the squash itself. DSC_0078

I’ve used this recipe with the reduction of 6 cups of chicken stock to 3 (I like it chunkier), and the addition of some cayenne pepper:

Butternut Squash Soup Recipe [Courtesy of Cathy Lowe and foodnetwork.com]DSC_0079
Ingredients
1 (2 to 3 pound) butternut squash, peeled and seeded
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
6 cups chicken stock [I used 3]
Nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
+Cayenne Pepper
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Directions
Cut squash into 1-inch chunks. In large pot melt butter. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add squash and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until squash is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove squash chunks with slotted spoon and place in a blender and puree. Return blended squash to pot. Stir and season with nutmeg, [cayenne pepper] salt, and pepper. Serve.
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Pickle Pantry Essential #15

Pickle Pantry Essential #15: Farro
In between my bouts of hugely calorific eating, I usually try and cook myself fairly healthy meals. These often consist of fresh and cooked vegetables with some sort of cheese and hummus. Perhaps a cracker if I’m feeling frisky. However, so often I find that just an hour or so later, I’m hungry again. Whole grains have helped me hugely, providing the best kind of carbs out there, and putting energy into your body. Farro, an Italian wheat product, is slightly chewy, wholesome and totally easy to prepare. Sprinkled on top, or as the base of a salad, it’ll keep you full for hours!images

*Image courtesy of Latavolamarche.blogspot.com

Dinner of Champions

I fear I’m getting old–preferring a Saturday of day-long feast cooking (with a few Bloody Marys thrown in for good measure) to a big night out. My friend Kara, a highly skilled cook, and I began preparations at 1pm…and sat down to dinner at 7:30. Although I spend much of my time writing, reading, and thinking about food (and eating, of course!), days entirely spent on cooking are decidedly not frequent enough.*

Sodomized entrees*Our initial thoughts were “Mediterranean” “Pork” and “Eggplant”, a somewhat scattered list vaguely reminiscent of a cooking game show. I knew I wanted to make Tzatziki (garlicky-cucumber yogurt sauce) and Kara was hankering for a labor-intensive meat project. First we stopped off at Mario’s butcher, an old school Italian butcher next door, and watched the proprietor (Mario?) skilfully slice up meat while complaining of the degree to which the neighborhood had changed since he opened his shop in 1964. After some more grocery shopping (and a short walk to my house for some extra ingredients) we got to work!

THE MENU:

Tzatziki: (3 Small Israeli Cucumbers + 1 Large 7.5 oz Container Fage Full-Fat Yogurt + 2-3 cloves finely chopped garlic + Garlic Salt + Pepper + Olive Oil + a dash of red wine vinegar + chopped mint)

Peelin’: DSC_0001 Scraping out the seeds:DSC_0005Draining the chopped cukes (highly recommended!):DSC_0010 Post yogurt pre-herbs:DSC_0026Roasted baby eggplant with sliced halloumi cheese (sliced eggplant briefly marinated in olive oil + thyme + garlic + salt + pepper, roasted at 350 in oven) halloumi cheese (came pre-sliced from Trader Joes, just simply rinsed it off and stuck it on a hot pan!) DSC_0059DSC_0064Garlic-and-thyme-crusted Pork Loin (expertly twined by Kara + then crusted with herbs and garlic + then roasted)–As you can see from the numerous photos of the pork, I as pretty entranced…Cooking large chunks of meat tends to scare me (shh don’t tell)
Removing Fatty Layer like a Pro:DSC_0018Twining it Up: DSC_0035DSC_0038Seasoned:DSC_0047

Finished Product:DSC_0062Couscous with shallots, feta and herbs (Cooked almost entirely in a rice cooker….Apologies for the lack of photos here)

Tomato Tarte Tatin (10 tomatoes, butter, sugar, balsamic, puff pastry).(recipe courtesy of Soa Davies from Short Stack Editions Caramelize butter and sugar, add balsamic and place peeled tomatoes cut side up (more on this to come), cook, then cover with puff pastry and bake!
X Marks the Spot for boiling, blanching and peeling the tomatoes:
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Post-Blanch Ice Bath: DSC_0030Peeling Assembly Line:DSC_0034Making the Caramel:
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Tomatoes Cut Side Up:

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Puff Pastry Shroud:DSC_0055She wasn’t pretty, but she was tasty:DSC_0058Not a photo-contest winner, but you get the idea:DSC_0067*Top Image from Salvador Dali’s Cookbook courtesy of http://mrpeacockstyle.blogspot.com

Pickle Pantry Essential #14

Pickle Pantry Essential #14: Core Bamboo Prep Station
Full Disclosure: I don’t actually own this item, but I really wish I did. A friend had it at his house and I had the opportunity to chop, measure, and just generally bask in the efficiency and beauty of this item which features 4 measuring cups which fit into a bamboo prep station. Used to plastic cutting boards, I took a minute to get used to the bamboo, but soon was dicing and mincing on there quite happily.   Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 5.02.50 PM