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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Hakata Ramen Shin Sen Gumi – Little Tokyo

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Oh ramen… It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles for college did I finally discover that ラーメン is so much more than Cup ‘O Noodles or Nong Shim shin cups. There was shio (salt) ramen, shoyu (soy sauce) ramen, miso ramen, and of course our favorite – tonkotsu (pork-based) ramen. With a rich broth enriched by the fat and collagen in pork bones, there’s nothing quite like a big bowl of tonkotsu ramen on a cold rainy day (or even on a hot summer’s day) to really make my insides feel warm and fuzzy. Martin and I have been known to stand on the sidewalk of 1st Street in hour-long waits for Daikokuya, but this time, we were in the mood for something a bit different. Cue, Shin-Sen-Gumi.

The Guys at Shin-Sen-Gumi

The Guys at Shin-Sen-Gumi

Hakata ramen is traditionally a pork-based broth served with thin, pale white noodles, chashu (roasted pork slices), negi (green onions), and benishoga (red pickled ginger). Two relatively unique concepts make Shin-Sen-Gumi stand out among the other ramen shops — 1) you use an order form where you can check off your desired broth strength, noodle texture, and amount of oil, and 2) you can purchase any variety of the 30 available regular and special toppings to really customize your bowl. Add in the fact that Shin-Sen-Gumi offers kaedama (that is, the purchase of extra noodles) and we have a winning combination!

The Menu

The Menu

It will be difficult, but definitely narrow down your toppings to just a few or the price of a standard sized bowl will quickly add up. Luckily, most toppings hover between $1-2 and since they come in separate little dishes, you can always share.

Our Order

Our Order

We were practically drooling at the counter watching the guys set up bowl after bowl of noodles and broth with a deft swiftness. The energy was great as they enthusiastically called out each new order and simultaneously welcomed new customers with a loud  いっらしゃい (irrashai!).

Other Toppings / Mix-ins

Other Toppings / Mix-ins

At each table sat this cute little rack of additional toppings so you could further customize your broth (customization is the theme of this meal). I saw many others using a combination of the goma (sesame seeds), white pepper, chili oil, vinegar, and shoyu, but we left ours as-is.

Toppings

Toppings (clockwise from the center): chashu, thick cut chashu, menma (bamboo), shoyu egg, kikurage (wood ear mushroom), crispy pig ear

We were very happy when the toppings arrived; it was a sign that our bowls of ramen would be coming soon! One of the orders of bamboo, along with the egg and chashu, were for Martin’s bowl, while I was excited to add the bamboo, wood ear mushroom, thick cut chashu, and crispy pig ear to my bowl. As you can see, we don’t share well when it comes to delicious noms.

Hakata Ramen

Hakata Ramen

Martin and I each ordered a bowl of Hakata Ramen. He went “normal” across the board for noodle firmness, oil, and broth strength but omitted the benishoga. Mine (the one pictured above) was normal noodle firmness, light oil, and normal broth strength. The broth was hearty, rich, and totally hits the spot. Though not quite as fatty as the kotteri ramen at Daikokuya, I very much appreciated that the broth here was not awkwardly cloying on my lips and tongue like it can be at other tonkotsu ramen places.

My Toppings

My Toppings

After what felt like an eternity trying to keep my hands steady enough to take these photographs, I finally grabbed the cute little dishes of toppings and tossed them into my bowl. All except for the crispy pig ear. I decided to reserve those bits of crispy pig ear and add them throughout the meal so they stay crunchy.

All mixed in!

All mixed in!

The noodles here were much thinner than at other ramen places. I was ambivalent, although I generally prefer thicker noodles. Also, I was swimming in pork as I had not realized that the regular bowl of hakata ramen comes with a few chashu slices by default. I’m definitely not complaining though! Martin and I were focused — we ate in stunned silence, save for the occasional slurp.

Crispy Pig Ear

Crispy Pig Ear

Hands down the crispy pig ear was my favorite topping and probably the best $1.50 I’ve ever spent. A generous pile of golden brown crunchy bits, they reminded me of the pork rinds served with Vietnamese steamed rice cakes (bánh bèo). Some went into my bowl to soak up a bit of broth, but admittedly, many of the pieces just went straight into my mouth. Don’t miss out on this topping!

About $12 - not bad for lunch

About $12 – not bad for lunch

In retrospect, I realized I spent almost as much in toppings as the price of the ramen itself, but I have no regrets. The wood ear mushroom and bamboo added great textures to complement the noodles, and the thick cut chashu was so moist and tender that it practically melted in my mouth. It was definitely a satisfying lunch and well worth the journey out to Downtown LA’s Little Tokyo.

———————

Check out Hakata Ramen Shin-Sen-Gumi: shinsengumigroup.com

132 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90013

See their Yelp reviews here!

Kanom Jeen Nam Ya (Thai Fish Curry Soup)

Main Dishes, Recipes

As I’ve mentioned before, my dad is awesome at tasting new foods at restaurants and then coming home and replicating (often improving) on those dishes. Nam ya (known by its full Thai name as kanom jeen nam ya or ขนมจีนน้ำยา) is one of those dishes. We had tried it at a family friend’s house years ago and every once in a while, especially when the weather turns chilly, I’ll request my dad to whip up a batch. He used to purchase whole catfish from the Vietnamese grocery stores, but then the work to flake the fish off the bones was time-consuming. He found catfish fillets, vacuum-sealed and frozen, at Costco and the final product was still pretty darn good (and less time in the kitchen means more time with family!). I found some recipes online for a traditional version that resembles noodles coated with curry sauce, but ours is a noodle soup version sure to warm your soul on a cold night.

Kanom jeen nam ya (Thai fish curry)

Kanom jeen nam ya (Thai fish curry)

Ingredients:

1 10.5-ounce package of rice vermicelli

3 catfish fillets

2 14-ounce cans of chicken broth (súp gà) * keep one can for the 2nd step

3-4 kaffir lime leaves, whole

1 stalk of fresh lemongrass, cut into 2-inch chunks

3-4 slices of galangal

1 4-oz can nam ya curry paste (yellow or red – you won’t need the whole can)

1 6.8 fluid ounce (200 mL) carton of coconut milk (I use kara brand coconut cream – it comes in a convenient Tetra-Pak box)

1-2 tablespoons fish sauce, more or less to taste

1 bunch of long green beans (đậu đũa in Vietnamese), cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Sprigs of Thai basil

A few handfuls of bean sprouts (be sure to remove the roots and rinse the sprouts in cold water)

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook the vermicelli according to package instructions (probably 2-4 minutes). Tip: unlike pasta, the noodles will not feel al dente until they’ve been drained, rinsed, and set aside for a few minutes. You’ll want to take the noodles off the heat once the timer goes off, even though the noodles will seem too firm. If you wait until the noodles have the right texture straight from the pot, they will overcook and become mushy after you rinse and drain.

Prep the garnish and toppings

Prep the garnish and toppings

In a large pot (at least 5 quarts), add the chicken broth. Keep one of the cans and fill it with water; add to the pot. Repeat once more. Bring to a boil this 28 ounces of broth + 28 ounces of water solution. Add the lime leaves, lemongrass, and galangal. Cook the fish fillets in this fragrant broth. It should only take a few minutes, longer if the fillets were frozen.

Mashing up the fish fillets and curry paste

Mashing up the fish fillets and curry paste

When the fillets are cooked through, transfer the fillets to a bowl. Using a fork or the back of a spoon, flake the fish into a fine mash. Mix in about 2/3 of the can of curry paste.

Add the fish back to the pot. Pour in the coconut milk and season with fish sauce. Simmer for a few minutes.

Soupy goodness!

Soupy goodness!

Prepare for serving: in each bowl, add the vermicelli. Top with a handful of bean sprouts and a scant handful of chopped long beans. Ladle in the broth, being sure to get plenty of fishy bits. Garnish with Thai basil and chili salt (see below). This recipe will yield about 4-5 servings.

Chili Salt

Chili Salt

If you have it on hand, you could whip up a quick batch of chili salt by grinding 1 Thai chili with about 1 tablespoon of salt. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Chili salt is pretty shelf-stable and tastes great with fruit.

Thanks, Dad, for figuring out the recipe and for teaching me how to make it myself!