Friday, October 31, 2008

Pasta e Fagioli

Last weekend, when debating what I should make for my lunch during the week, I decided upon Pasta e Fagioli, which means "Pasta and Beans" in Italian. I used Rachel Ray's recipe, which was extremely easy to make.

However, there was one problem with the recipe....

Rachel's recipe instructs you to cook the pasta in the soup. Bad idea. I knew knew knew it was going to be a bad idea, yet against my better judgment I blindly followed Rachel's instructions only to be disappointed. I blame hunger.

While cooking the pasta in the soup works if you eat the soup right away, it does not work if you plan on having leftovers (which you will unless you are Jon and Kate Plus 8). The result? Ten minutes after taking it off the stove, the pasta soaked up all the liquid like a sponge. Alas, soup no more.

My suggestion is to shun Rachel's instructions this one time, and cook the pasta on the side. Then you can add it directly to the soup when you ready to eat it, thereby avoiding soup-less leftovers.

What you will need:

2 tbsp. (or 2 turns around the pan) extra virgin olive oil
1/8 lb. (about 3 slices) of pancetta, chopped (I used turkey bacon for a healthier alternative)
2 (4-6 inch ) sprigs of rosemary
1 (4-6 inch) sprig of thyme
1 large fresh bay leaf or 2 dry bay leaves (I used Italian seasoning in place of the rosemary, thyme and bay leaf)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped (I only used 2 cloves)
Salt and Pepper
2 (15 oz.) cans of Cannellini beans
1 cup canned tomato sauce or canned crushed tomatoes
2 cups water
1 quart (or 32 oz.) chicken stock
1 1/2 cups ditalini pasta
Grated Parmigiano or Romano, for the table
Crusty bread, for dipping

How to put it all together:

Heat the oil in a deep pot over medium high heat. Add the pancetta and brown lightly. Then add the herb stems, bay leaf, chopped vegetables and garlic. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper.

Add the beans, tomato sauce, water and chicken stock and raise heat to high. Bring soup to a rapid boil and add pasta. (**This part I do not recommend.**) Reduce heat to medium and cook soup, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes or until the pasta is cooked al dente. Rosemary and thyme leaves will separate from stems as soup cooks.

Remove herb stems and bay leaf from soup and place pot on the table on a trivet. Let the soup rest and begin to cool for a few minutes. Then ladle the soup into bowls and top with lots of grated cheese. Pass the crusty bread for bowl mopping.

Makes 6 big servings.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Peppers for Cold Meats

I found this recipe on one of my favorite food blogs, The Wednesday Chef. She, in turn, found this recipe (by Auguste Escoffier) in the L.A. Times. When I saw it on her blog, I thought it looked simple enough to make. So, when I was told we would be having roast chicken on Sunday, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try this recipe.

What you will need:

4 tbsps. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 lb. sweet red peppers, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. mixed spices (nutmeg, allspice)
1 lb. ripe tomatoes peeled and chopped, or 3/4 of a 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of raisins
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup red wine vinegar.

How to put it all together:

Start by heating the oil in a big pot, and then add the onions. Fry the onions over low heat until softened. Then add the peppers, ginger and mixed spices. Cook for ten minutes. After ten minutes, add the tomatoes, garlic, raisins, sugar and vinegar. Cook over very low heat, covered, for an hour and fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. After an hour and fifteen minutes, uncover the pot and cook for an additional five to ten minutes. Store in the refrigerator overnight for enhanced flavor.

I ended up modifying this recipe a little by using golden raisins instead of regular, and using 1/2 a tsp. of nutmeg alone, since I did not have any allspice. I also used the entire diced can of tomatoes with the liquid, and did not find the peppers to be watery as a result. I also left the pot to cook uncovered for an additional seven minutes.

This recipe makes a lot of peppers, so if it is just one or two of you, then I would suggest halving the recipe. Also, while this recipe is delicious with meats, a little goes a long way. Think of the peppers as a condiment that you would use like mayo or mustard. I never got a chance to try the peppers out with cold meat - I ended up leaving the left overs with my family - but we did eat it with the hot roast chicken, and it was a hit. Since I don't particularly like eating hot meat with cold condiments, I took the peppers out of the fridge before serving so they could warm up to room temperature.

The result: