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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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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Meatless Monday: Remy’s Ratatouille (Version I)

Main Dishes, Recipes, Side Dishes

Happy Meatless Monday! Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been a fan of a) Disney movies and b) seeing food on TV and wishing I could make something equally nice at home. So after watching the Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille for the umpteenth time, I thought to myself, Self, that ratatouille looks gorgeous and if it’s good enough to render Anton Ego speechless, then I want to make it myself! I got hold of some squash, tomatoes, and (to make things even easier) some homemade tomato sauce that had been gifted to us. Without the use of any recipes aside from a few (okay… maybe a dozen) screenings of the cooking scene in the movie along with a quick Google Image search for pictures of the final product, I ended up with this:

Ratatouille Version I - the final product

Ratatouille Version I – the final product

Not bad, right? To be honest, this version of ratatouille is just a quick and easy way to enjoy the heartiness and comfort of the roasted vegetables in a delicious (and vegan!) dish that gets to the dinner table in as little as one hour. It mostly resembles Remy’s ratatouille in its styling with the use of thin slices as opposed to a chunky stew, but the sauce has been simplified and I omitted eggplants as a personal preference, (Remy, by the way, is the name of the rodent protagonist in the movie.) I learned recently that Remy’s version had been adapted from Thomas Keller, who was the culinary consultant during the production of the film. His confit byaldi recipe was posted in the New York Times in 2007, the same year the movie was released. So, for those of you doing the math, yes – I’ve been wanting to make this dish for the past 6 years and only recently became inspired and confident enough to give it a go.

A "before" photo

A “before” photo

I am calling this Version I because while I do intend to tackle Thomas Keller’s recipe with its more traditional red bell pepper and tomato sauce base in the near future, this attempt was pretty darn tasty. Tasty enough, I feel, to be worth sharing. 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. You could probably make two 8″ diameter pie dishes or one gratin dish if you were to make multiple layers (mine were all single-layered). We enjoyed this simply spread onto toasted baguette slices, though it would make an excellent side dish to a protein of your choosing.

A mandoline is a must-have to easily get those uniform, thin slices.

A mandoline is a must-have to easily get those uniform, thin slices.

NomNomCat Tip #1: The sauce. I used a homemade tomato sauce (roma tomatoes, garlic, onions, thyme, oregano – all simmered together until reduced) as the base, though ratatouille is more traditionally served with a roasted red pepper and tomato blend. For our simplified version, you are welcome to use your favorite homemade (or even store-bought if you must) tomato sauce.

NomNomCat Tip #2: The vegetables. There are so many versions of ratatouille but many feature a combination of zucchini, yellow squash, tomato, eggplant (aubergine), and/or bell peppers. What makes this particular ratatouille special is its presentation. The thin slices, easily accomplished with a mandoline, roast up quickly and look impressively colorful. When purchasing your produce, you’ll want to keep in mind that vegetables of similar diameters will yield the best circles for layering. Also, beware that squashes hold a lot of water which release during the baking process. To avoid soggy ratatouille (especially if you are using eggplants), sprinkle the slices with a bit of salt to draw out some of its water before layering; . Lastly, depending on the size of your vegetables, the quantity may vary. You just want to end up with an approximately even number of slices of each vegetable (if you’re OCD like I am) or you can always adjust your layering patterns to accommodate any shortages. Have fun with it!

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1 to 2 zucchinis

2 to 3 yellow squash

3 to 4 roma tomatoes

10 ounces of tomato sauce

A few tablespoons of olive oil

Salt & pepper

Sprigs of fresh thyme

Fresh chives (optional; for garnish)

French baguette (serving suggestion)

Parchment Circles

Parchment Circles

First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Then prepare your parchment paper circles. You’ll need to top each dish with these later and it’s much easier to measure when the vessels are empty than when they are stacked full of vegetable slices. To make a quick circle, tear off a square sheet of parchment. Fold it in half twice so that you get a smaller square. Fold the side with 2 “flaps” onto the side with the single thick crease, making a triangle. Flip over and fold one more time, so that the side with 3 flaps matches up with the (new) single thick crease. Line up the point approximately in the center of the dish and eyeball the length of the radius. Using scissors, snip across in a slightly curved line. Unfold and voila – a perfect (ish) circle!

Zucchini slices

Zucchini slices

Next, prepare your vegetables. I used my Kyocera ceramic blade mandoline on its thickest setting (3.0 mm) so I had all of my vegetables sliced in a matter of minutes.  If slicing by hand, just be careful – the slices should not be paper thin or they’ll fall apart in the cooking process. A few millimeters thick and most importantly, consistent thickness for even baking.

Yellow squash slices

Yellow squash slices

Set your slices aside. I let the two squashes share a dish while the tomatoes sat in a separate bowl since they had already started releasing their juices.

Sauce the dishes

Sauce the dishes

I used our tomato sauce straight out of the refrigerator since we will be baking it anyway. Spread a thin layer at the bottom of each baking dish. These ramekins held about 2-3 spoonfuls of sauce apiece and I used the remainder to line my 8″ pie dish.

Start layering!

Start layering!

Start layering! Have fun with this step. Mine are all in the same pattern (yellow squash, zucchini, tomato, yellow squash, zucchini, tomato) to streamline the process and to satisfy my inner OCD. You are welcome to mix it up or arrange them randomly. Just be sure to overlap the slices, leaving just enough of the underlying layer visible for its color.

Drizzle with oil

Drizzle with oil

Brush the top with a bit of olive oil to help keep the exposed squash from drying out. I drizzled a thin line of oil over the top and rubbed it on with a clean finger. Whatever works.

Almost ready for the oven!

The larger dish – almost ready for the oven!

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 parchment

Top with parchment

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.

The big reveal!

The big reveal!

Bake in the 375 degree oven for approximately 40 minutes. When you are a few minutes away from the timer going off, start toasting crostini-sized slices of baguette (about 1/2-inch thick, sliced on a bias).

Voila - ratatouille!

Voila – ratatouille!

Remove the parchment and the (probably burnt) sprig of thyme before serving. To make things extra pretty, I borrowed Remy’s plating idea to use a single chive tip to garnish. Although now I have a lot of leftover chives in my refrigerator… time to research another recipe!

We each ate two of those ramekins with toast for dinner and split the contents of the pie dish for the next day’s lunch. If you plan to serve this as a side dish, I think one ramekin per person would be sufficient. One of my friends likes to drizzle the ratatouille with balsamic vinegar before baking (or balsamic reduction after baking would also work), top it with gobs of goat cheese and serve it over pan fried polenta. Fancy!

Dress it up or dress it down, there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy this comforting dish especially on a cool autumn night. Bon appetit!

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our-growing-edge-badgeThis post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing EdgeThis event aims to connect food bloggers all over the world and inspire us to try new things. The ratatouille from Ratatouille has been on my bucket list for literally years and I cannot believe how easy it turned out to be! My only regret is not working up the courage to try making this sooner, but as they say, better late than never!

We are hosting this month’s link party and we can’t wait to see the autumn dishes from our friends in the northern hemisphere AND the spring dishes from our friends in the southern hemisphere!

Want to join our link party? Check out this post for details. ALL bloggers are welcome.

Cheers!

Caprese-Inspired Pasta

Main Dishes, Recipes

I was pretty proud of this dish. I’ll be honest, I gave myself a little pat on the back for coming up with this super duper simple-but-creative recipe to utilize some fresh cherry tomatoes gifted to us by one of the guys at work. But shortly after I started writing this entry I googled “caprese pasta,” and as it turns out, I was not the first to think of this wonderful creation. Darn. That burst my bubble a little but no matter – I still hope you will enjoy our take on caprese pasta!

The finished product – buon appetito!

Caprese, in case you haven’t ordered it at a ristorante recently, is typically a cold appetizer of tomato slices, mozzarella, and basil arranged in colorful layers and drizzled with a good olive oil (and sometimes balsamic vinegar as well). After seeing the beautiful bright red ripeness of the homegrown tomatoes, I knew we wanted to cook them minimally if at all.

Aren’t they beautiful?

At the farmer’s market, we found an artisanal cheese maker who sold a stunning fresh burrata and we had to get some to pair with the tomatoes. We are also excited to use the meyer lemon oil we recently purchased from Global Gardens in Los Olivos to replenish our pantry. Finally, I snipped a few leaves off our little basil plant, the first of our hopeful herb garden. What follows is a surprisingly easy recipe for a refreshing entree that tastes like summer. (I know it’s fall, but summer doesn’t have to be over yet!)

Ingredients:

1/2 lb dried pasta (we used Barilla spaghetti but feel free to use shapes or whole wheat or gluten-alternatives)

10 cherry tomatoes or a couple of larger tomatoes, diced

1-2 tablespoons olive oil (highly recommend meyer lemon infused olive oil if you have it!)

A handful of fresh basil leaves

2 oz burrata or fresh mozzarella

Salt and pepper to taste

First cook the pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, prep your tomatoes.

Prepped tomatoes

When the pasta is done, drain the water but do not rinse.

In a skillet, heat about 1 tablespoon of oil and add the diced tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Saute the tomatoes for about 3 minutes, or just until the juices are released and the pan starts to look “saucy”.

Tomatoes workin’ up a sweat!

Add the pasta and toss to coat. Taste and season again if needed.

Toss, toss!

Take the pan off the heat and divide into dishes. Finish with a drizzle of meyer lemon infused olive oil, dots of burrata, and a chiffonade of basil. Serves two hungry carb-lovers. Buon appetito!

Welcome to Pasadena, Real Food Daily!

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Restaurant openings are always newsworthy in the food-loving community, but when you get the rare opportunity to visit a restaurant during its soft opening events, it feels like there is an extra-special, electrifying sense of excitement in the air. I work with a few of the investors so news of this opening has been a-buzzing for a while now, and we were very excited to be invited to celebrate the grand opening a day early. Tomorrow (May 22nd), Real Food Daily will be opening to the public its third storefront, bringing fresh and healthy vegan cuisine to Pasadena in addition to the current locations in Santa Monica and West Hollywood. The Pasadena RFD is simply beautiful with its indoor and outdoor dining areas, wood finishes, vibrant green walls, open kitchen, and inviting bar counter. We were welcomed by hearty handshakes from Rob Jacobs and radiating smiles from Ann Gentry, the founder of RFD who has developed quite a following in Los Angeles for her focus on seasonal ingredients and 100% vegan menu.

We saw many familiar faces and of course, we couldn’t help but first admire the shiny, brand-new kitchen!

While mingling, we partook in the passed hor d’oeurves, featuring small bites that offered tastes of their impressive repertoire of all-vegan dishes. Some of our favorites included:

SEA CAKE Butternut squash, yam and sea vegetable croquette, pesto, sweet chili aioli. A wonderfully seared vegan “crab” cake, served with a smile. :)

(Left) NORI MAKI Sweet brown rice, shiso, tempeh, avocado, carrot, collard greens, umeboshi, tamari dipping sauce, wasabi, pickled ginger

(Right) WABI SABI ROLLS Cabbage, cucumber, carrot, mint, cilantro, rice noodles, rice paper, wasabi dressing

(Left) RFD Burger with cashew “cheese” – I’m sure it’s a great burger as an entree, but I especially loved the teeny tiny one-bite hors d’oeurves version.

(Right) Kale & Cuke (kale and cucumber lemonade) – it was so popular that they ran out of the kale puree sometime during the event!

(Left) All of the newly trained staff are friendly and genuinely excited for the new RFD!

(Right) Açai Berry Iced Tea – another delicious and refreshing drink option!

Of course, we HAD to try the desserts! There was an incredible selection; I think we were gawking at the display case for a few solid minutes before finally making our selections.

We wanted to try them all!

Mixed berry cheesecake – vegan and gluten-free, made with a tofu “cream cheese” and swirled with berry flavor!

(Left) Penny, one of the oh-so-friendly staff members, also hooked us up with the Apple and Raspberry Kanten – apple sauce thickened with agar agar and layered with dried cranberries and raspberries. For those with nut allergies, that crumbly topping is toasted walnuts.

(Right) Chocolate coconut squares and walnut truffle. The coconut squares are wonderful, and I don’t even like coconut! Martin tried the walnut truffle and enjoyed the soft center.

Our friends Cassandra and Brian surprised us with plates of more desserts that they were able to track down!

(Left) Moist chocolate cupcakes, one with thick “cream cheese” frosting and the other dusted with cute little sprinkles.
(Right) Assorted cookies.

It was a fun event and a fantastic opportunity to experience firsthand the passion that the RFD team feels for their product. We managed to track down Ann and all in all, we got the impression that she feels optimistic that vegan cuisine will be warmly received in Pasadena. We agree and think they’ll be very successful with this third location! If you’re in the area, be sure to check them out!

Left to right: Duncan Lemmon, investor and passionate vegan, Ann Gentry, Rob Jacobs, and us!

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Check out Real Food Daily on the web at realfood.com!

899 East Del Mar Blvd

Pasadena, CA 91101

Even though it’s a new location, visit their Yelp reviews!