Pasta Fazool: the ultimate vegetable soup

Several years ago I traveled with an Italian family, and this was one of their most requested soups.  They referred to it as Pasta Fazool, but it is also known by its traditional name, Pasta e Fagioli.

This easy, hearty dish is built on a zesty tomato based white bean soup, with plenty of fresh vegetables thrown in. Then, the ever-present pasta is added for the crowning touch.  What’s not to like?Fazool

Pasta Fazool is quite affordable to make, and great for a group. The more the merrier—just add water!  It’s perfectly delicious for vegetarians, too.  Of course, when I made it last, I went the other way. I pulled out a thick slab of ham tucked in the freezer from the holidays—a terrific addition, but not essential for this special soup.  A day ahead I tossed the ham cubes in an oil rub laced with garlic, fennel, red pepper flakes, and rosemary and set it all aside.

To get things started, beans are first simmered until near tender with crushed tomatoes flavored with onion, garlic and sage.  Either dried or canned cannellini or mayocoba beans work nicely.

To pull it all together, I briefly sautéed the seasoned ham (optional) in olive oil, and stirred in a few fresh vegetables. Next, the cooked beans are added and it’s briefly simmered to incorporate the flavors.

Lastly, escarole, kale or other hearty green is added to the pot, followed by a small pasta, such as ditalini.  It’s simmered for another 10 minutes or so, until al dente.Pasta Fazool

Top with a grating of Parmesan Reggiano and pass plenty of warm crusty bread.

 Pasta Fazool

Aka, Pasta e Fagioli

 Ingredients
2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 onion, chop
2 cloves garlic, mince
1 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 cup dried and soaked cannellini or mayocoba beans
2 cups water or stock (approximate), divided and used as needed
1-1/2 cups ham cut into ½” chunks (optional), in herbal rub (see below)
1 carrot, diced
1 poblano chile, seed chop
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1”x2” chunk Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon each sea salt and ground pepper
1 small bunch lacinato kale, ribs removed and leaves torn into 2” pieces
1-1/2 cups ditalini pasta
Grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onion until soft, then add the garlic and sage, stirring briefly. Add the crushed tomatoes, the beans, and 1 cup water.  Simmer about 1-1/2 hours. Or, using pressure cooker, set on High Pressure for 18 minutes with pressure valve set to Sealing and use Quick Release.
  2. In a fresh pot over medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté the seasoned ham for 2- 3 minutes (optional). Add the carrot, green pepper, and ½ teaspoon oregano, cook 4-5 minutes. Stir in the beans, Parmesan chunk, salt and pepper, 1 cup water, and simmer covered for 20 minutes.
  3. Add the kale to the pot and simmer for 3-4 minutes, stir occasionally, until it begins to soften. Stir in the dry pasta and simmer an additional 10 minutes until pasta is al dente. Add more water as necessary, it should be thick yet soupy.  Adjust seasoning.
  4. Serve with Parmesan cheese and plenty of crusty bread.  Serves 4-6.

For the ham rub:  marinade cubed ham 1 day ahead in: 2 cloves garlic crushed, ½ tsp fennel, ½ tsp red pepper flakes, ½ tsp rosemary, 2 tbsp olive oil, pinch sea salt.

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Cauliflower Credo

This is one serious blunder.  I can’t believe I forgot to post this incredibly good veggie burger that includes cauliflower.  I know, you must be saying, “No-more-cauliflower!”  If you are looking for an outstanding veggie patty, don’t count this one out.

There are probably more veggie-burger-patty posts on this blog than anything else. It is also true that in each case the latest is always the best.  This one really is!

Hear me out. If you have labored over as many veggie burgers as I have, it’s likely that you have established your own preferences.

Flavor
Personally, I like the falafel flavor range: cumin and other warm spices, plus a little heat all work in this format.  Not so much that it overwhelms other flavors.
Texture
Not too wet or too dry; it must hold its shape. Not too heavy or too light.  We want to be fully satisfied, but not have a bomb to process.
Nutrition
Healthful ingredients are key. A variety of vegetables plus a combination of grains, legumes, pulses and/or beans all help to balance, boost food value, and increase taste, nutrition, and overall interest.

Cauliflower
Yes, the perfect veggie patty must have a lot going for itself, and who would think cauliflower could be such a big player?  My recent cauliflower marathon confirms all of these suspicions.

»  Its assertive yet mild flavor profile works well with the falafel requirement.
»  It has the ability to hold its shape with the right binders.
» It is light, nutritious, and a big team player.

May I present the most outstanding veggie burger… of the day?

Cauliflower-Lentil Veggie Patties

Ingredients
2 cups riced cauliflower, or a partial head of cauliflower
¾ cup dried red lentils, rinsed
½ cup bulgur wheat
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ onion, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 cup cremini mushrooms chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon coriander
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon coconut oil
½ teaspoon Korean red pepper flakes
½ cup falafel mix (found in specialty stores or bulk food section)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 beaten egg
1 cup panko, approximate
¼ cup coconut oil for cooking, divided (approximate)

Accompaniments:
Any of all of the following:  grated cheese, tomato, avocado, pickled pepper, yogurt sauce, Sriracha, sprouts, or sautéed kale.

Instructions

  1. To prepare the cauliflower, cut into florets. Cut or pulse in food processor until the size of large rice grains. Set aside.
  2. Rinse the lentils, place in small pot with 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until soft but still holding shape, 10-15 minutes.
  3. Soak the bulgur wheat in 1 cup boiling water with a pinch of salt. Cover and let stand 15 minutes until swelled. Drain.
  4. In medium sauté pan over medium-high, heat the olive oil and add the onion and the thyme, cook to soften, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the mushrooms and garlic, stirring to soften the mushrooms. Add the coriander, a few grinds sea salt and freshly ground pepper and sauté to remove additional liquid, 1-2 minutes longer. Place in bowl of food process.
  6. To sauté pan, add 1 tablespoon coconut oil and then the cauliflower. Season with red pepper flakes and a sprinkling of salt. Cook until cauliflower begins to soften and color 3-4 minutes. Don’t overcook.  Remove to processor bowl.
  7. Pulse all the vegetables, bulgur, and lentils until coarse texture, but not pureed. Place in large mixing bowl. Stir in falafel mix, the lemon juice, and the egg. It should for a loose mass. Cover and let rest 20-30 minutes in fridge.
  8. Stir up to 1 cup panko into the mixing bowl to form a cohesive but not too wet mixture that holds together well. The panko is designed to bind and lighten the mixture, don’t over mix. It will also help with browning.
  9. Divide into 8 portions, shape into patties 3-1/2” x ½” thick, and place on parchment lined pan. Cover and chill 20 minutes longer or up to 1 day.
  10. Over medium, heat skillet with 2-3 teaspoons coconut oil. Cook in 2-3 batches. Cover while cooking the first side, about 5 minutes, until browned and well heated. Turn, add a bit more oil and brown second side, about 4 minutes longer. Cool on rack.
  11. Serve with bun or pita or choice. Top with grated cheese, tomato, avocado, pickled pepper, yogurt sauce, and shredded lettuce or sautéed kale. Yield: 8 patties.

Pizza Dough: Playing with Flax

I have a new bag of flax meal that I’ve been tinkering with… it’s my way of boosting my omega-3 fatty acid levels by mixing it into breakfast cereal, smoothies, and such. I’ve learned that a little goes a long way. Flax has a generous amount of fiber that can roar through your system, plowing past anything in its path, so use an amount based on preferential tolerance.

Recently I discovered that flax is a natural in pizza crust and other yeast breads. Its inherent nuttiness and pale tobacco color are a perfect complement to a crust enriched with a touch of whole wheat.  Used in my current go-to pizza dough, a combination of all-purpose and whole wheat flours laced with flax meal yielded a toasted-yeast flavor and a resilient texture that rolls out like a dream.

Even though there a two phases to this dough, the entire rising process still takes only an hour.  The first 15-20 minute proofing period activates the yeast with warm water, a bit of sugar, and flour to give the rising process a kick start.  This is stirred into the flour/flax mix until a well-blended mass forms, then turned out and kneaded until smooth. It’s covered, placed in a warm spot, and left to rise until double, about 40 minutes.

Since I prefer pre-baking my crust to move through the ‘fussing with dough’ phase—and ward off sogginess—I like to punch it down, roll it out as thin as I please, and give it a quick bake to set, 8 to 10 minutes. Then, it’s only a matter of gathering together toppings and baking it all off in a hot oven for 15 or 20 minutes until it’s hot and bubbly.

As often with my pizzas, the topping combination is invariably a matter of what I have on hand. On this day, I had a partial bag of mixed greens: kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.  I envisioned a creamed greens base for my pizza topped with sliced onion, red and pasilla peppers, Kalamata olives and Havarti cheese.

For the creamed greens I sautéed onion, slivered garlic, rosemary, and crushed red pepper in olive oil, then added a couple of cups of the shredded greens to the pan and continued to toss and slowly cook until soft and reduced. A slurry of ½ cup milk and 2 teaspoons cornstarch was stirred in along with a dash of nutmeg, salt, and white pepper.  As it cooked I added a couple of spoonfuls of grated Parmesan and simmered the creamed greens until thick and tender.

All of this was layered onto the crust and baked until bubbly and golden brown. Yes, indeed, an evening with the Tony Awards—and another gourmet delight!

Fast Double-Rise Pizza

Ingredients 
1 envelope quick rise yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup warm water
1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour or a combination of: 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, ½ cup whole wheat flour, 2 tablespoons flax meal
1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup flour or more for roll out

Directions

  1. In a 2 cup measure or bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, 1/4 cup flour and water; proof in a warm place until bubbly and light, 15-20 minutes.
  2. In mixing bowl place 1-1/4 cup flour (see above for combination with flax), and 1 teaspoon salt. Add the yeast mixture and combine well. Turn out onto floured surface and knead until smooth.
  3. Cover and let rise in a warm space until doubled, 30-40 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 400-425° F; oil a pizza pan or baking sheet. Roll dough out on floured board into desired size and shape.
  5. To fully bake with toppings:  Roll out, add sauce and toppings of choice and bake 15-20 minutes, until center is bubbly and crust is golden brown.    Yield: 1 large pizza.

Note: To pre-bake for later use:  bake 8-10 minutes @ 400-425°, until firm to touch, but not yet colored. Bake as needed in hot oven for about 15 minutes.

Bowled Over

Grain bowls. Lately I’ve been inspired by the idea of stacking food delicately into a small, fetching bowl. At its heart, a healthy grain or rice forms the base, then a good dose of well-flavored vegetables are arranged atop, with a smaller amount of protein tucked in for a balance meal in a bowl.

The concept hits all the right notes, it’s quick and easy. A bowl holds less food than a plate, and it’s a great way to round up a flavorful meal with odds and ends—or leftovers, in some circles. Of course the creative license to mix and match at will is powerful. There are no rules. Better than that, break the rules!

The key to the grain bowl’s success is to have a supply of pre-cooked rice or a grain such as farro, barley, or quinoa ready to go. For example, spoon a healthy amount of your grain or rice into a small, tall bowl, top with a generous handful of a pre-mixed blend such as spinach, pak choi, and mustard greens, fill in with a poached or fried egg to break up, much in the manner of a sauce.  Finish with some fresh herbs and a big punch of flavor, the likes of harissa or gochujang.

This past weekend I was on fire, filled with the anticipation of throwing together my own grain bowl.  A little low on supplies, I had only millet, but it was a fine start when simmered with a dash of turmeric and a bay leaf. Mostly, I was excited to take advantage of my latest rhubarb chutney, waiting for its own 15-minutes of fame.

At the farmers market I picked up a couple of beautiful zucchini and a few gorgeous carrots, a nice combo for a quick veggie add-on. In the fridge I had a small pork tenderloin. This was coming together more like a banquet that a small meal in a bowl. But, it’s the weekend!

When dinnertime rolled around I was running late, getting very hungry, and certainly glad this was going to be a fast, easy meal.  The pork was quickly rubbed with olive oil, Moroccan spice, salt and pepper.  I gave it fast sear and popped it in a 400° oven for about 25 minutes. While that was happening I deglazed the pan and made a quick sauce flavored with harissa.

The zucchini and carrots were quickly sliced into ribbons, tossed with a few drops of sesame oil and garam masala. Opa! We’ve got big flavors everywhere!  About 5 to 7 minutes before the pork was done, I added the veggies to the roasting pan and tossed them lightly with a little of the pan juices.  Once out of the oven, the tenderloin was tented for a few minutes to rest before slicing.Pork grain bowl

I had just enough time to pull it all together. It was then, that I was faced with the truth. A charming, small bowl would not do justice to the fine collection now waiting to be plated—or bowled, if that is a word.

This was worthy of a pasta bowl, of the first order.  Facing reality, I spread the thinnest possible layer of millet into the bottom of the bowl.  One of the grain bowl rules is to use more vegetables than protein. I smartly swirled a portion of the zucchini and carrots across the millet, allowing for three lovely medallions to arc around the corner, and finished the pork with a drizzle of the harissa sauce.  Rounding out the bowl, a small handful of spicy Asian greens became a mere place holder for the honored rhubarb chutney—and of course, a sprig of cilantro.

Good news!  No heartburn, or negative reaction to the epic grain bowl.  Delicious, all of it!

Epic Grain Bowl with Pork Medallions and Harissa Sauce

Ingredients
For the Pork
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 pork medallion
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Moroccan spice
salt and pepper
For the Harissa Sauce
1 cup beef stock, divided
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon harissa paste
salt and pepper to taste
For the Vegetables
1 zucchini
1 carrot
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon garam masala
For the Millet
1 cup millet
3 cups water
salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 bay leaf
To Finish
1 cup Spicy Asian Greens (spinach, pak choi, mustard greens)
½ cup rhubarb chutney
few sprigs cilantro

Directions

  1. For the millet, combine the millet, the turmeric, bay leaf, salt and water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for approximately 35 minutes, until water is absorbed.  Set aside to cool.
  2. For the pork, rub the pork with olive oil, then with Moroccan spice, salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet with coconut oil over high heat and sear pork on all side, about 5 minutes. Remove to baking pan and roast at 400° for approximately 25 minutes.
  3. For the harissa sauce: deglaze saute pan with ½ cup of the beef stock, let it cook down briefly while scraping the bottom of pan. Add the remaining ½ cup stock combined with 1 teaspoon cornstarch.  Add the harissa sauce and let reduce. Taste for seasoning add salt and pepper as need.  Keep warm.
  4. For the vegetables:  using peeler or spiralizer thinly slice zucchini and carrot into long strands.  Toss with sesame oil and garam masala.  About 5-7 minutes before pork is done, add veggies to the roasting pan. Toss with the pan juices and heat.
  5. Remove the pork and veggies, tent with foil and allow to rest briefly while preparing grain bowl.
  6. To finish: re-heat the millet and spoon into the bottom of bowl. Spread vegetables over half of the top. Slice the pork into ½” or thicker medallions.  Nestle in the pork and drizzle with a little of the harissa sauce.  Add a small handful of greens and top with a dollop of Rhubarb Chutney.  Add a sprig of cilantro and enjoy. Yield: 2 or more servings.

The Ultimate in Slow Cooking:  Meet the Instant Pot

I received a new gadget for my birthday.  Actually, this unit is beyond any gadget previously known to man. For some, the latest Instant Pot could represent a state-of-the-art crockpot. To others it’s a digital pressure cooker, or a reliable rice cooker, a steamer, or a sauté pan.  In fact, it does all of that and much more—with precision and ease.

No, I’m not being paid to review or promote the Instant Pot, I am just another huge advocate of its approach to sustainable and healthy cooking.  My 5-quart pot uses only 900 watts of electricity.  In comparison, if you’ve analyze other appliances in your kitchen, you know that a toaster can easily burn up 1800 watts.

In the Instant Pot’s many digital cooking applications the real turning point for me was the realization that I could brown or sauté vegetables or meats before launching into slow cook or other modes.  I have shared a number of wonderful slow cook recipes here, and my sole reservation to crockpot cooking has been that without the browning of meats and vegetables dishes can become one-dimensional.  The luxury of combining the browning step into the slow cook method opens up all sorts of possibilities previously unavailable in most models.

On the pressure cooking side, I was relieved at the fail-safe measures built into the system.  Following simple directions, even the quick method of releasing steam is safe and near foolproof.  Now, I often use the very fast pressure cooking method as a highly convenient option, without angst or intimidation.

For the tiny kitchen, the Instant Pot is paramount to having an entire stove top and a fleet of pots and pans available for daily cooking needs. It can be used to simply simmer or boil as you would on the stove.  The heavy duty stainless steel liner is easy to clean, and it is of course dishwasher safe.

One of my first attempts at tackling the Instant Pot was to prepare a lovely barley risotto of sorts. In this case the barley was pre-cooked, allowing for an easy 1 hour slow cook. Delicious on its own, it became the backdrop for Stuffed Cabbage Rolls.

Barley Risotto with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Spring Garlic Scapes

Ingredients
2 slices bacon, chop
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 shallot, peel and mince
6 oz. cremini mushrooms, clean, slice
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fresh sage
1-1/2 cups cooked pearl barley
½ cup tender green garlic scapes/shoots, or green onion, chop
2 cups beef broth, approximate
½ cup baby tomatoes, slice in half
salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup fresh parsley, chop
Accompaniment:  ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese, optional

Directions

  1. Heat the pot to sauté medium, brown the bacon in a drizzle of olive oil and remove.
  2. Add the shallot and cook to soften, then add the herbs and stir until aromatic. Add a portion of the beef broth, stir to deglaze the bottom the pan and loosen any surface bits.
  3. Add the barley and the remaining broth, stir to combine.  Bring to a simmer. Reduce to slow cook medium and cook covered for an hour, until the barley is creamy and thick.
  4. Add the garlic scapes or green onion, baby tomatoes, cook an additional 15 minutes to heat.  Stir in fresh parsley, the reserved bacon, and serve.  Pass the parmesan cheese.  Serves 4

Note: to pre-cook barley, allow 1:3 ratio barley to liquid. Bring to a boil, cover and cook 35 minutes.

Layered Lentil Salad—in a Jar

If you are looking for ways to add more salad to your life here’s a fun, make-ahead solution that even includes its own dressing!

Photo by Danbury Poage

Pull out a wide mouthed Mason jar, pour in a little salad dressing, then pack in ingredients—layering heavier items on bottom and ending with more fragile vegetables and lettuce on top.  While at it, make a few extra to pull out as needed; they will hold several days in the fridge without lettuce becoming soggy.

The star of this salad is the nuanced peppery le Puy lentil, a firm, dark green variety that holds its shape very well.  They can be found in better grocery stores and in most bulk food sections; but if not available substitute garbanzo beans.

Radishes, fennel or celery are all excellent salad companions here, along with contrasting narrow strips of young zucchini.  At the base of the salad dressing, a spicy or grainy mustard not only provides a bright bite, it also acts as an emulsifier to bind the dressing from separation while it stands.

Photo by Danbury Poage

When ready, give the salad a good shake and empty contents into a pasta bowl or other wide bowl.  Toss well to distribute dressing and enjoy.

Layered Lentil Salad in a Jar

Ingredients
2 to 3 tablespoons Mustard Dressing (see below) or favorite salad dressing
¼ cup thinly sliced fennel or celery, or a combination with a few fronds or leaves
¼ cup radishes (about 8), cut lengthwise in eighths
⅓ cup le Puy lentils, cooked, or garbanzo beans
3 tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup cherry tomatoes, halved + 3 sliced Kalamata olives
½ baby zucchini, cut into spirals or shaved strips with a potato peeler
1-2 cups mesclun, or other lettuce blend
1 tablespoon toasted sunflower seed
Mustard Dressing (enough for 3- 4 servings)
2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
3 tablespoons Spicy Brown or Grainy mustard
½ teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
salt and pepper
⅓ cup olive oil

3-4 cup wide mouth Mason jar
Pasta bowl or other large wide bowl
 
Directions 

  1. To prepare dressing, combining vinegar, mustard, thyme, salt and pepper, then add the olive oil and whisk or shake until thorough incorporated.
  2. In a mason jar pour in 2 to 3 tablespoons dressing.
  3. Pack ingredients in individual layers in the order listed. Substitute similar items as desired, placing heavier, denser on bottom, followed by beans and proteins, then softer ingredients, and finish with lettuce or sprouts.  Serves 1.

Fair Warning: Addictive Cookies Ahead

Well, that was exciting—but of course, food does that to me!

crisps-plate

Oatmeal crisps, tuiles, wafers. It’s all good.

This time two of my favorite things, oatmeal and caramel, joined together as one, thanks to the magic of the microwave. My tiny kitchen was astir with activity while these beauties danced their way out of the oven, one sweet nutty batch after another.

The crisp golden cookies began as tiny ½ teaspoon droplets of batter then immediately melted and expanded into thin rounds; they were done in less than 2 minutes of rapid baking. The trickiest part here is figuring out how to rotate from one batch to the next without a lot of down time.

When I hit my groove I was filling, turning, or cleaning two oven safe 10” flat plates constantly. Well, that’s not completely true. There was a time when I looked a little like Lucy in the chocolate factory, tasting and sampling the goods as fast as I could.

Fresh out of the oven

Fresh out of the oven

In spite of that, once the assembly line was working and I had my rhythm going, I cranked out four dozen cookies (*less the sample factor) quite efficiently.

It could be remnants of a sugar high, but these are dangerously addictive. Fair warning.

Oatmeal Crisps

Inspired by Barbara Kafta’s Microwave Gourmet (1987)

Ingredients
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons quick oats
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoon butter, melted
cooking oil for baking platter

Directions

  1. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt and combine with the oats.
  2. Beat egg until foamy. Add cinnamon and sugar and beat until well mixed, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla
  3. Add melted butter and dry ingredients and stir well.
  4. Thoroughly coat a 10″ round ovenproof platter with cooking oil. Drop 1/2 teaspoonful rounds of batter onto platter in a ring about 2” apart, around the inside rim (will only make about 6 cookies per batch).
  5. In the microwave, bake first batch approximately 2-1/2 minutes. Every 30 seconds, stop and restart until cookies begin to bubble and centers turn lightly golden. They will firm up as they cool.  Cooking time will shorten with remaining batches: allow about 1 minute 20 seconds depending on oven, restarting every 30 seconds to cook evenly. Watch carefully—they will burn quickly.
  6. Remove with metal spatula to a rack to cool. Store airtight.  Yield about 4 dozen cookies.
  7. Batter can be made a day in advance, chilled and well covered.