Monthly Archives: October 2018

MINESTRONE AL STAGIONE FOR THE COLDER MONTHS, ITALIAN COMFORT FOOD

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

MINESTRONE….an Italian word coming from MINESTRA, a type of soup.  The ONE at the end of an Italian word means…This just got BIGGER!  It denotes a larger/bigger version of whatever that word meant before.  Having said all that please enjoy my version of MINESTRONE and realize there is NO ONE RECIPE for this soup.  Like so much of Italy’s and the World’s cuisines the end result is based on what’s available to the cook.    Some historical documentation says that the original MINESTRONE soups were always vegetable based.  Many Italians today still believe that for a Minestrone to truly be what it’s name says, there’s no meat involved.  That line has blurred.  Let’s say Minestrone is most times a vegetarian soup, with some versions having meat in them.  See?  No argument. No debate.  And my version here is NOT MY ONLY VERSION!!! I’m giving you ONE way to make it using lots of seasonal vegetables in the Fall/Winter.  The other “debate” revolves over adding pasta or rice.  Add what you want, that line has blurred as well.  Hardcore “purists” might say no pasta or rice.   And thirdly., the stock used as the base.  Purists and most likely the most original start simply with water.  Modern cooks have so much available to them that Beef, Chicken, Veal, or Vegetable stock is added as the base.  When your vegetables are at the height of their seasons water alone will help carry the flavors.  In this instance again, as you wish…use a meat or vegetable stock, or water.  Each instance will give a different nuance to the soup.  ALL GOOD.  There, no debate who makes the  best, whose recipe is correct, whatever.  It’s food people.  Did you use good ingredients and does it taste delicious?  That’s the heart of a Minestrone.  BTW, i always loved the Progresso Minestrone in a can, yes along with the hundreds of Italian and American soups my mom made while we were growing up we did have Progresso Minestrone and Progresso Chickarina.  Good Memories.  Now, let’s make MINESTRONE STAGIONALE, for the Fall/Winter.   Note:  Cavolo Nero.  Lacinato Kale  It’s one of my favorite vegetables for this soup.  Comes from Central Italy’s TUSCANY. Less “Kale-y” than other types of that vegetable.  More like a Swiss Chard with a little something something going on.  Can be found in many supermarkets and farmers markets in the fall and winter, esp. organic.   A great way to use a “new” vegetable.

MINESTRONE AL STAGIONE

TAKES 3 HOURS             SERVES ABOUT 5

2 1/2 TBS. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

2 PEELED AND DICED CARROTS

3 STALKS CELERY, CHOPPED, USE THE LEAVES TOO

1 1/2 CUP CHOPPED RIPE TOMATOES, OR 2 CUPS CHOPPED ITALIAN PLUM TOMATOES

2 CUPS CHOPPED CAVOLO NERO (LACINATO KALE) OR DARK GREEN SWISS CHARD

1/2 CUP FINELY CHOPPED SAVOY CABBAGE

1 1/2 CUPS BORLOTTI (OR ANY ITALIAN BEAN OF YOUR CHOICE) BEANS, COOKED AND DRAINED

1 LARGE ONION, SMALL DICE

2 SLICE CLOVES OF GARLIC

4 1/2 CUPS WATER, OR STOCK

4 SMALL REDSKIN POTATOES, DICED

HANDFUL OF CHOPPED PARSLEY AND THYME

1/2 LB ORZO PASTA

KOSHER SALT, BLACK PEPPER

PLENTY OF FRESHLY GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO OR PECORINO

In a large heavy soup pot or dutch oven, add 2 tbs of the olive oil and heat.  Add the onions, carrots, celery, season with salt and pepper.  Let this saute’ for at least 8 minutes till just starting to soften.  Add all the other vegetables and beans except the potatoes.  Let this all blend together and cook for 10 minutes.  Now add 1/2 the parsley and thyme and all the liquid.  Taste for seasoning. Add more at this point. Bring to a boil. Let this simmer for 1 hour.  Add the potatoes.Check again for seasoning, add more if necessary.  Let cook for 15 minutes on medium boil.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Bring back to a boil and add the ORZO.  Stir well.  Cook till the pasta has just gotten to al dente. Takes about 13 minutes.  Turn off.  Let it sit for at least 6 hours before reheating and serving.  Just before serving add the remaining chopped fresh herbs.  Serve in bowls with a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Black pepper, and lots of grated Cheese.   Of course you will not disappoint me and there will be an amazing loaf of Italian bread served along with it.  Some nice Wine or Sparkling water…enjoy.

 

 

POLPETTE DI PANE, MEATLESS “MEATBALLS”, FROM SOUTHERN ITALY

ragudomenica 012Meatballs, Meatballs, Meatballs…so many kinds, so little time. This post is going to discuss one of the most inventive types of “meatballs”. no meat at all, but a POLPETTE DI PANE, a Bread “Meat”ball.  This is the Southern Italian version but by no means can the Italians lay claim to the bread and egg poached ball.  As you travel in the North of Italy and to the countries of Central Europe you’ll find a thriving kitchen culture of DUMPLINGS of all kinds.  This Southern Italian bread meatball is really a Dumpling.  Dumplings in the central european region often are breadballs poached in a liquid.  What makes these so tasty is that they are the flavors of a southern Italian or ItalianAmerican meatball without the meat.  They make for a nice change, oh I’m not going meatless, but this is just another dish in the vast universe of Italian cuisine and should definitely be tried.  Standard recipes call for Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Not me.  The taste of the cheese gets lost in this dish.  Pecorino Romano is my choice here.  It stands up to the braising and makes the balls taste so amazing.   Simply make your Marinara Sauce as you normally make it.  To make 12 POLPETETE DI PANE follow these instructions:

2 CUPS OF STALE ITALIAN BREAD

1 1/4 CUPS FRESH GRATED PECORINO ROMANO

2 TBS MINCED ITALIAN FLATLEAF PARSLEY

1 CLOVE FINELY MINCED GARLIC

4 LARGE EGGS

1/2 TSP FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER

PINCH OF SEA SALT OR KOSHER SALT

Have your medium to large pot of sauce simmering while you make the “meatballs”.  Using a food processor pulverize the bread into crumbs.  Add the cheese, garlic, and parsley and pulse until they are blended.  Add the salt and pepper. Pulse a few times.  The next step needs to be taken care with.  Add the crumb mix to a bowl.  Beat 2 of the eggs and pour into the mixture.  Blend well.  Once that’s well combined, beat a 3d egg and mix in.  Test your mixture now.  Your mixture should be hydrated enough but needs to be firm so you can roll it into balls.  If it’s still too dense, beat the 4th egg and blend.  Conversely if the mixture suddenly becomes too loose, add some dry breadcrumbs till you get it to the right consistency.  WHAT’S THE RIGHT CONSISTENCY???  You can form golf ball size Polpette di Pane without them falling apart or “drooping”.  Line up the balls on a baking tray and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.  Bring the sauce to a low boil and gently drop the balls into the sauce gingerly stiring so they do not mash or break up.  Let them simmer in the sauce for 20 minutes.  Let them sit in the sauce for at least 1 hour before reheating and serving.  What to serve with them?  well….you can have them as a starter, an antipasto.  OR you can serve them as a side (Italian lesson here…side dishes are called CONTORNI) with a salad, with grilled meats, or vegetables, or a roast.  Be creative.  I like them just on their own with a nice shower of grated Pecorino on top, some fresh basil.  HAPPY COOKING!   BTW, I say it makes 12, but it could be less or more 12 is a good average.

ON THE ROAD: POTATOES IN NEPAL.. ALOO JEERA

IMG_7725 (1)While on vacation in August 2018 we covered over 22,000 airmiles through South Asia.  Visited some places we had previously seen and visiting some new countries.  Being on vacation with family is my most favorite thing to do and I include on our trips lots of new TRAVEL FOOD to taste.  To write about.  To recreate in my home kitchen.  Makes a trip continue to go on long after you’ve unpacked and paid the credit card bills you racked up.  This post is going to take you to Nepal, that remote country between India and China and the home to the Himalayas.  I’m no trekker, hiker, or Mt.Everest climber.  Sorry. My adventure sometimes borders “on the edge” but generally I stay within my comfort zone.  Smarter.  This way I can safely get back home again and blog for you!! LOL.  So, Nepal.  So remote.  So rough.  So beautiful.  We stayed in 2 places, first in NAGARKOT which is up on a ridge, about 7200 ft. and commands views of the Kathmandu Valley which rise up to the majestic Himalayas.  Our time of year is not optimal as it’s the rainy season but with kids in school we have to “vacation” in the Summer months when school is out.  August is rainy, it’s Monsoon season. And who knew even though the travel sites and literature told us, that it would be so oppressively hot and humid???  Reasons why you travel.  To find out things for yourself.  We stayed at the CLUB HIMALAYA because they command an amazing view of the Himalayas when it’s clear.  August?  Not so clear.  The clouds hang low, the fog is thick.  But on day 2 the clouds briefly lifted the moisture curtain and blue skies broke through.  The low clouds moved up just enough for us to get a pretty clear view of the entire range including Mt. Everest.  SUCCESS.  The waiters at the hotel informed us it was the first decent view in almost a month.  A rare occurance.  Within 1/2 hour the cloud and fog again shielded the range from our view.  But we saw it.  We really saw it.  And will never forget it.  That same day we were served these delicious potatoes.  A little about my limited knowledge of Nepalese food.  We found that there are dishes that are from Nepal but there seem to be more that are borrowed from India, especially Northern India’s cuisines.  Exciting!!! This dish is a potato and CUMIN SEED dish.  I love whole cumin seed.  I toast it and grind it or use it whole in various treats from my kitchen  But here my eyes were opened to how delicious they are with plain ol’potatoes.  It is said that the unskilled bachelor in the kitchen  finds this a common and easy dish to make.  So there’s some legend and lore here too.  Nice. Food with color and flavor.  Travel helps to open one’s mind in so many ways and bringing new dishes home keeps that vacation feeling alive.  Let’s go to Nepal now and make some ALOO JEERA, ok, maybe we don’t have to travel that far.  Let’s go into our kitchens and make this tasty dish!!

1 lb PEELED, CUBED AND BOILED POTATOES

2 TBS. CUMIN SEEDS

2  SMALL GREEN CHOPPED CHILI (REMOVE SEEDS AND RIBS IF YOU WANT LESS HEAT)

1 TSP. CHOPPED GINGER

2 TBS. OIL

1/4 TSP. POWDERED TURMERIC

1 TSP. RED CHILE POWDER

2 TSP. CHOPPED CILANTRO

SALT (now here’s a great dish to use some ground Pink Himalayan salt in !!)

 

To start, heat the oil in a heavy wide pan.  Add the cumin seeds and when they start to give off a wonderful aroma (oh it’s fantastic) then add the green chiles and the ginger, and 1/2 the cilantro.   Fry this together for about 1 minutes then add the potatoes, season with the turmeric, red chile powder, and salt.  Mix well.  Place on high heat and get a nice color on the potatoes and cover.  Reduce to low and cook this for 5 minutes.  Stir a few times while this is cooking.  Your Aloo Jeera should be done now.  Transfer to a serving bowl or platter and garnish with the rest of the Cilantro.  The dish can be served with Roti, or Paratha, types of Indian breads.  A grilled flat Greek Pita or Flour tortilla can sub for the Indian breads if needed.  In India and Nepal this is a Vegetarian dish.  I’m not vegetarian and enjoy it with a few fried eggs and the breads.  Easy and delicious.  Thinking of the smiling faces of Nepal and the rough and beautiful landscape.  Cooking globally gives you these experiences in your own home.  HAPPY COOKING!! Namaste!