Hello, and Risotto Primavera

I seem to have entirely neglected, if not per perception left entirely, this website. And, truly, the perception was my own, as I had decided, in moderate intention, to stop posting and let my recipes slowly fade into the infinity of the Cloud. But as everyone in my life knows, I finally moved from Chicago to North Carolina. Durham, more specifically. And in leaving, I was interested again in keeping this up, bolstered as well by the encouragement of several friends. So the blog will be resurrected from its really-dusty-kitchen, dishes-haven’t-been-done-in-weeks level disregard. And it seems I’ll need to change my subtitle.

I was told from some people that possibly this should no longer be titled “Dinner for Brian,” as the motivation for the title originally- that I was posting recipes in Chicago for my brother to try at home- is now less substantiated. If I want, I can go see Brian on any weeknight, make him dinner (or go out together), and receive immediate feedback. The internet no longer is a necessary medium. But, if I’m being honest, I mostly like the idea of cooking for a tangible (if now much more available) person. Yes, I usually eat alone. And yes, these recipes are often to serve my palate more than my lovely ginger brother’s. But I do take credit for expanding significantly his culinary horizons, and it’s still with his review in mind that I write. (Not to diminish the influences of my other brothers, who are easily as important and definitely more interesting than I am).

The real reason I’m posting tonight, as opposed to a lazy Sunday (my usual date), is because romanesco broccoli was on sale at Whole Foods today, and it looks so super cool, and I wanted to use it. And then, in doing so, I was thinking that everyone I know needs to cook with romanesco broccoli- mostly for the fun shape- and I must provide a recipe. Also, this is really, very delicious, and it is also incredibly easy to put together. I had never made risotto with actual arborio rice before, always favoring risotto from barley (also, where would I find arborio rice?). But in an attempt to have really quite pretty jars full of grains to hide in my cabinets (in the ideal of someday having this beautiful kitchen with open and exposed shelving), I bought a bunch of grains from my neighborhood co-op, and at that time I found arborio rice sneaking among the quinoa. I determined it must be tried.

Well, this has been a lengthy composition… Here’s the recipe.

Risotto Primavera

Serves 2

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup arborio rice

1/2 tbsp. butter

1/2 white onion, diced finely

2 carrots, sliced thinly

1 head romanesco broccoli, chopped into small florets

1/3 cup frozen peas

1/3 cup frozen corn

1/4 cup shredded or grated Parmesan

Salt & pepper

Basil, sliced, to serve

Heat the stock in a small quart pan until just boiling. Lower to low heat and keep warm.

In a larger pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the arborio rice and mix. Add the broccoli. Season lightly. Add 2-3 ladle-fulls of stock to the pan (it will simmer and deglaze slightly). Stir and stir until the rice has absorbed most of the stock. (It’s not ridiculous, you can take breaks from stirring; just don’t leave it for a long period of time). Add another ladle or two of stock. Stir. Repeat this process until the rice is soft and cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. You may not use all of your stock. Once the rice is cooked and most of the stock is absorbed, add the peas, corn, and Parmesan. Stir to combine well. Taste and season again.

Serve and top with fresh basil. Admire the pretty broccoli. And eat!

Asparagus and Roasted Tomato Egg Yolk Pasta

Memorial day weekend is one of the best of the year. It’s the time to embark upon any and all summer adventures. The pools open for visitors, the beaches start to fill, grills everywhere are lighted, and the brightening green grasses and trees are appreciated to their fullest extent. There is almost nothing in the world that makes me happier than seeing my dog Oscar bound with excitement on his first steps through the park’s green grass. Memorial day weekend screams, loudly, “SUMMER IS COMING!” And, oh my God, how incredibly ready we are. If you haven’t yet eaten ice cream, drank minimum one beer outside, or at least felt the fresh contact of sunshine, please, please drop what you are doing and enjoy. But, of course, if you’re in for the night, or maybe laying exhausted on the couch, meal planning for the week ahead (which promises nothing as fantastic as the weekend has held), here’s a delightful, summer inspired recipe to try.

If you freak out about egg yolk being added uncooked to the pasta, you can always skip it. However, it cooks lightly from the heat of the pasta and the pan, and it adds a creamy richness unparalleled by just butter or pasta alone. I don’t know about you, but there’s basically nothing better than a runny egg yolk dripping over vegetables, and that’s exactly what my intention was here. It kind of mimics pasta carbonara in this fashion, which has been eaten by indulgent Italians for years, so there’s really nothing to fear.

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Asparagus and Roasted Tomato Egg Yolk Pasta

Serves 2

4 oz. buckwheat or whole wheat pasta (something long and noodley)

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

10-12 spears asparagus, trimmed

2 cups heirloom grape tomatoes

1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flake

Salt & pepper, to taste

1 egg yolk

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly shredded

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a deep sauté pan over medium high heat, add the olive oil. Add the asparagus and tomato to the pan and sauté until the asparagus has softened and the tomatoes have started to blister open, about 10-15 minutes. Season with red chili flake, salt, and pepper.

Add the pasta to the salted boiling water and cook according to package directions, pulling from the water about 30 seconds to 1 minute “early” (buckwheat pasta takes about 3-4 minutes to cook, so watch carefully). Drain and add to the roasted vegetables. Remove the sauté pan from the heat.

Add the egg yolk to the pasta and toss until evenly coating the pasta and vegetables. I find tongs to be the easiest tool to use. Add the Parmesan cheese and toss again. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as preferred.

As you can see, this comes together quite quickly. Definitely under 20 minutes. So indulge, enjoy, and relish in the impending delight that is summertime.

 

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Gnocchi with Balsamic Reduction and Garlic Kale

Ah! It’s been a whole week, and I haven’t had one moment to talk about dinner. Sunny, warmed up, Spring- and Summer-time Chicago is a demanding experience. People are always doing everything, preferably outdoors, at any and all hours, and yes, of course, you should go also. You should take your dogs on epic 2-hour walks down the lakefront, stopping to sprint and roll and tackle in the middle of dandelion-spotted verdant grass inherent only to the Midwest in late Spring. You should stare longingly at Lake Michigan, willing it with your mind to be warmer, knowing that regardless you can’t really swim in that bacteria-laden pool. You should run outside, in the morning, afternoon, or night, relishing the angles of the sun on the skyline and the dusted rooftops as the sun sets. You should certainly eat tacos on the sidewalks, with at least one margarita on the side. And yes, absolutely enjoy a happy hour flight down the street. You can feel the depths of winter siphoning out of your veins, and you can almost, almost forget it happened (maybe not this year entirely). But on those rare nights in, probably on Wednesday, you still need to eat dinner.

Gnocchi is responsible for the best meal of my life, hands down. Traveling Florence with my best friend way-too-many years ago, we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant off the main streets. We had a carafe of water and a glass of wine; I ordered gnocchi with tomato cream sauce and she ravioli. I’m certain she enjoyed her meal immensely, but I will never ever forget the pillowy, unbelievably cloud-like texture of the gnocchi I had that day. The tomato cream sauce was light but flavorful, just enough to coat the little dumplings of joy. I haven’t tried homemade gnocchi (yet), so returning to the US I’ve been accepting but somewhat disappointed in the gnocchi offerings. It doesn’t stop me from enjoying this Italian classic, but I should definitely try my hand at my own version.

Regardless, this gnocchi is really most about the accompaniments. The gnocchi is still, of course, soft and flavorful, but the balsamic reduction and vegetables and kale are perfect for an almost-summer dinner that still warms you up. It’s absurdly easy, also, so don’t let the word “reduction” fool you. It really just means “heat for awhile then serve.”

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Gnocchi with Balsamic Reduction and Garlic Kale

Serves 3-4

1 lb. gnocchi

1 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 yellow onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 cup mushrooms, sliced

6 cups kale, washed and chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flake

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly (chiffonade)

Salt & pepper, to taste

In a small sauce pan, heat the balsamic vinegar over medium-high heat until boiling. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half. It should be reduced in about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water, salted, to boil.

In a large pan, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and peppers and sauté until just softening, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms have softened, browned, and just releasing their juices. Season with salt and pepper.

While the vegetables are cooking, in a separate pan add 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the kale and stir. Cook the kale until just softening, about 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flake to the kale and stir.

In the large pot of water, add the gnocchi and cook for about 3 minutes, or according to package directions.

Add the balsamic reduction to the vegetables and mix. Once the gnocchi has cooked, add the gnocchi to the pan as well. Stir thoroughly so all of the gnocchi and vegetables are coated.

To your serving plate, add a serving of garlic kale. Top with the balsamic-coated gnocchi and vegetables. Enjoy.

 

 

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Tomato and Basil Wrap with Goat Cheese

I’m considering moving from Chicago to be closer to work. And by considering I mean looking at rental properties and planning the timeline of my summer around the move. I’ve had emotions ranging from excitement (to leave behind a bad commute) to apathy to an “everything will be about the same” attitude to outright sadness. And now that it’s getting closer, the latter is the overwhelming opinion. It’s probably because the trees are green now and the sun comes out. And that the streets are starting to burst open with people and the skyline is sparkling again. It’s probably something to do with the extra time the sunlight allots my day and the ease and freedom I have in calling up friends to meet for dinner. I’m a little unsure if I’ve allowed something so transient as a job to remove me from this beautiful city that is the reason I moved back to the midwest. And then I’m certain that people in their 20s are supposed to move for work because those are the sacrifices you make to be successful. But maybe-I-don’t-want-to-be-successful-I-just-want-to-eat-dinner-outside-on-the-sidewalks. Who finances that lifestyle?

So here’s a really delicious wrap that you can make for lunch the night before to bring to work. It feels pertinent to discuss things like that as I toss and turn with thoughts and expectations for work, life, and otherwise. Because the question: what should I bring for lunch tomorrow? persists despite all life events. It is the permanent question at 9:39pm when you wanted to go to bed 10 minutes ago. It is important because it’s food that will fuel your day, but so absurdly insignificant because it’s that midday meal that’s satisfied by leftovers or snacks or cafeteria food or random fridge grabs. No one really cares much about lunch. So here; change that.

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Tomato and Basil Wrap with Goat Cheese

Serves 1

1 large flour tortilla, softened

2 tbsp. roasted garlic hummus

1 tbsp. goat cheese, crumbled

8-10 fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup baby spinach

5 heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved

Salt & pepper, to taste

To prepare the sandwich, I spread on a layer of hummus, followed by the goat cheese crumbles. Drop a few basil leaves and top with a small handful of baby spinach. Halve the tomatoes and stack precariously atop the greens. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roll the wrap by tucking in both ends and rolling away from you. I usually wrap it up in a paper towel and aluminum foil to keep it contained.

This stays well overnight, probably even longer (I haven’t tried). A perfectly flavorful lunch wrap tangy from the goat cheese and creamy from the hummus, with just the right peppery basil bite and pop of fresh tomato. Serve with some fruit or Greek yogurt for a truly healthy lunch of champions. Pride yourself on your preparedness and commitment to not buying lunch from the cafeteria. High five.

And now, back to ponder the great questions of life.

Polenta with Rosemary Mushrooms

So, this meal looks remarkably similar to my shrimp and grits post from a few weeks ago. And, I guess in theory, that makes sense, because polenta and grits are remarkably similar. They are, in fact, the same food- corn meal- ground to varying consistencies. Polenta is usually a bit more coarse; however, traditionally, they are really derived from distinct types of corn. But when it comes to grocery store shopping, can you really find a difference? Not usually. The more coarse, deeply yellow corn meal I purchased (from the bulk bins at Whole Foods) is labeled “polenta,” and is what I’d consider polenta to be. Contrastingly, when I make grits, I use a finely ground white corn meal, which cooks quite a bit more quickly and yields a creamier consistency. These are lot of fancy descriptions for ground corn. The biggest difference notable to the consumer is 1) cook time and 2) texture. If you want dinner on the table in under 15 minutes, finely ground corn meal, usually grits, are the way to go. If you want more deeply developed flavors, go with something more coarse and simmer for awhile, usually polenta. However, this can probably be reversed. (I believe some Southerners would turn their nose at the finely-ground, more-quickly-cooked stuff).

I purchased the polenta on a whim, eager to see what the difference really tasted like. I also wanted a classic Italian flavor profile (two Italian dishes in a row!? Too bad I actually made this a couple weeks ago), so I topped the polenta with delicate and bitter greens and rich and savory mushrooms. I pretty much love mushrooms made this way. The rosemary isn’t overwhelming, but does add to the savory-ness (that’s a word now).

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Polenta with Rosemary Mushrooms

Serves 1 (I eat alone… but this is easily multiplied)

1/4 cup coarse, stone-ground polenta

1 cup chicken stock

1/2 tbsp. butter

1 cup arugula

4 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced

1/2 tbsp. butter

1/2 tbsp. flour

1/2 cup chicken stock

2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped finely

Pinch dried red chili flake

Salt & pepper, to taste

To prepare the polenta, heat the chicken stock in a pot over medium-high heat until boiling. Once boiling, turn the heat to low, add the polenta, and whisk constantly, until the polenta has absorbed some of the stock and is thickened slightly. Cover the pot and simmer the polenta, stirring intermittently to avoid sticking to the pan. Cook the polenta for 30-40 minutes, until the liquid is fully absorbed and the polenta is creamy. It may seem “done” a bit before this, but cooking longer intensifies the flavor. Once finished, add butter and season with salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate and plate.

While the polenta is cooking, heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the butter to the pan and melt, then add the mushroom. Cook the mushrooms until browning and releasing their juices, about 5 minutes. Season the mushrooms with salt, pepper, and chili flake, and add the fresh rosemary. Mix to combine. Toss the flour over the mushrooms and stir to incorporate. Cook the flour over the mushrooms for about a minute, until the white powdery flour is no longer visible. Add the stock, which should bubble upon contact. Stir to incorporate the stock with the mushrooms, and allow the stock to thicken and reduce. Cook for about 3-5 minutes, until the liquid is quite thick and adherent to the mushrooms.

Top the plated polenta with a pile of greens. Add the hot rosemary mushrooms above the greens, which will cause them to wilt slightly and soften the flavor. Eat slowly and savor the deep corn flavor with the savory rosemary mushrooms.

I love grits, but polenta is seriously good.

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(Anyone notice my distorted reflection in the spoon of my first picture? Yes, these are iPhone photos. I love VSCOcam.)

(Not Absurdly Complicated) Bolognese Sauce

I’m training (so much of me wants to write “training,” because I feel pretentious acting like I’m Rocky or something really getting ready for the fight) for a 10-miler in May- the Soldier Field 10-miler, in fact- and for some reason, I’m craving red meat like crazy. This could make sense physiologically, like further oxygen demands requiring more iron stores for increased hemoglobin production and so on (or maybe I just “want” the protein), but sometimes cravings are just cravings. I typically go through a serious hamburger phase in the Summer, because the idea of a hamburger on the grill next to some grilled corn on the cob just screams joy and block parties and satiety. Maybe because I want Summer with the entirety of my being, or maybe because of all the running I’ve been making myself do, or maybe because grass-fed beef really is just delicious, I had a sudden idea to buy a pound of meat and make bolognese sauce last weekend. It’s something I’ve wanted to make for awhile, but, to be honest, had always prepared in a semi-homemade fashion. Some part of me, though- probably the part also craving a hamburger- intended to really prepare bolognese. A genuine, from-scratch, heart-felt bolognese, simmered and gently stirred. I read recipe upon recipe, gathering my influences… chopped vegetables here, tomato paste there, milk heated, milk added at the end, simmered for hours, simmered in parts for days… there was a lot to take in. I wanted to make bolognese, and I wanted deep flavors, but I also had a work-night to make it. So I compromised the recipes, leveraged some ingredients and added some others, and ended up with a truly delicious and really not overly complicated recipe. It finishes in about 4 hours, and could be done in two (although losing some of that slow-simmered flavor). It’s full of vegetables and easy on the meat, but profoundly flavored by both. And there are hearty tomato chunks, because don’t we want to know what we’re eating? I also left out the wine, simply for not having any, but I love balsamic so much, and probably prefer the substitution. You can use either.

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(Not Absurdly Complicated) Bolognese Sauce

Serves 6-8

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 large yellow onion, minced very finely

2 large carrots, minced finely

8 cloves garlic, minced

4 oz. mushrooms, chopped finely

1 lb. grass-fed ground beef

2 tbsp. Italian seasoning (or a mixture of dried parsley, oregano, and thyme)

1/4 tsp. dried crushed red chili flake

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 6 oz. can of tomato paste (I used Muir Glen organic)

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or 1/2 cup red wine)

1 28 oz. can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes

3 cups chicken stock

1 parmesan rind

Begin by preparing the vegetables. I actually used a food processor to really break down the carrots and onions. The juices are released more fragrantly, which I think advances the flavor.

In a large dutch oven or stock pot, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the minced onion and carrots and cook until lightly browning, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. The heat should be low enough that the onions don’t burn, but does allow for light caramelization. Push the caramelized onions and carrots to the edges of the pan and add minced garlic. Cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Mix the vegetables together and add the mushrooms. Cook an additional 5-10 minutes, until mushrooms are just releasing their juices. Add the ground meat to the pan and cook until browned, about 10-15 minutes. Once the meat is browned, add the spices and seasonings.

To the meat and vegetables, add a whole can of tomato paste. Stir to incorporate fully, and cook for about 5 minutes, to really “cook off” the canned flavor. Increase the heat to medium and add the balsamic vinegar or wine. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, until the liquid has bubbled away almost entirely, and there is just a bit of liquid apparent at the bottom of the pan. To the pot, add the whole peeled tomatoes, using the back of the spoon to crush and break up a bit. Stir to incorporate. Add the chicken stock and parmesan rind and stir. Bring the mixture to a low simmer, then reduce heat to very low, about the lowest it can be. The sauce should maintain a weak simmer, with just a few bubbles breaking the surface every few seconds.

Allow the sauce to simmer uncovered over low heat for anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally. The flavors will really intensify and develop as it simmers (I thought there wouldn’t be much difference, but had time to kill, so I let it simmer. I was pretty impressed by how much “deeper” and more complex the flavors were after 3 hours of simmering as compared to one hour).

Remove from the heat and serve, likely over pasta of choice. I love to use pasta and sauce as a topping for a massive pile of greens, so that’s how I served it here. I find spinach or arugula to work best, as the pasta just barely wilts the greens to a perfect texture.

This may be one of very fews forays into Italian for me, but I have my eye on a pasta maker and anticipate much more old-fashioned kitchen fun to come.

Lemon Barley Risotto with Peas

In Chicago, you cannot be outside and not see winter. Not in the densely gray sky; not in the salt-bleached asphalt; not in the naked trees, with snow climbing high up their trunks; and especially not in the ground, exhibiting at any point a full mountain range of snow piles, exhaust-stained at its base and crisply white at its peaks. Winter is truly everywhere, save a few perfectly positioned glances out the window at sunset. So maybe this makes me a Chicagoan now, but I am utterly delighted at the idea of snow falling thickly on my south-eastern friends and family, while I optimistically drive on clear paved roads on a (remarkably) sunny day that nearly breaks freezing. We’ve suffered enough winter this year, and I’ll take any wins I can. Even if it’s just “oh, thank God it didn’t snow today!” I’m a little jealous that for other parts of the country (that I so recently called home), snow is an exciting rarity that requires immediate rest and relaxation. I wish snow meant hot chocolate and blankets instead of freezing, slow commutes. But there’s promise of a genuine heat wave- temperatures sky-rocketing to the 40s- so maybe it’s time to celebrate Spring, just a little bit, just to see how it feels. This dinner is nice in that it incorporates the fresh components of Spring flavors- lemon, peas, thyme- but requires ingredients that are pantry staples or easy freezer grabs. It’s a healthy variation on an Italian favorite, and a nice mix up from rice or pasta. The barley creates this “risotto” through the slow cooking process, yielding starches to the surrounding broth with time. It’s utterly creamy as a result, and while I’ve had “real” risotto only once or twice, barley risotto is a pretty fair comparison.

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Lemon Barley Risotto with Peas

Serves 3-4

1 tbsp. butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup pearled barley

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

3 cups water

1 tbsp. thyme, fresh or dried

2 cups peas, frozen

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, (freshly) grated

Zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Salt & pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, mix vegetable or chicken stock and water and heat until boiling. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside, with a ladle ready for use.

In a pot, melt 1 tbsp. butter over medium heat. Add minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add barley and toast, stirring frequently, about 3-5 minutes. Once the barley is fragrant and lightly browning, add thyme and bit of salt. Next, add about 1 cup of stock/water to the barley and stir. Cook  the barley until it’s absorbed most of the liquid; then, add another cup of stock/water. Repeat this process, adding about 1-1/2 cups of liquid at a time, stirring regularly, until the barley is tender and the liquids are almost entirely absorbed. This process can take anywhere from 25-45 minutes, depending on the barley.

Just before the barley is finished, with a bit of liquid remaining, add the frozen peas. Cook the peas in the barley for 2-3 minutes, until bright and softened. Remove the barley from the heat and add juice of 1/2 a lemon, zest of 1 lemon, and 1/2 cup of Parmesan. Stir together and season additionally if necessary.

Serve the barley risotto plain, with a sprinkle of goat cheese. Or, serve along side some lemon grilled chicken or your other favorite protein of the day.

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I went with some meat this time. It’s been awhile. (Also, I know you like this chicken, Brian).

Pasta e Fagioli (Tuscan White Bean Soup)

Can we call Chicago “Chiberia” again? Anyways, it’s cold. And I really want soup. And I’ve never made beans from scratch before. And I had all these sad vegetables begging for a purpose. All of these thoughts were equating a challenge: hadn’t I seen a beautiful pasta e fagioli soup recipe somewhere once before? Couldn’t I make a huge pot to eat for weeks, allowing myself to satiate my never-ending soup desire? Yes, yes I had. And, more importantly, yes I could! This soup is up for interpretation. Just mentioning to coworkers, friends, other people (who seemed oddly too interested in what I was eating) that I made pasta e fagioli opened up a series of remarks and interpretations. “Oh, doesn’t that soup have tomatoes?” “Isn’t that soup made with meat?” “What is that green stuff in there?” There was a lot of inquisition for a simple bowl of soup. Especially since pasta e fagioli means simply pasta with beans. That’s it. This soup must have pasta, and it must have beans. It doesn’t need tomatoes (I decidedly chose to have a tomato-less broth), and it doesn’t need meat. I added some vegetables, because I can’t imagine soup without them, and I love the heartiness that greens impart. But one thing I did intend was for this to be a Tuscan inspired soup. In glorious memory of Tuscany- a dreamy 2 days in Florence, Italy on vacation too many years ago- I imagined a hearty, simple, and, most importantly, flavorful soup. This soup is not an immediate thirty-minute-meal. It also isn’t as complex as a bolognese, requiring simmering for days. It is in fact relatively simple, although some prep work is required, as well as a bit of patience. But the reward for such virtues! It seems to me the best food is made this way. Give anything time to blend together, and something exponential is created. This soup is quite literally the definition of “greater than the sum of its parts.”

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Pasta e Fagioli (Tuscan White Bean Soup)

Adapted from this recipe

Serves 8-12

Prepared cannellini beans

  • 1 lb. dried cannellini beans
  • 8 cups of water
  • 2 tbsp. salt

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

4 stalks celery, diced

3 carrots, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tbsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. dried rosemary

1 cup vegetable stock

1 Parmesan rind

8 oz. dried pasta (I used miniature shells)

4 cups Tuscan kale, cut into 3 in. strips

Salt & pepper to taste

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

To prepare the cannellini beans, combine dried beans, water, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Allow beans to soak for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.

The night of cooking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pour the olive oil into a large (LARGE) Dutch oven over medium heat. To the olive oil, add onions and sauté until softened and caramelizing, about 15 minutes (if the onions are browning too quickly, reduce heat to low). To the onions, once caramelized, add diced celery and carrots. Increase the heat to medium and sauté the vegetables together until the celery and carrots are just softened, about 5 minutes further. Add the spices and minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, no more than 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup of vegetable stock, using a rubber spatula to loosen any browned bits from the pan.

Drain and rinse the dried beans that have been softening (they will still be quite firm). Add the beans to the vegetable and stock mixture and mix. Pour several cups of water into the pot until covering the beans by about 1 inch. Add the Parmesan rind to the mixture. Cover the Dutch oven with its lid and slide it into the oven, which should be heated to 375 degrees F. Set a timer for 1 hour.

After an hour, check the soup to determine the doneness of the beans. You’re looking for a softened texture with just a hint of a bite. I tasted a bean each time I checked until I determined doneness. If the beans are not fully cooked, cover the pot and return to the oven. Check the beans every 15-20 minutes until they are the desired texture. I found an hour and a half to be an appropriate cooking time; it will take more or less time depending on your pot, your oven, your beans, etc.

Once the beans are cooked fully, remove the pot from the oven and return it to the stovetop. Heat the soup over medium heat until simmering, which should happen very quickly. Add pasta to the simmering broth, adding water if the soup seems too thick. Cook the pasta for the recommended time. At about 1 minute until the pasta is considered “done,” add the kale ribbons and stir until wilted. Remove the Parmesan rind from the pot. Taste and season, being careful not to over-salt (the Parmesan will impart a salty flavor).

Serve in a soup bowl with an ample grating of fresh Parmesan. Inhale the comforting fumes, warm your hands on the sides of the bowl, and imagine that just for a second you don’t live in the freezing-cold Midwest. Then, eat your soup and decide you don’t care. Soup solves life’s problems.

Although this soup is somewhat labor intensive, a much easier version could be accomplished with using canned cannellini beans. This would require simply adding about 2-3 cans (rinsed) cannellini beans to the vegetables after deglazing, and adding several cups of vegetable stock until the appropriate bean-to-stock ratio is achieved. A Parmesan rind can be added, although it won’t have as much time to release its flavor. This soup could be simmered for 15-20 minutes until adding the pasta and resuming the original recipe, meaning the start-to-finish time would probably be more like 45 minutes, rather than 2+ (26+) hours. However, it will be missing that slow-simmered quality, which is really what makes this simple soup delicious pasta e fagioli. But, some weeknights call for speed. This recipe can also be halved, quartered, etc. much more simply with canned beans, or, alternatively, using only 1/2 the bag of dried beans at the onset. In total, it’s a very adaptable recipe; although, you’ll be glad to have the leftovers in your freezer come Polar Vortex 3.

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What’s better than warm soup in a large mug?