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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It’s Meatloaf | No Muss, No Fuss

Meatloaf is real comfort food, and we may have differing opinions about it. Whether we prefer it with or without ketchup—and what we like with our meatloaf can be real deal breakers.

Here’s a meatloaf solution that makes perfect sense to me. It’s a one pot meal with three separate components: a moist and succulent Italian-influenced meatloaf, smashed potatoes and cauliflower with green onions, and steamed carrots with sage butter.

There is nothing complicated here, beyond soaking the meat loaf’s bread crumbs in milk for 5 minutes—which is a crucial step in the success of this entire extravaganza.  Of course, there is a pressure cooker involved, too.

It is simply a matter of loading a layer of quartered red potatoes and cauliflower florets in the bottom of the pot with 1 cup of water.  The very basic meatloaf is assembled, formed into a ring, sprinkled with a bit of Parmesan, placed in a steamer insert, and set atop the potato layer.  Carrots are cut into fingers tossed with sage and butter, salt and pepper, folded into a foil packet and perched over the meatloaf.

The pot is brought up to pressure and it cooks for 10 minutes. Seriously.  While the meatloaf reaches its full potential its excess juices drip down and flavor the potatoes.

Once the pressure is released, the carrot packet is removed, and the steamer insert is lifted out. The potato water is drained off. The potatoes and cauliflower are quickly smashed with a bit of milk, seasoned to taste, and finished with green onions.  The meatloaf is cut into wide wedges and dinner is ready.

meatloaf combo (1)

No muss, no fuss.

meatloaf plate

It’s Meatloaf

Meatloaf, Potato-Cauliflower Mash, Sage Carrots Packet | One Pot PC

Inspired by Hip Pressure Cooking by Laura D.A. Pazzaglia

Ingredients
1 cup water for pot
Meatloaf
1 pound ground beef, or a combo of meats
½ cup fine dry breadcrumbs
1 cup milk
½ onion, chop
1 clove garlic, crush
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
One pot add-on vegetables
4-5 red potatoes, quarter
1 cup cauliflower florets
½ cup milk
Salt, pepper
2 green onions, chop
3-4 carrots, peel cut into fingers
1 teaspoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon crumbled dry sage
Salt, pepper

Directions

  1. Add 1 cup water to pressure cooker insert.  Spray the stainless steel insert with non-stick cooking spray.  Cut one foil sheet approximately 12” square.
  2. For meatloaf: in mixing bowl combine dry bread crumbs and milk; soak 5 minutes to absorb liquid.
  3. Place ground beef to the bowl, add all ingredients through nutmeg and combine well.  Add the egg and combine lightly.
  4. Shape the meatloaf into a long loaf, place in steamer joining into an even ring. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
  5. Lay the foil out flat, place carrots in center, drizzle with melted butter and oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and dried sage. Fold ends together to form a sealed packet.
  6. Place the potatoes and cauliflower in the water in the bottom of the liner. Place steamer basket on top with carrier handles up, if available. Rest the carrot packet on top.
  7. Lock the lid, set pressure to High and pressure valve to Sealing.  Set time for 10 minutes.  When done, allow pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes, then use Quick Release to expedite process.
  8. Remove the carrot packet and the steamer basket with meat.
  9. Remove the potatoes and cauliflower with slotted spoon to a flat bowl and mash with milk. Season with more salt and pepper if desired, and add green onions.
  10. Cut meat into wedges and serve with potato-cauliflower mash and sage carrots.  Serves 4.

 

Friday Night Special

There are times when admittedly, my meals are a little wacky.  They can be downright self- indulgent and make little sense to others.  Especially on Friday nights.

It’s the end of the official work week and it’s time to relax. There are no rules!  My refrigerator looks deranged with a mere mishmash of odds and ends and pathetic leftovers. Since I will likely do a grocery shop over the weekend, I resist a stop—and prefer to pass on fast foods.

In my experience, there’s always a pizza in the works. Like another stand-by, the taco, a few toppings can become a full meal.  To that end, I like to stock at least one pan-size portion of pizza dough in the freezer. It easily defrosts in the microwave and is ready to go in no time. Occasionally, I have even stashed a pre-baked crust in the freezer. It’s a matter of gathering up a few compatible toppings and tucking it all in the oven for a quick bake.

That was the situation this past Friday night, between Christmas and New Year’s. Thanks to the holidays, my fridge was ripe pickings for fabulous toppings. No pathetic odds and ends here; I had a little hard Spanish chorizo, a collection of fontina and other cheeses, pasilla peppers, sweet onion, Greek dried olives and — fresh green tomatillos.

Tomatillo Sauce 1Whatever.  I treated the 8 tomatillos as if they were treasured San Marzano tomatoes. I removed their husks, chopped them up, and made a fast sauce with onion, garlic, jalapeno, oregano. I simmered it briefly, then ran the immersion blender through it until thick and cohesive. The results: a light, bright sauce worthy of this splendid occasion.

Turns out, the sparkling sauce brought all of these disparate characters together.

The final topping was another gift that kept on giving, too.  I had a little cheese mixture left from making stuffed mushrooms earlier in the week: a combination of shredded mozzarella, Parmesan, green onion, garlic, herbs and Panko. These amazing bread crumbs kept the stuffing light, absorbed moisture, and allowed for a beautifully browned top. Who knew it would one day end up on my pizza?

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It’s another Friday Night Special…  and that’s the way it goes.

Friday Night Pizza

Ingredients
1 pizza crust
Tomatillo Sauce
2 tablespoon olive oil
½ onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, partially seed, chop
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon dried oregano
8 fresh tomatillos, husk and chop
½ teaspoon.dried thyme (or Herbes de Provence if available)
½ cup chicken bouillon
Salt and pepper to taste
Toppings
1 pasilla pepper, seed and cut into strips
½ cup hard Spanish chorizo, cut up
½ smoked ham chunks (if available)
½ sweet onion, cut into strips
A handful of dried Greek olives, or other
1 handful shredded fontina cheese
1 cup cheese combo: mozzarella, parmesan, green onion, garlic and @ ¼ cup Panko
Dried oregano

Instructions

  1. For Tomatillo Sauce: in saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil and sauté the onion until soft. Add the pepper and stir, then the garlic and allow to cook until aromatic.  Add the dried herbs, then stir in the chopped tomatillos.  Just barely cover with chicken bouillon and allow to simmer until thick, about 7 minutes.  With immersion blender, whirl until the sauce is thick, cohesive and still has texture.
  2. Prebake pizza crust at 425° in lower 1/3 of oven to set, about 7 minutes.
  3. To assemble: cover the crust with a coating of some of the sauce. Top with a layer of green pepper, then the meat selection, the onion, olives, and cheese.
  4. Sprinkle with dried oregano and bake another 12 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Cut into portions and serve hot.  Serves 2.

 

What Sounds Good?

We all have our comfort foods.  When nothing else sounds good, we reach for familiar touchstones to soothe us.  They many not mean much to anyone else, but we have our favorites.

Years ago I wrote a heritage cookbook for my family with the odd title, What Sounds Good?  It was just that,  a crazy assortment of cherished recipes that were a regular part of our food repertoire when my daughters were growing up.  At our house, there was always a debate underway about what to eat for the next meal or upcoming food event. The discussion would typically include what sounds good?

Some of the recipes in What Sounds Good? were from my own childhood; some I picked up in my early days of cooking from friends and family. Some were regional, like Santa Maria Style Beans and Boston Clam Chowder. They still hold a place in my heart.

Yesterday was one of those days. It was cold and rainy and I was feeling the aftermath of the long Thanksgiving weekend.  I needed something that reached down and warmed my soul.  Of course, it was no further away than my pantry shelves.  I always have the makings for clam chowder tucked away somewhere.

I pulled out my soup pot and found a familiar rhythm. The smoky scent of bacon always perks me up. There’s nothing fussing here: some onion, potato, a bit of celery, a few herbs… In no time I had hearty soup cups ladled full of thick and creamy clam chowder.

Funny thing.  This morning I pulled out the recipe to take a look at it.  It has been a while since I made it, and without thinking, I made it as written in the cookbook, down to ingredients and quantities.  I guess somethings are too good to change.

Boston Clam Chowder

From What Sounds Good?

Ingredients
4-5 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
2 medium red potatoes, skin on, diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
2 cans chopped clams, 4-5 ounces each, liquid reserved
1 bottle clam juice, about 8 ounces
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup water
2 cups milk, of choice, including diluted condensed milk, if necessary
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Garnish:  chopped parsley, butter, or paprika, serve with oyster or pilot crackers

Instructions

  1. In a soup pot, sauté the bacon over medium heat until it begins to color. Drain off all but 1-2 tablespoon of the fat.
  2. Add the onion, and cook to soften, then add the celery and toss briefly. Add the potato, herbs, white pepper. clam liquids, and enough additional water to barely cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Combine the flour and water into a slurry and slowly stir into the potato base and allow it to thicken.
  4. Stir in the milk and clams and heat well, but do not boil. Adjust seasoning.  Serve with garnish of choice.  Serves 4.

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 Margarita in a Skillet: Faster than Dominos can Deliver

When using the very best ingredients it’s hard to beat a great combination like fresh mozzarella, vine ripened tomatoes, and basil leaves.  Add any other specialty touches like a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and you have the makings of a masterpiece.

Throw in a fine crispy bread and you will know why Pizza Margarita has long been considered one of the world’s great classics.

Last night I experienced such good fortune when I happened to have fabulous fresh bread dough—as well as all the above ingredients.  Easily, within ten minutes I was slicing into world class pizza.

I had a supply of excellent bread dough on hand thanks to local bread expert Marc Green, who has perfected his own no-knead bread for artisan bread baking.  With that in mind, I pulled out a heavy skillet and heated a good drizzle of olive oil. I flattened and patted out a portion of Marc’s dough, threw it into the hot pan, and covered it with a lid to create an impromptu oven.

Meanwhile, I gathered up pre-sliced mozzarella, thinly sliced fresh tomato, and plucked a few sprigs of basil off my doorstep plant. When the bottom was crispy, I gave it a flip and added my toppings.  It was quickly covered and left to cook for another 3-5 minutes, until the cheese melted and the bottom was golden brown.

Since my dough was well constructed and robust, it raised beautifully, much like a Chicago-style pizza.  Normally I prefer a thinner crust, but this was so good I nearly polished off the whole thing without stopping for a salad!

Given this simple technique, there is no reason why any other bread or ready-made pizza dough would not work.  I also sprinkled on red pepper flakes and sea salt but that’s a personal thing. Simply nothing else is required.  Not even a phone call or text message.

Pizza Margarita in a Skillet

Inspired by Marc Green’s No-Knead Bread

Ingredients
one recipe bread dough
fresh sliced tomato
fresh sliced mozzarella
fresh basil leaves
olive oil

Directions

  1. Turn raised, room temperature dough out onto lightly floured surface. Lightly dust with flour and cut into four or more portions and shape into balls.
  2. Heat a medium skillet (8” approx.), heat 1-2 tablespoons oil into bottom until it shimmers. Flatten one ball with hand and press into the diameter of the skillet; carefully slide the dough into pan.
  3. Cover with a lid and cook 3 minutes until golden brown on bottom and dough has risen, uncover and carefully flip over.
  4. Place the tomato slices, mozzarella slices, and basil leaves on top of the dough.  Cover with lid and cook 3-5 minutes longer until cheese is melted and bottom is golden brown.   Remove to cutting board, cut into wedges and serve hot.  Repeat pizzas as needed.

Mission Accomplished

My good buddy Jerry and I have been talking about lamb shanks for a very long time. When we get hungry, one of our favorite topics centers on lamb shanks: why slow and low cooking is essential to their tender-to-the-bone succulence, and how all that bone intensely flavors the meat. They truly are a labor of love.

A mound of Basque Lamb Shanks

We can talk for hours about the best way to prepare them. Of course, Jerry considers himself an authority on lamb shanks, with good reason.  He lived in Boise, Idaho for many years, and at one time married into a clan of Basques who cooked lamb like nobody’s business. He also made a point of frequenting the region’s Basque restaurants and managed to get into the kitchens of some of the best. Of one in particular, Jerry maintains they credited their outrageous lamb shanks to a slow oven simmer in an awesome sauce based on mushrooms, red wine and sundried tomatoes.

One weekend, we decided to stop talking and tackle the lamb shanks. We knew what we had to do and we were ready!  Lucky us, we found absolute beauties at Roth’s Market that were just our size. One additional challenge:  to utilize my fairly new Instant Pot, which sears, braises, and slow cooks until the cows come home.  Two of these shanks fit perfectly in the pot, and still, there would be more food that we could possibly eat in one sitting.

Jerry pulled out his knives and did the honors of stripping the shanks of excess fat, silver, and sinew until they were perfectly prepped and ready for the pot. It is attention to such details that can make the difference between ok and outstanding.

Once the shanks were well browned off and holding in the slow cooker, the vegetables were sautéed in the pan’s drippings and added to the cooker. The pan was deglazed with wine and poured over the shanks, followed by the sundried tomatoes and their liquid, the beef stock, and herbs. Now, it was just a matter of time for the preliminary sauce to work its magic on the shanks.

Lamb Shank, partially devoured

And so it did—to perfection. Although the photos indicate a mound of meat, in no way do they give adequate credit to the lamb shanks. In fact, they were taken in an absolute rush and secondary to the mission at hand.  We had our hands full!!

Basque Lamb Shanks, Slow Cooker

Ingredients
2 lamb shanks, @ 1.25 lbs each
1-2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil
1 medium onion, chop
1 carrot, peel chop
5 cloves garlic, mince
1 cup or more cremini mushrooms, chop
½ cup dry red wine
¼ cup sundried tomatoes, reconstituted in 1/2 cup water and cut up. Save water.
½ cup beef stock, approximate; more as needed to thin sauce
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon lemon grated zest

Directions 

  1. Trim silver and fat from shanks.
  2. Heat a wide skillet over medium heat and pour in oil to coat pan. Sprinkle shanks with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes, and transfer to slow cooker.
  3. If necessary drizzle additional oil into the pot. Add onion, carrot, and garlic to pan and cook stirring often, until onion softens. Add the mushrooms and cook to release their liquid; transfer to slow cooker.  Deglaze pan with wine and add to slow cooker.
  4. Add all ingredients except lemon zest, cover and cook for about 3 hours on high and test for tenderness. Add lemon zest and cook for approximately 1 hour longer approximately, or until the meat pulls back from the bone and is fork-tender. Adjust seasoning and serve with more lemon. Serves 2 very hungry people.