Category Archives: SOUPS

SHRIMP AND CLAM CHOWDER…SEAFOOD HEAVEN

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A big bowl of warm chowder…works on a dock overlooking the sea in the Summer and it works next to a roaring fireplace in the Winter.  It’s an all seasons food so enjoy this one all through the year.  New England Clam Chowder is just about one of the best things…EVER but this is a little different..it’s a creamy soup with potatoes, vegetables, fresh dill, Hungarian Paprika, Onions, Sherry, Butter, and SHRIMP AND CLAMS.  It’s an elegant dish.  Make it for a fancy dinner or it’s wonderfully casual to..jeans and T-shirt time infront of the TV.  A little bit about some of the ingredients.  If you’re not using dill in some of your cooking, let this start you off.  It’s not just for flavoring pickles.  The Paprika should be SWEET HUNGARIAN.  SZGED is a good brand to look for, most Supermarkets do sell it so I’m not promoting a ridiculously tough ingredient to find.  Why Hungarian?  It’s way more aromatic than the cheaper PAPRIKA that just says PAPRIKA on the label.  There’s also a hot Hungarian paprika, don’t use that one in this.  For the Shrimp, if you can, use Wild Caught U.S.Shrimp and the clams, fresh that are shucked and chopped, liquor reserved.  When these items are not available, find the freshest shrimp you can and use a good prechopped fresh clam or a good canned variety.  Doxsee is generally a safe canned variety.  So, into the kitchen we go to whip up a pot of SHRIMP AND CLAM CHOWDER….you are going to love this.

BTW, don’t think that this is an all day affair….you’re going to be shocked…in an hour you will be enjoying this.

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SERVES: 4                TIME: 1 HOUR, about
3 tablespoons Unsalted butter
1 medium onion, fine dice

1 peeled and diced carrot

2 medium stalks of celery, fine dice
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Sherry (Harvey’s Bristol Cream is really nice in this!)
2 1/2 cups homemade chicken broth or an organic/fat free low sodium boxed broth
2 tbs. tomato paste

1 1/2 tbs. SWEET HUNGARIAN PAPRIKA

Kosher Salt and black pepper to taste

1/2 tbs Tabasco Sauce or 1/8 tsp. ground cayenne or chiles
2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, coarsely chopped
18  clams,steams,  shells discarded, clams chopped, liquor reserved or 1 cup chopped clams
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, organic is richest
2 tbs freshly chopped dill

In heavy sauce pan heat the butter.  Add the onions, carrots and celery, pinch of salt and pepper.  Cook this on medium till the vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes, careful not to let them brown. Simply lower the heat if you see any of that happening.clamshrimpchowder 001 Add the 1/2 the dill. Heat for 2 minutes.  Now sprinkle the flour over the softened vegetables.  Add the paprika.  Whisk gently and let this cook until a roux is formed around the vegetables.  Cook an additional 1 minute or so..then add the sherry.  Whisk till blended and bring to a boil.  The whole thing will begin to thicken up. Whisk in the tomato paste.  Then whisk in the tabasco and the chicken stock.  Make sure it’s ALL well blended.  NOW bring this to a boil for 2 minutes..then reduce to a simmer.Let this cook for 10 minutes.  Keep Stirring. Now add the potatoes and cook until they are fork tender, takes at least 10 minutes. Only when you’ve tested the potato and it’s done. then you will whisk in the cream and the paprika.  Add the shrimp and clams with their liquor and simmer this for 6 minutes.  Taste for seasonings.  Adjust.  clamshrimpchowder 003 When the soup is of “chowder” consistency you can shut it off.  Stir in the remaining dill.  Now let it sit for at least 1/2 hour..TIP..make the soup..put it to the back of the stove..serve it an hour after you are done.  Let those flavor marry each other, but certainly, you can eat it before you wait another hour…I like letting it “meld” first.  Another option is to serve each bowl with a small spoonful of sour cream in the middle…ahh very rich, but very delicious.

Serve this with nice soft dinner rolls or biscuits..with sweet butter.

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PASTA E FAGIOLI…PASTA FAZOOL

001 There’s not much for me to say here that you don’t know already..that PASTA E FAGIOLI or the more Italian-American name, PASTA FAZOOL is one of the most Popular dishes from the Italian kitchen.  Let me add that no one’s recipe is the “RIGHT” one, here, or in Italy.   It is a loaded bowl of beans and macaroni, a dish of fuel to keep one going and when researching or learning about Italian cuisine one learns that Italy is 20something regions that are different from each other.  Their locations are varied and can be warm sundrenched seashore to frigid Alpine peaks. Basically the region will absolutely dictate what beans, pasta and other ingredients go into that pot. Let’s complicate this more with personal preferences ,thicker versus more soup-like.  Throw the monkeywrench of the Italian-American cuisine into the pot and now the versions are hybrids of different immigrant Italian styles and American additions.  My bottom line here is to never, never shake your head in disgust at someone’s version of Pasta e Fagioli because it doesn’t match your definition.  No one’s will, however some will probably come close or can even be exacty.  There is NO “authentic” original recipe for this so don’t even look for it.  So what am I blogging about then?  My most basic version to which you can add, subtract, but this is how I generally go about making my PASTA E FAGIOLI.

TIME: 1 1/2-3  hours     SERVES: 6

Let also just start off here saying..type of beans…tomato or not…type of pasta..cured pork or not…all personal preferences.  And here’s another one…this Idea of the al dente pasta and bean soup..again..just my taste so you take it from there…but this is soup, it’s not a plated entree/secondo. Somewhere along the line chefs with some influence decided that a soup should be something ripe with different textures from soft to chewy.  I disagree.  It’s soup.  That level of comfort I derive from it is because soup always had a well cooked load of pasta,meat, vegetables, beans  in it. I really don’t think that the  people we learned these dishes from who would probably be over 100years old now added pasta after the dish was cooked and then served it.  I’d bet more than likely, the pasta was a. cooked in the soup b. cooked separately then added.  but the soup was left to simmer, or sit for a bit,  or for the next day.  I’ll put my blinders up and let you and your tastebuds decide how you want to have your components cooked but i’m in the soft comforting “old school” soup camp.

1/4 finely diced Prosciutto rind or Pancetta

2 tbs. OliveOil

2 stalks small diced Celery

2 peeled carrots, cut into a small dice

2 onions small dice

2 GARLIC cloves, finely minced

Kosher salt

pinch of Peperoncino

pinch of Oregano, Sicilian is best if you can find it

1 lb of cooked beans (cooked yourself OR canned)LIKE Cannellini, Borolotti, Great Northern

1tbs Tomato paste

1 cup Italian Crushed Tomatoes

1/2 lb. cooked Al Dente TUBETTINI OR DITALINI PASTA

1 cup water or stock

OPTIONAL:  small Parmigiano cheese rind

 

In a soup pot…heat the olive oil and prosciutto or pancetta.  Once that’s taken on some color, add the onions, celery and carrots. Saute’ for at least 8 minutes on medium.  Now add the garlic, peperoncino, pinch of salt,oregano.  Let this saute’ for 2 minutes then add the tomato paste.  Stir this as you saute’ for 2 minutes.  Now add the cup of Crushed Italian tomatoes. Bring to a boil.  Now add the cup of stock /water.  Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer.  Add the beans at this point.  Let this simmer for 1/2 hour, stirring frequently. If you are using the Parmigiano rind, add it now before you start to simmer.  When the simmering is done, add the pasta.  Simmer for 10 minutes, then turn it off.  Taste for seasoning. If you are good with it, add a tbs of grated parmigiano or pecorino, a drizzle of olive oil and cover pushing it back on the stove.  Let this sit for at least 3 hours before serving.  Now PAY ATTENTION HERE…look at my picture..this is how it will look.  If you like it more loose, use more stock when creating it.  If you like it more on the creamy/thick side, puree’ 1/8 cup of the beans and stir that in before your simmer it.  Use extra cheese and olive oil AND ground black pepper or peperoncino and a pinch of oregano or a basil leaf (optional) before serving.  Also, TIP/HINT..taste the soup after you let it sit and before serving.  It may need more seasoning.

I like this whole deal better on day 2…just my opinion, now make this yourself and enjoy!!

 

ITALIAN EGG DROP AND SPINACH SOUP…STRACCIATELLA ALLA ROMANA

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Today’s  blogpost will introduce you to a favorite soup of mine, STRACCIATELLA ALLA ROMANA..translated it means Little Rags in the Roman Style.   Some of you may be confused because there’s a gelato flavor called STRACCIATELLA as well, a Vanilla gelato with ribbons of Chocolate throughout the mix.  When the ALLA ROMANA is added be assured it means a delicious rich clear meat  broth to which chopped spinach is added..and THEN, feel the excitement?, a mix of eggs beaten with black pepper and Parmigiano cheese is drizzled into the hot broth while you gently whisk  till the egg and cheese forms pieces/ribbons and then you are done.  The CLASSIC recipe will use a clear strong BEEF or MEAT Stock…Italian-Americans usually use a clear strong Chicken Stock.  Both are delicious.  The tradition of Stracciatella alla Romana was that it is a dish served in the dead of Winter at Christmas time.  In my Italian American home growing up with it’s Napoletana-Basilicata-Sicilian roots this was a common soup that Mom made.  No Roman in our house.  I do remember seeing it on Italian Restaurant menus during the 60’s and 70’s.  It’s not as popular now but when you bring it up when talking Italian foods people do perk up.  I think this falls under that Italian-American Comfort food umbrella, you know, the one where PASTINA resides.  Adding the Spinach might be a very Italian-American touch.  The original is made without it.    More often than not Mom used Grated Locatelli Pecorino for her soup not the usual Parmigiano SO I leave that up to you. Nutty and Mild is the flavor profile for the Parmigiano cheese..and Strong and Salty is the flavor profile of the Pecorino.  What do I like better?  Pecorino.  Don’t let me sway you.  Choose for yourself and make this wonderful soup.  I love when I can introduce people to something that once was so popular and now is…almost gone.  This soup was even served at my high school prom at the Hollywood Terrace in Brooklyn, 1979.  (YES, good food has always existed in Brooklyn, long before it was discovered by hipsters in the 2000’s…lol).  I considered this Italian Egg Drop Soup as opposed to Chinese – American take out EggDrop Soup.   I love them both.   So, ANDIAMO ALLA CUCINA..let’s go into the kitchen!

 

STRACCIATELLA ALLA ROMANA ———TIME:  1/2 HOUR     SERVES: 6

3 QUARTS CLEAR MEAT OR CHICKEN BROTH

2 CUPS FINELY CHOPPED CLEANED BABY SPINACH

3 EGGS

3 TBS. SEMOLINA

1 TSP. FRESHLY GROuND BLACK PEPPER

4 TBS. FRESHLY GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO or LOCATELLI PECORINO ROMANO

1/4 TSP. GRATED LEMON ZEST (optional, i don’t use it, many recipes do)

PINCH OF GROUND NUTMEG

KOSHER SALT

Heat the BROTH  till boiling then add the SPINACH.   Reduce to medium.   While that is happening beat the eggs with the pepper, nutmeg, semolina,  and cheese.  Then drizzle it into the pot of simmering broth gently and CAREFULLY whisking the egg mixture in.

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Keep whisking until all the eggs have formed the “STRACCI”, or RAGS..the colorful name given to the coagulated egg mixture that looks like torn rags.  Now Stracciatella is very Roman but it’s also made in Le Marche and other Italian regions.  Let the soup cook for 2 minutes longer then turn off the heat.  Season with salt to taste if necessary

Ladle into the 6 bowls and sprinkle with more grated Cheese.   Serve.  Great memories of a soup my Mom used to make.  I add a little peperoncino to mine.

So when planning your Christmas menu remember this fits right in during that week between  Christmas Eve and Santo Stefano.  (Dec.24-26) but why wait?  Make it anytime!

 

PASTA E PISELLI, ITALIAN-AMERICAN MACARONI AND PEAS..SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE

pastapiselli 004  In this blog we go back to my mother’s kitchen (get used to it) and recreate a soup that I make in my own kitchen quite frequently.  It’s a dish from Naples called PASTA E PISELLI, known in Italian-American speak as BASTA BAZEELS.  The dish as I make it uses a can of peas and it’s liquid…REALLY?? DID HE JUST SAY THAT?? yes, yes I did. In Italy, or Naples the dish is somewhat different and many Italian-Americans adhere to that style which is tubettini mixed with peas that have been cooked with lots of diced onion in olive oil.  Some add prosciutto or pancetta. (unless you are a new immigrant from Italy there’s no way that back in 1940 any Italian household in America was using pancetta except for maybe a select few that cured their own varieties. It was just not available until much more recently.) So for the families that added the cured pork it most likely was chopped sopressata or prosciutto rind.  The dish that came down to me via Grandma Scaramuzzi (from Naples) and my Mom, (from Staten Island, NYC) is a dish of broken spaghetti, onions, tomato, olive oil, pinch of oregano, and black pepper finished with pecorino. There it is.  I don’t think I can stress enough that most Italian dishes except a few elaborate ones, but the majority of them rely on not a very big ingredient list.  There is no Olive Gardening (my term for too many ingredients in a an Italian dish) here.  The massive flavor comes from a few places.  1. the peas and their canned liquid, I use, as Mom did, LeSueur Peas.  Feel free to use the canned peas of your choice, there’s lots of great organic varieties out there now too. 2. the onions (see, no garlic, stop thinking that EVERY dish that’s Italian needs or uses garlic..I love garlic..but it’s not in all our food, never way) which cook till sweet and soft, it gives the flavor. 3. Black pepper..AHA! you say! Finally, Battaglia cooks without Peperoncino.  Well this dish is more aromatic with the spicy notes from black pepper.  Be generous. 4. the tomatoes. Mom used Tomato sauce or some crushed Italian plums (again back in the Stone Age 1960’s, San Marzano Tomatoes were something you HAD to get in Italy, they were really not imported here like they are now)..but I use something slightly different, in fact it’s a very Napoletana addition to the canned tomato family and used very often, it’s the POMODORINI, or the cherry tomatoes that you can get here now imported from Southern Italy.  They are packed in a 14-15 oz can.  They also cook quickly.  So there you have it…reasons why I make this dish the way I do..Nods to it’s roots, to my family’s heritage recipe and just a bit of making it A FOOD OBSESSION’S.  You will like what you me here for sure.

SERVES: 3-4                     TIME: 40 minutes

1 CAN LE SUEUR PEAS AND THEIR LIQUID

1 MEDIUM ONION, DICED

OLIVE OIL

1/2 TSP GROUND BLACK PEPPER

1/4 tsp. KOSHER SALT

PINCH OF OREGANO

1 CAN POMODORINI OR 1 CUP OF CRUSHED ITALIAN/SAN MARZANO TOMATOES

8 OZ. BROKEN SPAGHETTI OR FIDEOS (ALREADY BROKEN SPAGHETTI IN A BOX..AWESOME!)

1/8 CUP WATER

In a saucepan, heat 2 tbs. of Olive Oil, Extra Virgin will add more flavor, up to you…then add the onions and the oregano and let them saute’ for a good 10 minutes.  About 1/2 way thru, add the 1/8 cup of water to the pan. and let it continue to cook.  While this is all happening cook the broken Spaghetti according to the package directions till just al dente. Drain and keep the pasta loosely covered.  Now add the tomatoes to the onions, BUT, make sure they are soft, if not, let them cook longer. Bring to a boil and then add the peas and their liquid. Stir to mix giving a taste..add salt at this point just in case you need to.  Remember, there is salt in the canning liquid and the tomatoes.  Don’t be afraid, you just do not want to over salt, you are adding cheese at the end. Pecorino is salty AND delicious. Let this now cook for 15 minutes on low.pastapiselli 005 Then add the pasta and stir.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes on low, then remove from the heat. Add 2 tbs. of grated Pecorino Romano.  A good amount of black pepper and a drizzle of a little more Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Let it rest.  Check for seasonings to make sure it’s not over or under seasoned.  Adjust accordingly.  There, it’s all done. Reward yourself with this vegetarian friendly bowl of Pasta E Piselli.  If you omit the cheese it’s a vegan delight but the only label that is deserves is Italian-American.  When done right it’s a cuisine that one can be proud of.

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ESCAROLE AND BEANS..ITALIAN COMFORT FOOD..

0041  Comfort Food…everyone has a personal definition of this and many times the same dishes will find their way into people’s ideas of what foods are most “comforting”.  My experience is that blend of American as well as immigrant Italian notions of what is “comfort food”.  I can list 10 blogs full of them (I need lots of comfort) but one that is right at the top is the very delicious ESCAROLE AND BEANS (SCAROLA E FAGIOLI), a “soup” or a one pot dish of olive oil, aromatics, fresh escarole and cannellini beans.  Italian-Americans all fall in line on this dish, it’s well loved and non-Italian-Americans who have eaten it feel the same way.  It’s a culinary hug.  What a dish like this does for you no reservation at Noma in Copenhagen or at the table of Ferran Adria’ of the former elBulli will do for you.  Those types of foods are wonderfully rare and exceptional culinary experiences.  Things to be savored by a select lucky few.  A steamy bowl of escarole and beans is universal.  We all can approach this, it’s ingredients price points are within most people’s reach and it’s quite simple to make.  No long hours of tending needed for this, simply the desire to feed one’s body and soul.  Lofty language for a humble dish that finds it’s true richness in basic parings of few ingredients. Most traditionally this is a dish that can be considered VEGETARIAN.  Certainly you can enhance the flavors with a base containing a bit of cured Italian pork like PANCETTA, GUANCIALE, PROSCIUTTO, SALAMI, SPECK, or even Fresh SWEET ITALIAN SAUSAGE or COTECHINO.  I’m complicating this now so I’ll stop there and begin the recipe.  This dish was served very frequently while I was growing up and I continue to make it.  Always highly anticipated!!

 

SERVES: 6                            TIME:  40 MINUTES

1 thoroughly rinsed HEAD OF FRESH ESCAROLE (Escarole takes on lots of dirt..needs to be rinsed over and over again in fresh changes of water), then cut out the inside stem and chop.

1/4 cup OLIVE OIL

1/2 TSP. PEPERONCINO

4 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

2 CANS OF CANNELLINI (WHITE KIDNEY) BEANS, DRAINED AND RINSED

KOSHER OR SEA SALT

2 CUPS OF WATER (OR CHICKEN STOCK)

PECORINO ROMANO or PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO CHEESE

OPTIONAL:

2 TBS. FINELY DICED PANCETTA, GUANCIALE, PROSCIUTTO, ITALIAN SAUSAGE, SALAMI

1 TBS. WHITE WINE

1 SMALL ANCHOVY FILET

 

In a heavy saucepan heat 1/8 cup of the olive oil then add the peperoncino and let that cook for 2 minutes.  This releases the flavors and heat in the peperoncino and gives them a toasty flavor, Then add the garlic and let this cook on medium for no more than 1 1/2minutes…add the escarole and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and let this saute’ for 5 minutes till it’s somewhat softer and wilted.  Now add the water or stock.  Stir and then add the beans.  Bring to a boil for 4 minutes then to medium, just above a simmer.  Stir well and cook for 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let it sit for at least 10 minutes.  This tastes better when it’s not piping hot. Check for seasoning (salt) at this point. When serving drizzle each serving with additional olive oil, some peperoncino if you like and a good grating of one of the cheeses. Now if you want the less traditional version, simply add the cured pork or sausage when you a toasting the peperoncino at the beginning of the recipe.  Add the anchovy when you add the garlic, then the white wine and continue with the recipe.

So let’s hold off any debating here, this recipe is the most basic and most traditional way to make Escarole and Beans, or A’Scarol…as with most in Italy Italian dishes less is always more.  Does that mean your family’s style of making it with a little of this or that is wrong? ABSOLUTELY NOT.  Even in Italy that is done, but this is the basic and possibly the genesis of all other MINESTRA made with escarole and beans.  In Upstate NY this dish is sometimes known as BEANS AND GREENS.

For my vegan and vegetarian readers the basic recipe is wonderful as well.  Of course no cheese in the vegan option but there’s tons of flavor in the soup without it.  Try it the Naples way and then customize it or not.  For me, too much meat in the dish takes away from the earthy  nature of the dish and makes it more like a Minestra Maritata (Italian Wedding Soup) which is delicious and wonderful but I like my ‘Scarol and Beans to just be that..now pass the good Italian bread please..

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOUP: A GIFT FROM LIDIA, SEMOLINA AND ESCAROLE SOUP

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It’s very rare that I blog someone else’s recipe since I’m so glad to share my own but every now and then one jumps at me and I have to blog about it.  Lidia Bastianich is probably out of all the “Celebrity” chefs, NYC restauranteurs, Italian cooking experts, cookbook writers..the one who I love to listen to the most.  So many of the Italian food types put up a great big wall between “real” Italian (meaning in Italy) and the Italian food that Americans serve, particularly Italian-American food.  It’s often dismissed as overdone, not good, just awful and not bearing any resemblance to the foods of Italy.  Well, truth be told America has definitely turned some Italian or Italian based dishes into Circus Carnivals of food that really break every rule of Italian cooking and even Italian-American cooking.  That’s one type of Italian American food problem.  I’m sure the people of Mexico cry when they see a 200 layer dip of cheese, jarred salsa and lettuce.  There is a very wonderful Italian-American food culture, I pride myself on being quite knowledgeable in it and love to share that with you.  Lidia is one of , if not the only Italian born food experts that really knows the connection and bridges that river that separates Italian and Italian American cuisines.  Never once have I heard her call an old fashioned Italian-American restaurant a RED SAUCE JOINT.  Nothing gets me angrier than that insulting phrase.  She has taken the time to learn what makes America’s Italian communities tick, and how being thousands of miles from homelands in Italy the immigrants adapted the foods of their new home to stand in for the foods of their motherland.  Chicken and Veal Parmigiana, serving Spaghetti along with the meatballs, Garlic Bread…a few of the examples of purely Italian American dishes, not to be found in Italy, but certainly strong roots to dishes and techniques throughout the Italian country.  Dishes like a Creamy Tomato and 5 cheese sauce topped with Roasted Peppers, Olives, Onions, and Grilled Sausage and Shrimp are the problem dishes…these are just American overkill, usually created in big corporate think tanks..taking ingredients used in Italian food and creating these mashups that cause Italians in Italy to shake their heads.  Lidia, being the lady she is does not mention them, instead, she always chooses to present to the world and her audience everything there is to know about Italian food in Italy, Italian food in America, and Italian food around the world and how it all got to where it is and why there were some creations and changes along the way.389297_2149464138543_118335309_n  There I am with Lidia at the 2011 NYC Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her 3 times and she was always engaging, interested and wonderful.  So…the other night I was watching her on one of our local PBS stations and from her new cookbook, Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking (http://shopping.lidiasitaly.com/lidiascommonsenseitaliancooking.aspx)  she was cooking SEMOLINA AND ESCAROLE SOUP.  I was mesmerized!  Semolina, I love it in anything it’s made with.  It creates Italian pasta, makes dumplings, puddings, hot cereal, breads, desserts, cookies, cakes, it’s really a versatile item.  I had to make this.  I don’t have the book yet!  So online I went and luckily there’s a link to the soup recipe.  Now I can’t copy it (copyright rules prevent that) but if there’s a live link I can drop it in here so..here’s the recipe:

http://parade.condenast.com/170248/parade/sneak-peak-lidia-bastianichs-semolina-and-escarole-soup/

OK.  I followed the recipe tonight..and here are my thoughts.  Start with a homemade stock and make it as richly flavored (meaning don’t skimp on the amount of chicken parts you are using) as you can.  I also season my stock with a little saffron for extra color.  It was straightforward and came together with no stress.  10590523_355851134583193_816628793859554853_n  There’s my stock in the back with a head of well rinsed escarole in front.  The semolina I was able to get at one of my Local supermarkets, Bob’s Red Mill makes a 1 1/2 lb bag of Semolina.  Good stuff.  My youngest looked at the finished soup and said..”Really?  what is it??”..I said Cream of Escarole.  She bought it.  Loved it.  The whole family loved it.  We will have it again!

Thanks Lidia!! Grazie Mille!!

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SIMPLE PLEASURES, LENTIL SOUP WITH PANCETTA (ITALIAN CURED BACON)

008 A complete meal in a bowl, how nice is that?  A steaming bowl of Lentil Soup for me is about the most reassuring food that says “all is right with the world”, basically it’s a big hug from someone that loves you.  The humble lentil is one of nature’s powerhouses ( i hate the term superfood because it conjures up fads in food and I don’t buy into that) in terms of nutrition.  Not going to bore you with that type of post but seriously if your body needs a great punch of nutrients this bowl is just the thing.  Lentils are not an Italian exclusive, they are eaten in every part of the world where they are grown because they are plentiful, cheap and so good for you.  All that aside let’s talk their taste, it’s unique and it’s delicious and LOVES to soak up the flavors of whatever other ingredients you are cooking with.  No shocker here but I’m going to give  you my recipe for an Italian   bowl of LENTILS.  This version is made with a base of vegetables, aromatics and PANCETTA.  Pancetta is an UNSMOKED cured Italian BACON. Highlighting UNSMOKED.  Can you make a lentil soup with smoked bacon?  Of course, in fact Lentils seem to really pop when you cook them with any pork, whether it be Chorizo, Italian Sausage, Salumi, Guanciale, American or other types of Smoked Bacon, ham,  so do not read my comments as saying the other meats are wrong..but for that gorgeous pot of lentils I made in the picture above I used PANCETTA.  For those wishing for this with no meat at all increase your aromatics, herbs, onions, etc. for extra flavor.  Unseasoned lentils for me just not worth my time but seasoning with meats or vegetables and herbs makes them shine.  Back to this post though, find the pancetta and maybe this could be your first time using it…how awesome is that when you open yourself up to something new!!

In this very active and vivid memory bank of mine I equate the aroma of lentils cooking with coming home from school in Staten Island NYC to my Mom making a nice big pot..while outside the day is dark, grey, rainy, cold, raw the mere whiff of the lentils was like two big arms wrapping themselves around me, warming me from the inside out and knowing that I’m ok.  Amazing was the taste and smell of certain foods will do, and no, I’m not going to quote the French guy with the little dessert cake here, that quote is as overdone as  a dry roast chicken breast.

SERVES: 6                                             TIME: 1 hour

2 tablespoons EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
1/2 lb PANCETTA, finely diced
1 large ONION , diced
2 stalks CELERY with leaves attached, diced
1 large CARROT peeled, chopped in to small cuts
1/2 tsp crumbled dried OREGANO

1 cup canned ITALIAN TOMATOES (in this dish the choice of regular Italian plums or San Marzano is up to you), crushed with your hands

1 cup baby SPINACH LEAVES

2 cups brown LENTILS, rinsed in a colander under cold water
4 cups WATER
1 Tbs. KOSHER SALT
pinch of PEPERONCINO
2 rinds of PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO

In a dutch oven or wide pot, heat the olive oil adding the pancetta.  Cook for about 4 minutes as it takes on some color then add the oregano, the onions, the peperoncino, the celery, and the carrots.  Add a pinch of salt and let this cook for a good 10 minutes until all the vegetables have softened up to an al dente state. Critical when making dishes like this to test the vegetables or they will remain sort of raw or too crisp in the final dish.  Just sayin.  Now add the tomato and let this come to a boil. Then add the water and the lentils, cheese rinds and salt.Bring it all to a boil then down to a medium simmer.  Let this cook until it’s thickened, stirring frequently.  It should take about 45 minutes.  When the soup is done check for seasoning and adjust accordingly.  I prefer a “drier” Lentil soup which is the consistency you see in the picture.  At this time add the spinach.  Let those tender baby leaves just melt into the pot.

When serving, remove the cheese rinds, and in each bowl garnish it with grated Parmigiano or Pecorino and a drizzle of EVOO and a pinch of peperoncino.

What prompted me to blog this dish of mine was a lentil soup with pancetta I had a few nights ago at a Pop up Dinner held by Gabriele Corcos of the TV show EXTRA VIRGIN on Cooking Channel.  I’ll be blogging about that dinner in the future but here is his bowl of lentil soup with Pancetta that we enjoyed:300823_2102887454155_1304531591_31828500_690752139_n

 

It was delicious!  You can’t go wrong with this soup.  Have fun making it and sharing the love.