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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Lemon-Ricotta Tortellini

Main Dishes, Recipes

On Valentine’s Day 2011, Martin surprised me with a homemade spaghetti dinner made on our brand new, shiny Marcato pasta maker. Since then, we’ve made fresh pasta on multiple occasions, sometimes herbed, sometimes thinner or wider strands, but always a long, ribbon-cut noodle. It felt like a distant dream to be able to make shaped or filled pastas. Agnolotti, ravioli, tortellini, just to name a few — all of them seem to require so much skill! But this week, we decided to tackle tortellini and made plenty extra to freeze for future meals — it was a delicious success.

Lemon-Ricotta Tortellini in a brown butter & rosemary sauce

Lemon-Ricotta Tortellini in a brown butter & rosemary sauce

Pasta Dough:

We used our recipe from our very first blog entry on Nom Nom Cat. You’ll need 2-3 batches for the amount of filling below.

Filling:

15 oz ricotta (fat free is OK)

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

zest of one lemon (approximately 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons)

1 egg

pinch of nutmeg

salt & pepper to taste

(We used the proportions from this Epicurious recipe as a base.)

Recipe yields approximately 100 mini tortellini about the size of a quarter in diameter.

Mix together the ingredients for the pasta dough. Knead for a full 10 minutes to get the glutens working. Wrap the kneaded dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 40 minutes.

Lemon-Ricotta Filling

Lemon-Ricotta Filling

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the ingredients until combined. Our filling was a bit clumpy but that’s OK. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap, gently pressing it so that it touches the surface of the filling. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Rolling out the pasta

Rolling out the pasta

Roll out the pasta, 1/4 batch at a time, to a thickness of 7 on the Marcato. You’ll want to be able to faintly see your hand through the sheet of pasta. Cover sheets in plastic wrap or a moist towel to keep them from drying out.

Cut the pasta into rounds

Cut the pasta into rounds

Use a cookie cutter or upside-down drinking glass to cut out even circles of dough. We used a 3-inch diameter tea cup.

Circles of Dough

Circles of Dough

Lay out onto a lightly floured surface. Once you have a nice little collection of pasta ready to shape, grab a small bowl of cold water.

Step 1: Pasta + Filling

Step 1: Pasta + Filling

Now for the fun part: gently lay one of the circles on the fingers of one hand. Top with a small dollop of filling. If you are making mini tortellini like we did, we used about 1/2 teaspoon of filling for each. Dip your finger in the water and lightly moisten the edge halfway around the circle.

Step 2: Fold Over

Step 2: Fold Over

Next, fold over the dough so that the dry half overlaps the moistened half. Gently press around the filling to avoid air bubbles (those will steam up and cause the tortellini to burst open during the cooking process) and continue to press outward to the edges.

Step 3: Dimple

Step 3: Dimple

Use one finger to poke a dimple into the center of the filling. This will serve as the guide for shaping the tortellini.

Step 4: Fold the Pointed Tips Together

Step 4: Fold the Pointed Tips Together

Using the dimple as the center point, pull the pointed tips toward each other. The flat edges should curl up like the brim of a hat and the dimple should help form a little point.

Step 5: Press the Overlapping Edges

Step 5: Press the Overlapping Edges

Press the overlapping edges together so that the dough is about even thickness as the rest of the pasta. This will help ensure even cooking later (if the junction is too thick, then it will be hard when the rest of the tortellini has reached al dente or mush).

Step 6: Arrange on a Baking Sheet

Step 6: Arrange on a Baking Sheet

Arrange your finished product on a baking sheet lightly dusted with flour. We were intending to freeze ours, so we lined our baking sheet with parchment paper. Placing them in straight rows like a pasta army is optional.

As easy as boiling water

As easy as boiling water

Cooking them is easy. If you are serving them immediately after making, simply cook them in salted boiling water. When they float, give them another minute or so before fishing them out with a slotted spoon. Taste one if you’d like – the pasta should be al dente.

Bon Appetito!

Bon Appetito!

We transferred our pasta immediately from the water to a pan of brown butter and rosemary sauce, although that turned out to be a bit rich. A better option, in our opinion, is a drizzle of your favorite olive oil (we used Global Gardens meyer lemon oil) and chopped basil. Refreshing and truly brings out the lemony filling!

Frozen Tortellini - perfect for a weeknight meal

Frozen Tortellini – perfect for a weeknight meal

To save for later, let the tortellini freeze at least overnight on a baking sheet in a single layer. After they have hardened, transfer to a resealable plastic bag, label, and store. For an easy weeknight dinner, simply boil up water. Season with salt and toss in a handful or two of tortellini. Watch until they float and then wait another 2-3 minutes, about 5-7 minutes altogether. The filling will have heated through and the pasta will be nice and al dente. Serve with a sauce of your choice.

And a little Photoshop fun for our dear readers... I couldn't resist!

And a little Photoshop fun for our dear readers… I couldn’t resist!

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———————

our-growing-edge-badgeThis post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. Making homemade tortellini is certainly a challenge but one that we are so proud to have overcome. We hope that you too will try your hand at folding these little buggers. It was a fun project that turned out to be hours of quality time together in the kitchen. And after your hard work, there’s no feeling quite like the satisfaction of digging into a bowl of fresh pasta made by your own hands.

This month is hosted by Marnelli at Sweets & Brains.

Like this link-up? Keep your own Growing Edge in mind — we’ll be hosting in October!

Cheers!

Weeknight Dinner: Tuna & Arugula Pasta

Main Dishes, Recipes

After the success of the bacon & arugula pasta, I thought I’d try combining pasta and arugula again. This time, I used a different protein – tuna packed in olive oil, specifically, a fancy gold can of Genova Tonno tuna. And yes, I used cellentani pasta for this one also. That corkscrew shape is just too fun. What follows is a dinner that is perfect for quickly throwing together after a long day at work. It has the comforting familiarity of a tuna casserole without the sodium and fattiness of a canned soup base. Plus, it’s tossed with arugula for a peppery dose of greens.

Tuna & Arugula Pasta - the finished product

Tuna & Arugula Pasta – the finished product

This tuna pasta also keeps well for the next day’s lunch, an important trait we think about when we’re planning out our weeknight dinner rotation. Just remember to get the tuna packed in oil. The kind packed in water (which I usually buy for tuna salad and other cold dishes) will get mushy when you try to saute it. Another key flavor enhancer is the anchovy paste; I used to be able to find it only in Italian grocery stores or fancier markets like Gelsons, but lately I’ve seen these tubes sold at our local VONS and Ralphs as well. It’s worth the investment – the tube will keep for months in the refrigerator and the fishy paste is great for adding an umami quality to Italian dishes.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1/2 box dried pasta (about 8 ounces)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, finely diced

1 5-ounce can tuna packed in oil (pictured here is a 3 oz can for dinner-for-one)

1 teaspoon anchovy paste

1-2 cups arugula

Juice of one lemon wedge plus a few wedges for serving

Step 1: Saute

Step 1: Saute

Step 1: Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the garlic and shallots until the garlic is a light brown color and the shallots are translucent.

Step 2: Tuna

Step 2: Tuna

Step 2: Drain out some of the oil from the canned tuna and add the contents to the pan. Stir to break up the chunks. Add the anchovy paste and saute for a few minutes.

Step 3: Mix

Step 3: Mix

Step 3: Add in the pasta and stir to combine. Season with black pepper (plenty) and salt (just a bit, as the anchovy paste will naturally add plenty of saltiness). Just before serving, toss in the arugula and mix until wilted. Drizzle with lemon juice for brightness.

Step 4: Serve & Enjoy

Step 4: Serve & Enjoy

Step 4: Ready in less than 30 minutes, all that’s left is to dig in and enjoy! If you’re looking to make an ordinary weeknight dinner a bit more special, this tuna & arugula pasta pairs nicely with a glass of Chardonnay. Serve with lemon wedges for extra zing, if desired. Bon appetit!

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Weeknight Dinner: Bacon & Arugula Cellentani

Main Dishes, Recipes

I know the discontinuation of Google Reader is old news, but a few weeks ago I finally migrated my RSS feeds over to Feedly and have been playing catch-up with some of my favorite food blogs for inspiration. Anywho, last week Adam at The Amateur Gourmet posted an apparently popular recipe for bacon, chickpea, and spinach pasta and I, remembering the bacon I have leftover in the fridge after making a boatload of onion compote for the barbecue, was inspired to make my own bacon pasta for dinner. Unfortunately I had neither chickpea nor spinach on hand, so as much as I love Lidia Bastianich, I had to pave my own path that night. A half-eaten bag of arugula, also a casualty of the Copycat FO Burger, called out to me (as did its friend Canned Tomatoes sitting in the pantry) and before I knew it, the dish really came together.

Bacon & Arugula Pasta

Bacon & Arugula Pasta

It’s hearty and rustic without really using much meat, and it was an easy, comforting weeknight dish that yielded 4 meals. Plus, these new cellentani (also known as cavatappi) from Barilla were fun to eat and perfectly held the light tomato-bacon sauce. You can substitute any shaped pasta of your choosing; I imagine penne or ziti would also work well.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

3-4 strips of applewood smoked bacon (the fancy thick-cut slices are ideal)

4-5 cloves of garlic, minced (I used 6. It was awesome.)

1/4 cup sweet onion, diced (or about 1/4 to 1/2 of a medium-sized onion)

Optional: Dried red pepper flakes, a few shakes

1 14.5-ounce can of whole tomatoes, hand crushed (you can also use canned diced or crushed tomatoes)

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 16-ounce box of dried pasta (you might not need all of it – I used about 3/4 of the box and saved the leftover plain pasta for another dish)

1 generous handful (about 1 cup) arugula, washed and dried

Step 1: Cook the pasta

Step 1: Cook the pasta

Step 1: Boil just enough water to cover the pasta by an inch or so (you’ll want to save the nice and starchy pasta water for the sauce later). Salt it and cook the pasta according to package instructions.

Step 2: Bacon Lardon

Step 2: Bacon Lardon

Step 2: Meanwhile, cut the bacon slices into 1/2-inch strips (in case you’re curious, these are also known as lardon). Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.

Step 3: Sizzle like bacon (just kidding - render the fat)

Step 3: Sizzle like bacon (just kidding – render the fat)

Step 3: Render the fat from the bacon pieces, stirring periodically to brown both sides of each piece.

Step 4: Onions, garlic, pepper flakes

Step 4: Onions, garlic, pepper flakes

Step 4: When the bacon is sufficiently browned but not quite shriveled to a crisp, add the garlic and onion and red pepper flakes, if using. Saute until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.  Depending on the size and shape of your pasta, this will be about the time when you’ll need to — RESERVING the pasta water — drain (and rinse, if you have to) and set it aside. Hold onto the pasta water, at least a cup or two of it.

Step 5a: Crush the whole tomatoes (if using crushed, just open the can)

Step 5a: Crush the whole tomatoes (if using crushed, just open the can)

Step 5a: Crush the tomatoes by hand if using whole tomatoes.

Step 5b: Add the tomatoes

Step 5b: Add the tomatoes

Step 5b: Add the crushed tomatoes and about a ladle or two’s worth of pasta water. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes to cook down and thicken.

Step 6: Herbs

Step 6: Herbs

Step 6: I sprinkled in a bit of granulated sugar at this point, not more than a teaspoon, to balance the acidity. Add the dried herbs and continue to simmer.

Step 7: Stir and simmer

Step 7: Stir and simmer

Step 7: Stir the sauce periodically. If you feel it is getting too thick, add more pasta water. The sauce should resemble a spaghetti sauce but preferably a bit less viscous.

Step 7: Add pasta

Step 8: Add pasta

Step 8: When the sauce resembles a good ol’ spaghetti sauce, add about half to two-thirds of the pasta. Stir well. Add more pasta water or pasta or both until you’ve hit a ratio of evenly coated, tomato-y pasta. Just be careful not to thin out the sauce too much at this point and again, you will probably not use up all of the cooked pasta.

Step 9: Arugula

Step 9: Arugula

Step 9: Just before serving, pile on the arugula and mix in, letting the steam from the hot pasta wilt the leaves. You’ll want to do this last because actually cooking the arugula will make it bitter.

Wilting arugula

Wilting arugula

A sprinkling of fresh cracked black pepper and this is ready to serve.

Buon appetito~!

Buon appetito~!

Buon appetito — a rustic-tasting dinner that can be thrown together in as little as 30 minutes! When I first made this, Martin was working late, so I kept the sauce on a constant simmer and periodically added pasta water as needed over the course of about 20-30 minutes. My total prep and cooking time was about an hour because I wanted to toss in the pasta closer to serving time. Still, not bad for a weeknight and if you’re just cooking for 2 like we are, this means plenty of leftovers for lunch. And in case you were wondering, microwaved arugula is a bit bitter but certainly edible. If you can, bring along some fresh sprigs and mix them in after nuking the pasta and sauce only for best next-day results. Cheers!

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