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.

nomnomcat print button

Advertisements

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.)

nomnomcat print button

Friday Fun: Grasshopper

Drinks and Cocktails, Recipes

I know we’re still celebrating autumn, but mid-November also means that Winter is Coming. (Game of Thrones, anyone?) After all, Starbucks has already switched to their festive red coffee cups and serving up Peppermint Mochas and Eggnog Lattes, so why can’t we start mixing up some colorful and holiday-themed cocktails too? Cue the bright green, minty Grasshopper.

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

Ingredients:

1 ounce green Crème de Menthe

1 ounce white Crème de Cacao

1 ounce light cream (or half & half or whole milk)

Ice

Shake well with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain and pour into a martini glass. Easy peasy!

Whip up a batch of these for your next holiday party and toast to the drink of choice of Raj on The Big Bang Theory. Enjoy what he likes to call a “sweet, green miracle” (to help enable him to talk to women). Cheers!

nomnomcat print button

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!

nomnomcat print button

Witches’ Hats Cookies – Halloween 2013

Desserts and Sweets, Recipes

It’s finally here – All Hallows’ Eve! One of my favorite holidays of the year! I hope you’ve got your pumpkins carved, costumes donned, candy stocked, and witches’ hats ready. Oh, you don’t have a witch’s hat? Have no fear! These easy-to-assemble snacks are here to save the day!

Witch's Hat Cookie

Witch’s Hat Cookie

Every holiday, I love to browse the recipes on AllRecipes.com for seasonal ideas that had a fun and festive flair to the party table. I always see all sorts of creative ideas in varying from complicated made-from-scratch confections to boxed cake mix tweaks and skill levels ranging from kid-friendly to formal culinary education recommended. But these witches’ hats are incredibly easy and I thought they are oh so clever! Plus I welcome any excuse to buy a package of Fudge Stripes cookies — the lunchbox holy grail of my childhood.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1 package Fudge Stripes cookies (approximately 24 cookies per package)

24 Hershey’s Kisses (or the same number as cookies)

Orange icing — I used a bottle of Wilton’s Cookie Icing, but you can buy cake decorating gel or whip up some homemade royal icing

(Adapted from this AllRecipes.com recipe)

Line the cookies up, striped side down

Line the cookies up, striped side down

Step 1: Arrange your cookies on a tray or baking sheet striped side down. I put mine in a 9×13 Pyrex dish which came with a lid (the height is perfect to keep the hats intact).

Pipe the frosting onto a Kiss

Pipe the frosting onto a Kiss

Step 2: if needed, transfer the icing to piping bag with a small round decorating tip (I used a No. 2 round). Pipe around the edges of the bottom of a Kiss.

Affix the Kiss to the Cookie

Affix the Kiss to the Cookie

Step 3: Affix the Kiss to the Cookie. The icing will harden and act as an adhesive. If some peeks out on the edges, don’t worry — we’ll decorate over this later.

Step 4: Decorate the Hat

Step 4: Decorate the Hat

Step 4: Pipe around the base of the Kiss to create a “belt” or “ribbon” on the hat. Get creative. I added little “buckles” as well, though I think they ended up looking a bit pilgrim-like.

Let the icing harden. Royal icing (and cookie icing) will take about an hour. Plate up for the party and amaze your guests with the simplicity and innovative vision of assembling these store-bought goodies.

Optional: serve alongside another easy hocus-y pocus-y accessory. Flip a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Miniature upside-down. Stab a pretzel stick down the center and voila — broomstick! (Thanks, Irene!)

Wishing you all a safe and happy Halloween!

nomnomcat print button