Minestrone Soup

Appetizers and Starters, Main Dishes, Recipes

Minestrone. A classic Italian vegetable soup, I see minestrone offered everywhere — served alongside sandwiches at small cafes, as the zuppa di giorno (“soup of the day” in Italian) at a hole-in-the-wall ristorante, by the ladle-full in salad bars, and even out of a can. Made with seasonal and available vegetables, every batch is different. But one thing is for sure – the final product is hearty, comforting, and packed with nature’s bounty.

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone Soup

Aside from simply having too much squash leftover from our ratatouille adventures, what really inspired me to make minestrone was the fact that while Martin enjoyed my pasta e fagioli, he spent much of his time picking out the cannellini beans. You can’t have pasta e fagioli without the fagioli, but you can have a similar broth enveloping a medley of vegetables sans legumes. Without further ado…

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 medium onion, diced

2 zucchinis, diced

1 yellow squash, diced

1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes

3-4 dried bay leaves

2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme)

1 32 fl oz (quart) vegetable stock (or beef stock)

1/2 lb small pasta, like ditalini, stars, orzo, etc.

Salt & pepper to taste

Saute the Onions

Sauteing the Onions

Step 1: Heat a stock pot over medium-high heat. Saute the garlic and onions in a bit of olive oil until translucent.

Dicing the Zucchini

Dicing the Zucchini

Step 2: Prep the vegetables, dicing them into evenly diced cubes.

Sauteing the Vegetables

Sauteing the Vegetables

Step 3: Add the vegetables and saute with a sprig of fresh thyme for a few minutes until softened and aromatic. Season with salt and pepper.

Adding the Tomatoes and Herbs

Adding the Tomatoes and Herbs

Step 4: Pour in the canned tomatoes (including the juices) and toss in one or two additional sprigs of fresh thyme along with the bay leaves.

Simmer Simmer

Simmer Simmer

Step 5: Add the stock and bring to a boil, tasting and seasoning as you go.

Boiling the Pasta

Boiling the Pasta

Step 6: In a small pot, boil salted water and cook the pasta according to package instructions.

Soup is Ready!

Soup is Ready!

Step 7: When the broth has come to a boil and the vegetables are tender but not mushy, it’s ready to go.

Portioning the Pasta

Portioning the Pasta

In each bowl, portion a scoop of pasta, about 1 cup. Ladle the broth and vegetables over the pasta and serve immediately.

Minestrone Soup - piled high with veggies

Minestrone Soup – piled high with veggies

Makes about 4 hearty servings, perfect for a cold wintery night. Because you know, anything below 75 degrees Fahrenheit counts as “wintery” here in LA.

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Pasta e Fagioli

Appetizers and Starters, Main Dishes, Recipes

“When the stars make you drool, just-a like pasta fazool, that’s amore…” It has been getting pretty chilly around here, and you know what that means –’tis the season for soup! We make lots of chicken based soups, but sometimes, you’re just in a mood that only a bacon and beef based broth can satisfy. Pasta e fagioli, literally “pasta and beans” in Italian, is a simple soup that’s packed with flavor. It’s also surprisingly easy and plus, I’ll bet you can’t help but hum Dean Martin’s That’s Amore as this simmers on the stove.

Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli

Another perk of making “pasta fazool” — not only can you whip it up in a jiffy, the ingredients list is largely made up of shelf stable items commonly in stock in the pantry. Just… make sure you have a working can opener. (Without one, it was a lot of extra unnecessary effort getting those tomatoes and beans out of their aluminum shields… not speaking from experience at all, but just saying – if you need advice on how to pop open a can without a proper can opener, shoot me an email.)

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

2-3 strips bacon (I used thick-cut applewood smoked bacon), sliced into lardons

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

3-4 dried bay leaves

(Optional: sprinkle of dried red pepper flakes)

1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes

1 14 ounce can cannellini (white kidney) beans

1 32 fl oz (quart) beef stock

1/2 lb small pasta, like ditalini, stars, orzo, etc.

Salt & pepper to taste

It's BACON! (says the dog from the Beggin' Strips commercials in the 90s)

It’s BACON! (says the dog from the Beggin’ Strips commercials in the 90s)

Step 1: I like to use the same cutting board whenever I can, so first, mince the garlic and set aside. Take out the bacon strips and cut into large lardon-like pieces.

Mmm bacon grease.

Mmm bacon grease.

Step 2: Heat a stock pot over high heat. Saute the lardons and render the fat.

Amazing aromatics with the bacon-garlic combo

Amazing aromatics with the bacon-garlic combo

Step 3: When the bacon has cooked through, add the garlic. Once the garlic has just barely started to brown, sprinkle in the herbs and red pepper flakes, if desired.

After finally prying open those cans...

After finally prying open those cans…

Step 4: Add both the tomatoes and cannellini beans. Mix around and heat on medium / medium-high for a few minutes.

Adding in the Stock

Adding in the Stock

Step 5: Pour in the beef stock and cover to quickly bring to a boil.

The pasta really soaks up a lot of the liquid -- add water if necessary

The pasta really soaks up a lot of the liquid — add water if necessary

Step 6: Once the soup has reached a boil, add in the pasta. This is also a good chance to taste the soup and season as needed. Keep in mind that the stock and bacon are inevitably salty.

Ready to Serve!

Ready to Serve!

Step 7: Continue to simmer for about 10 minutes or until the pasta reaches al dente texture. Serve immediately.

Buon Appetito!

Buon Appetito!

Makes about 4 hearty servings of soup. It’s best to only make enough for same-day consumption as the pasta continues to expand the longer it sits in the soup. (Still delicious, even though my lunch of leftovers was more saucy than soupy.)

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Meatless Monday: Remy’s Ratatouille (Version II)

Main Dishes, Recipes, Side Dishes

Okay friends, so a few weeks ago, we brought you our quick and easy version of the ratatouille from the Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille. Not content to have replicated the dish mainly in appearance and less so in taste, I decided to tackle the daunting recipe for confit byaldi by the master himself Thomas Keller, the culinary consultant for the movie. In that sense, his recipe is Remy’s ratatouille, so I just had to try it his way. It looks very similar in appearance (and I’ve found that it takes great patience to arrange those concentric slices while your stomach’s growling), but the flavor… it was like the scene in the movie when Remy’s taste buds figuratively exploded from his sensory bonanza. So vastly different in the best way.

Thomas Keller's Confit Byaldi (aka The Ratatouille from Ratatouille)

Thomas Keller’s Confit Byaldi (aka The Ratatouille from Ratatouille)

As you may notice just from looking at the photo, slicing the vegetables, arranging them in overlapping layers, drizzling with olive oil, sprinkling with salt, garnishing with thyme, topping with parchment circles, and baking for 40 minutes at 375 degrees are all the same as my first version, so in this post, I am going to focus more on the piperade and balsamic reduction, two elements that played a huge role in the dramatic, bold flavors that truly brought out the sweetness and earthiness of the vegetables themselves.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

Piperade:

1/2 red bell pepper

1/2 orange bell pepper

1/2 yellow bell pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1/2 sweet onion, finely diced

12 ounces fresh tomatoes, diced OR 1 14-ounce can of tomatoes plus 3-4 fresh tomatoes, diced

2-3 sprigs of thyme

Salt

Balsamic Reduction:

1 cup balsamic vinegar

(and a jar in which to store the reduction)

(Adapted from the confit byaldi recipe posted in the New York Times in 2007)

Roasted Peppers (Before)

Roasted Peppers (Before)

First, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Remove the seeds and ribs (the white flesh) from the bell peppers. Arrange on a baking sheet cut side down. Roast until the skin pulls away from the pepper and the edges blacken, about 15 minutes.

Sauteing Onions

Sauteing Onions

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Saute the garlic and onions until the onions are softened and translucent, about 10 minutes.

Roasted Peppers (After)

Roasted Peppers (After)

When the peppers are done, pull them out of the oven and set them aside until they are cool enough to handle.

Cooking Down the Tomatoes

Cooking Down the Tomatoes

Add the tomatoes and thyme to the skillet with the onions and season with a sprinkling of salt. Simmer over low heat to reduce and concentrate the juices until there is very little liquid remaining, about 10-15 minutes. While the sauce is reducing, slice your vegetables and prepare your parchment paper circles. Also, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Chopping Bell Peppers

Chopping Bell Peppers

By now the peppers should still be warm but manageable. Peel off the skins and chop finely.

Piperade - the finished product

Piperade – the finished product

Stir in the chopped roasted bell peppers and remove the thyme (leaves are OK but definitely get rid of the thick stems). Now your piperade is ready to go!

First, the Piperade

First, the Piperade

Spread a thin layer of the piperade at the bottom of each baking dish, no more than 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.

Layering Vegetables

Layering Vegetables

Start layering the vegetables, overlapping the slices but leaving just enough of the underlying layer visible for its color. Brush the top with a bit of olive oil to help keep the exposed squash from drying out. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and lay a sprig or two of fresh thyme on top. (If you can’t get fresh thyme, dried would be okay too), Top with your pretty parchment circles and press down gently. The light brushing of oil will help the paper “stick” and stay close to the vegetables.

Ready for the Oven!

Ready for the Oven!

Bake in the 375 degree oven for approximately 40 minutes.

Start your balsamic reduction. Pour the balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Once you see large bubbles, drop the heat and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently. As the balsamic reduces, it burns more easily, so just keep a watchful eye on it. It is done when it reaches the consistency of honey and coats the back of a spoon. Set aside to cool.

When you are a few minutes away from the oven timer going off, start toasting crostini-sized slices of baguette (about 1/2-inch thick, sliced on a bias).

Hot Out of the Oven!

Hot Out of the Oven!

Remove the parchment and the (probably burnt) sprig of thyme before serving. Drizzle with the balsamic reduction.

Just like last time, this recipe ended up yielding four 5″ diameter ramekins (I used low, fluted creme brulee dishes) plus enough leftover for one 8″ diameter pie dish… about 4-6 servings total.

Ratatouille Version I - the final product

Ratatouille Version I – the final product

So what do you think? Which is better, 1?

Ratatouille Version II - the finished product

Ratatouille Version II – the final product

Or 2? (If these were the kinds of images my optometrist would show me, I might not mind my annual check-ups so much!) (Also, yes – I probably should have cleaned up the ramekin a bit. I think those toasty spots give it a rustic character… no?)

Bon appetit!

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Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup (Mien Ga)

Main Dishes, Recipes

Baby it’s cold outside… and that means, it’s the season for soup! We’ve posted a chicken noodle soup on this blog before, but nothing quite hits the spot like Vietnamese miến gà, a glass noodle chicken soup just like my parents used to make for me when I was sick. Martin’s mom did the same for him and I’ll bet many Asian families have a similar recipe in their repertoire. It’s warm, comforting, and beautiful in its simplicity. You could even increase the noodle-to-soup ratio to create the traditional Hawaiian dish Chicken Long Rice. Since we’re starting with just the basics here, the possibilities are endless.

Vietnamese Chicken and Glass Noodle Soup (Miến Gà)

Vietnamese Chicken and Glass Noodle Soup (Miến Gà)

NomNomCat Tip #1: What I refer to as bean thread noodles (or bún tàu) are also translated as “cellophane noodles” or “glass noodles.” These are thin strands often dried and packaged in individual bundles about the size of a generous handful. I cook them directly in the chicken stock, but you can boil them separately in water instead. The latter technique will make it easier to store leftovers (if you can avoid it, do not store the noodles together with the soup or they will quickly soak up all the moisture and expand). Note that these bean thread noodles (made with mung bean starch) are not to be confused with hủ tiếu dai, another Vietnamese glass noodle that is chewier and thicker in diameter, nor with bún, a rice vermicelli that turns bright white when cooked.

Bean Thread Noodles (I know the package says "vermicelli" on it -- how confusing!)

Bun Tau / Bean Thread Noodles (I know the package says “vermicelli” on it — how confusing!)

NomNomCat Tip #2: Anyone who has been to a Vietnamese restaurant may have noticed that there is a vast difference between fish sauce straight from the bottle (nước mắm) and fish sauce that has been “prepared” so to speak (nước chấm, literally “dipping sauce”). I use nuoc mam for seasoning the soup, but for the shredded chicken, the more subtle and balanced nuoc cham is in order. It’s easy to prepare and keeps well in an airtight jar in the refrigerator. Here’s an approximation of my dad’s recipe: In a small sauce pan, bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Stir in a scant 1/4 cup of sugar. When completely dissolved, add 1 cup of cold water to cool the solution down. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of nuoc mam (full strength fish sauce), and 1 teaspoon of white vinegar. Distilled will work fine but if you can get your hands on the Filipino cane vinegar (sukang maasim), Datu Puti is my dad’s brand of choice. Taste and adjust as needed. It should be a balance of sweet, salty, and tart. Pour into a jar and add a few thick slices of fresh garlic. The flavors develop better as it “ages” but you can also use right away if needed.

Okay, now that all that is squared away, let’s go back to basics with miến gà.

Ingredients:

4 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on

1 medium onion, charred

1.5 to 2 quarts water

2 tablespoons fish sauce (nước mắm)

Salt & pepper, to taste

3 50g bundles of bean thread noodles (bún tàu)

3 to 4 tablespoons prepared fish sauce (nước chấm, recipe above)

1 lime

* Optional: about 2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and charred (I omitted it here since I did not have any on hand, but it would have added an extra oomph to the broth’s complexity)

Brown the Chicken

Brown the Chicken

In a large pot (I think mine is a 5 quart stock pot), brown the chicken thighs (sprinkled with salt and pepper) skin side down on high heat to render the fat.

Charred Onion on the Stovetop

Charred Onion on the Stovetop

Meanwhile, char the onion. To do this, you’ll need three things: a peeled onion, a burner on your (gas not electric) stove, and a pair of metal tongs. Oh and a bit of courage. Turn on the burner to high heat. Hold the peeled onion, gripping firmly with the tongs. Lower the onion as close to the burner as you can stand it, letting the flames envelope the outer layers. Rotate the angle to evenly toast up the onion. Some patches may bubble up and pop — that’s where the courage comes into play. After I browned the exposed areas, I lay the onion onto a cutting board and re-position the tongs to char the hard-to-reach portion.

Chicken Stock - The Beginning

Chicken Stock – The Beginning

Toss into the pot with the chicken. Pour in about 1.5 to 2 quarts of water. I’ve read that for a clear, proper stock, you are supposed to start with cold water. However, I am often short on time and so I will heat the water in a kettle first to expedite bringing the whole pot to a boil. I don’t mind cloudy chicken broth. ;)

Fish Sauce -- the "secret" ingredient

Fish Sauce — the “secret” ingredient

Season with a few good shakes of fish sauce, about 2 tablespoons. Let simmer for about 45 minutes to one hour or until the chicken has cooked through and the broth is fatty and flavorful.

Shredding the Chicken (they just came out of boiling water so don't grab barehanded like I did)

Shredding the Chicken (they just came out of boiling water so don’t grab barehanded like I did)

Remove the chicken to a plate and shred. It’s quite hot so I used a fork and knife.

Seasoning the Chicken

Seasoning the Chicken

After all the chicken is shredded into bite-sized bits, I help it out a bit flavor-wise with a generous drizzle of prepared fish sauce (nuoc cham) and squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Cook the Glass Noodles

Cook the Glass Noodles

Meanwhile, turn off the heat and add the bean thread noodles to the broth (or to a separate pot of boiling water, if desired). The bundles will expand and soften within minutes.

For each portion, start with noodles and chicken

For each portion, start with noodles and chicken

To serve, grab a bowl. build a nest of noodles, pile on the shredded chicken, and ladle in the broth.

Ladle in the broth and serve!

Ladle in the broth and serve!

Serve with a wedge of lime and, if you like a spicy kick, add a dollop of sambal oelek (chili garlic paste). This will yield about 4 servings. Enjoy!

UPDATE: Exciting news!

I am going through and uploading PRINTABLE versions of our recipes for your viewing and printing convenience. We love to post step-by-step photos along with our recipes, but we know that this makes for cumbersome print jobs when it comes to bringing a copy of the recipe into the kitchen for reference. For this mien ga recipe, please click on this link or the BRAND NEW BUTTON below. For our recipe archive (a work in progress), click here. Scroll down to the very bottom of the site, click on “Print Page,” and when prompted, either save as a PDF to your computer or send the print job directly to your printer. Easy peasy!

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Beer Braised Bratwurst and Apple Slaw

Main Dishes, Recipes

Even though Oktoberfest in Germany ended earlier this month, it’s not too late to celebrate with beer and brats here in the States! That’s right, folks — contrary to popular belief, traditional Oktoberfest does not wait until October to begin. This annual sixteen-day festival runs from late September to the first week of October each year, though Oktoberfest events in the States (or at least here in Southern California) run throughout the 10th month of the year. I love holidays, so one night after work, I decided to surprise Martin with a festive batch of beer braised bratwurst accompanied by seasonal pumpkin ales.

Beer Braised Bratwurst, Apple Slaw, Mashed Potatoes, and a seasonal lager

Beer Braised Bratwurst, Apple Slaw, Mashed Potatoes, and a seasonal lager

This recipe is a great way to prepare your favorite store-bought brand of bratwurst (or, I suppose, “bratwurst-style sausages,” to be all-inclusive). We’re not quite skilled nor equipped for stuffing our own force-meat at home, so a quick stop at a local butcher shop or grocery store is in order. While you’re there, grab a six-pack of your favorite brew along with a good-sized white or sweet onion. I served ours over a bed of mashed potatoes with a dollop of apple slaw, though you are welcome to whip up more traditional potato pancakes, sauerkraut, or a cabbage-based slaw.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 lb of bratwurst (I used Trader Joes seasonal pork Hofbrau Brats)

1 medium (or 2 small) white or sweet onions, sliced top-to-bottom like for the Office Burger

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Salt & pepper

12 ounces of beer (any will do – I used the Oktoberfest lager, also at Trader Joes)

1 tablespoon brown sugar

(Optional) Apple Slaw Ingredients:

(Optional) Apple Slaw Ingredients:

2 apples (I used one honey crisp and one granny smith)

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 tablespoon honey

Extra virgin olive oil until emulsified, about 1/3 to 1/2 cup

Mm butter...

Mm butter…

Step 1: Melt the butter in a large skillet.

Sear the Brats

Sear the Brats

Step 2: Brown the sausages on all sides, getting a nice dark sear. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Saute the Onions

Saute the Onions

Step 3: In the buttery, fatty goodness, saute the onions. Season with salt and pepper.

Wilted Onions

Wilted Onions

Step 4: After about 5-10 minutes, they should have wilted like this. Sprinkle with a bit of granulated sugar (to help with the caramelization). Continue to saute for a few more minutes.

Simmer Simmer

Simmer Simmer

Step 5: Pour in the beer and bring to a simmer. Add in the bratwurst and continue cooking until the beer has reduced to a glaze-like sauce. If needed, sprinkle in a bit of brown sugar to combat any bitterness from the beer. During this stage, prepare the apple salad or any side dishes.

Braising the Brats

Braising the Brats

Step 6: By the time the beer becomes glaze, the sausages will have cooked for anywhere from 20-30 minutes. Remove one and insert a meat thermometer, ensuring that the internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees. Once you’re there, it’s good to go!

Time for Apple Salad!

Time for Apple Salad!

For our side dish, I whipped up a quick apple-based slaw. I forgot the honey my first time around so it turned out way too acidic… I won’t be making that mistake again any time soon! The recipe above should yield a balanced, sweet & sour salad perfect for the savory sausages.

Whisk Whisk

Whisk Whisk

To prepare the apple salad, whisk together the dressing ingredients, starting with the mustard, vinegar, lime juice, and honey and then drizzling in the oil until well emulsified.

Cut the Apples

Cut the Apples

Julienne the apples — if you have a mandoline, slice on the thickest setting and then cut the slices into strips.

Toss in the Dressing

Toss in the Dressing

Toss in the dressing until well coated. Season with salt. Let chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Ready to drink and devour. Prost!

Ready to drink and devour. Prost!

We served two sausages per person for a hearty dinner that paired perfectly with my Sam Adams Octoberfest and Martin’s Hoegaarden. It took a bit longer than anticipated for a weeknight dinner (mostly because I’m paranoid about cooking pork and really wanted those sausages to simmer in the brew for a long time) but for an hour’s work, we ended up with a deliciously festive meal. So try it out, raise your glass, and Prost!