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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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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Chicken Noodle Soup (Adorable Shapes Welcomed)

Main Dishes, Recipes

April Showers make me want to curl up in our cozy house with a hot bowl of comforting chicken noodle soup, especially since the aroma of chicken will likely lure at least one of our cats over to beg for a morsel. I’ll be honest, I used to be content to opening up a can of Campbell’s (the one with the star shapes was my favorite), but after making your own chicken soup, you can never really go back. This is the perfect recipe to use up random chicken parts – wings are great for both rendering the stock and shredding up to eat since they have a good bone-to-meat ratio, but you can also use a chicken carcass (perhaps after butchering your own chicken – my latest “thing”) paired with more meaty parts. I’ve even been known to muster up the effort to prepare this soup for myself while out sick, it’s that easy. Leftovers freeze well for a rainy day, but this small-batch recipe will serve about 4.

Chicken Noodle Soup (made even more fun with Hello Kitty Macaroni)

Chicken Noodle Soup (made even more fun with Hello Kitty shaped macaroni!)

Ingredients:

1 lb bone-in chicken (I used 10 wings)

1 tablespoon oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 medium onion, diced

3-4 carrots, diced or sliced

3-4 stalks of celery, sliced

5-6 cups of water

Dried bay leaves

Dried thyme

Salt & pepper

1 1-lb box of pasta, any shape

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and set aside. Start prepping your vegetables.

Sizzle sizzle!

Sizzle sizzle!

In a large pot, heat the oil and saute the garlic until just barely browned. Add the chicken and sear on all sides.

Veg-tastic!

Veg-tastic!

Toss in the onions and let them sweat a bit, just a few minutes. Add in the rest of the vegetables and pour in the water. Bring to a boil.

Mmm soup..

Mmm soup..

Add in the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally and skimming off any foam that may form.

Cook according to package instructions, and what a cute package it is!

Cook according to package instructions, and what a cute package it is!

As the broth is simmering, cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain and rinse and set aside.

Ta-da! Soup is ready.

Ta-da! Soup is ready.

When ready to serve, spoon some pasta into a bowl and ladle the soup over it. If you’re packing up leftovers, it is best to store the noodles separately from the broth, otherwise the pasta will absorb extra liquid and turn to mush.

For the days when you feel under the weather, we hope this chicken noodle soup brings some comfort and smiles :]

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!