Category Archives: Thyme

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.

 

 

CHICKEN CONTADINA, MY VERSION

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALet’s make a chicken dish.  This one is a bona fide Italian dish, and it’s an ItalianAmerican one as well.  Fantastic.  However.  You will probably find a million versions of this  so let me explain what makes a chicken dish “CONTADINA”.  Take the word itself, it means the Farmer’s Wife.  Many Italian dishes are named romantically or literally after the type of person who “invented” the dish.  Invented in quotes because we seldom REALLY know where these dishes actually came from.  Part of the fun with cooking is piece together bits of national tradition and food culture to find a genesis for a dish.  POLLO ALLA CONTADINA is a term used to describe Chicken made in the fashion of a Farmer’s wife or Peasant or Country style.  Cut pieces of whole chicken are seared then simmered with pieces of sausage, onion, herbs, wine, mushrooms, lard (or olive oil), peppers and tomato.  To make it easy, think of this as the famous Chicken Scarpariello with Crushed Tomato added.  Most dishes are interelated.  A specific change creates something new.  I’ve seen recipes for this with cream as well.  I prefer no cream.  My modern version of this dish utilizes Boneless breasts.  Unlike the Farmer’s wife who was chained to her kitchen and home duties all day I’m not, so I often have less cooking time than 10 hours to prep a meal.  You can get this done in under 1 1/2 hours.  Comes out even better when you use boneless thighs with the skin on them but my family isn’t a fan of the dark meat. So I’d be lying if I gave you that recipe…lol.  But feel free to use Bone in /Skin on pieces of chicken or the boneless skin on /skinless thighs instead of the boneless breasts.  Remember, they need longer sear and cooking times so adjust accordingly.  See???  Something for everyone is what A FOOD OBSESSION likes to give you!!  Historically Chicken is not very Italian in the kitchen and the dishes that are traditional usually are whole birds or in pieces because they were old. Old and Stringy, the young chickens were too valuable to eat as they gave eggs to the family with was way more important a food.  And cheap and available to all.  ItalianAmericans created most of the cutlet intense Chicken dishes.  I say that with love, not as it being a bad thing.  It’s wonderful when a cuisine creates a new cuisine.  Honor both!!!   Enough of my babble…time to cook.

TIME:  1 1/2 HOURS                                    SERVES: 4-6

1 1/2 LBS WHOLE BONELESS CHICKEN BREASTS CUT INTO CHUNKS OR STRIPS

1/8 CUP SEASONED FLOUR

OLIVE OIL

1 LB. SWEET ITALIAN FENNEL PORK SAUSAGE

1 DICED ONION

4 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

3/4 LB SLICED OR QUARTERED BUTTON MUSHROOMS

1 SLICED RED PEPPER

1/4 CUP ITALIAN WHITE WINE

1 28 OZ CAN ITALIAN PLUM/SAN MARZANO TOMATOES CRUSHED WITH YOUR HANDS

1/8 CUP WATER OR CHICKEN STOCK

1 BAY LEAF

PINCH FENNEL SEEDS

ENOUGH FRESH THYME OR ROSEMARY TO MAKE 2 TBS. CHOPPED

KOSHER SALT AND FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER

Start by lightly seasoning the chicken  then coating it with the flour.   shake off the excess.  In your largest, widest, heaviest pan or Dutch oven, heat 1 tbs. of olive oil and cook the sausage until they are well browned on all sides.  Takes about 10-15 minutes.  Remove the sausage.  Now add more olive oil if necessary and brown the chicken on all sides, in batches if necessary adding more oil as you go (again, if needed).  When done deglaze the pan with the wine scraping up all the delicious bits on the bottom.  Pour this over the sausage you already have put to the side.  Add more olive oil to the pan and saute’ the onions, peppers, and mushrooms, seasoning as you good.  When they are soft (don’t rush it…you want them soft before you go to the next step, give this 15 minutes on medium, stirring or shaking the pan/pot from time to time.). Add the garlic and saute in for 2 minutes then add the tomatoes.  Bring to a boil.  Add 1/2 the chopped herbs and the bay leafand fennel seeds.  Season with salt and pepper.  Now reduce to a simmer.  Add the Sausage, Chicken and all the collected juices.  Add the water/stock.  Let this simmer for 45 minutes and reduce the liquid by almost 3/4.  Stir occasionally, do not cover!!!  You want the liquid to evaporate and leave a deliciously concentrated sauce around the meat and vegetables.  I like to let it almost completely evaporate.  Up to you.  Realize though the longer you cook it the more you need to pay attention since you don’t want to scorch/burn that tomato in the dish.  So many rules  LOL..  Let sit for a bit before serving.   Most of all, enjoy every part of cooking.  Especially the smiles on everyone who is lucky enough to enjoy your meals!  HAPPY COOKING!!

 

 

BACON, APPLE, AND CHEDDAR STUFFING..FALL COOKING SEASON HAS BEGUN

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are some pairings and combos that are truly meant for each other.  Let’s start with BACON. I don’t agree it goes with everything.  There, I’ve said it and I’m not taking it back.  i LOVE Bacon..especially American bacon with it’s pork belly fat and smokey goodness.   It really needs to either shine in a dish or on it’s own, or be part of a bigger picture..lofty ambitions for sure especially when I ‘m talking about bread stuffing.  Here’s the thing, and I love simple as well as the fussed..but some American stuffings are terribly bland.  Bump up one ingredient on that list you’ve got something but mushy bread is not a great idea on it’s own.  Here’s my other lecture with regards to this post, this is not my only stuffing, in fact, i hardly ever make a stuffing the same way twice.  So there you go! Basically for Thanksgiving I will make the same stuffing which is a mixture of my own ideas with my Mom’s t-day stuffing.  I use what’s hanging around the kitchen and last night i made some Roasted Chicken halves that were brined in Apple Cider (my favorite Fall ingredient) and roasted along with some Chicken stock.  The stuffing I do in a separate dish, i just like that better, certainly you can always stuff the bird.  No right or wrong. I hate when people feel they need to be slaves to ONE recipe for a type of food..like stuffing.  It’s waiting for you to personalize it!!! Well my little “Chopped” experience, which is basically how I cook started with some stale bread, just natural whole grain white bread sitting on the counter.  Opening the fridge revealed some natural (unsweetened ) apple sauce, and an open bag of shredded sharp cheddar, next to the bacon.  In that moment the recipe developed.  Knowing basics about what really goes well with other ingredients is the building block for me, for any recipe.  Bacon, Apple, and Cheddar all compliment each other.  Can you say TASTES LIKE FALL and not have a combo like that as part of what you are thinking?  I can’t.  Stuffing is the perfect way to deliver these tastes that combine into a buttery, comforting stuffing that will compliment your roast poultry or pork dishes.  Add this to your recipe files as another idea for your stuffings.

MAKES:   4 servings                           TIME: 1 hour

The servings are a “strange” idea because stuffing is usually a spoonful while you are loading your plate up with other sides and the main.  By 4 servings I mean enough for 4 people to have a nice sized portion so use your head here, the more food you are serving doesn’t mean you need more stuffing..however..it’s so good, you may want leftovers, just saying.

1/2 lb chopped BACON (SMOKED)

1 large ONION, small diced

1 cup fine diced CELERY

10 slices of good stale white BREAD  that you’ve torn into pieces or 14 oz. of a cornbread or mixed bread stuffing (the cubes).  Feel free to use a whole wheat if you like.

1/4 cup unsweetened APPLESAUCE

1 tsp. fresh chopped Thyme

1/2 tsp. BELL’S SEASONING (http://www.bellsseasonings.com/BellsSeasoning.html)or 1/4 tsp Poultry seasoning

1/4 stick UNSALTED BUTTER

1/4 cup CHICKEN STOCK(WARM)

1/8 CUP APPLE CIDER (filtered and unsweetened)

1/2 tsp freshly ground BLACK PEPPER

1/4 tsp. KOSHER SALT

1/2 tsp. YELLOW MUSTARD

1/4 cup Shreddded SHARP CHEDDAR

1 tsp UNSALTED BUTTER CUT IN CUBES

In a large skillet/pan heat on medium and add the bacon and let it start to render it’s fat.  Once is starts to crisp up a bit, add 1/2 of the butter and let it melt.  Now add the celery and onions and let this cook on low until the vegetables are soft.  Add the cider and stock and bring to a boil.  Add the thyme.  Let this cook for 3-4 minutes and then add the bread and mix well until it’s a pasty consitency, all hydrated.  Cook stirring for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Into this add the salt, pepper, mustard, Bell’s Seasoning, Applesauce..Blend.  When all is nicely mixed in add the cheese folding it in gently.  Pour this into a baking pan, I use cake pans.  Smooth it down and place the cubes of unsalted butter over the top.  Bake in a preheated OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 350 degree F oven for 25 minutes or until it looks like that picture.  Nice and golden.  Remove from the oven and serve with the meal.  If there are any drippings from the poultry, pour some of that over the top too.  Adds more flavor.

Stuffing (dressing in some parts) is an American Classic that for me has no peer.  I may have more ideas for you as the Fall progresses, let’s start with this one. Who doesn’t love BACON???  By the way, the mean was amazing…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

I like it richly flavored, certainly, you can alternatively cook the bacon separately and discard most of that fat, just in case that’s your preference, then continue with the rest of the recipe.

TOMATOES…TIS THE SEASON….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s August, it’s Summer at the Jersey Shore, and it’s all about the Tomato, especially the locally grown ones.  No debating here please, I’m not saying you have to have a Jersey garden grown tomato for it to be good just find ripe locally grown ones that are at their peak right now.  We happen to have very good ones here in the Garden State but I’m not entering into a contest as to what state has the best or not.  I find that confrontational and boring at the same time.  It’s the time to hit your Farmer’s Markets, produce stands, or pal up with a food friend or family member who has grown them in their own yard if you aren’t growing them yourself.

The beautiful plate of tomatoes pictured came from a friend’s yard here in Wayside/Tinton Falls, NJ, less than 2 miles from my home.  HEIRLOOMS.  Again, the foodies-in-the-know will pound Heirlooms down your throat as the only tomato that has any flavor or merit.  They are insanely delicious and come in incredible variations of colors and shapes but they are not the only tomato out there.  Too much foodie bullying going on in the world today, seriously, it’s food, we all can’t get certain types of food in our area, so..I wish more food writers/bloggers, etc would bear that in mind when communicating.  However, those local heirlooms I turned into a simple salad (not a Caprese) that tasted as insane as they looked. Here’s another view..OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Slice them, layer them on a plate/platter, drizzle a good Olive Oil over them, chop some fresh herbs, i used oregano and thyme here, but the sky’s the limit..sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. There’s your recipe!  Want more “tang”, add a little vinegar, but a good one, not something harsh, like a White Balsamic or a Sherry or Champagne Vinegar.  Again..take the foundation and run with it DO NOT FEEL RESTRICTED BY THE MOST COMMON SUMMER TOMATO SALADS.  In the end they will only be as good as the tomatoes you are using.

Let’s look at the other tomatoes I have hanging around my house right now…these are garden variety assorted Jersey Grown tomatoes..full of the sun and sweet delicious flavor and gorgeous..plenty of time left to enjoy these jewels from the local gardens, don’t wait, enjoy them while they are at their best.  (P.S. and not ice cold, yikes, nothing kills the taste of a tomato more than ICE COLD)

10626870_331417743693199_5321861962199665991_n