I think it’s probably very likely that for many Midwesterners like myself, their first exposure to pasta e fagioli was at The Olive Garden. Unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks can’t be beat! Even if your culinary tastes are somewhat more refined these days, this is a hearty, healthy (and cheap) soup that’s great with crusty bread or toast!
- 100 g bacon lardons (thick cut bacon cut into strips)
- 2 TB olive oil
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 stalks celery, finely diced
- 3 carrots, peeled and medium diced
- 400 g can of tomato sauce
- 150 g chopped frozen spinach
- 1/4 tsp fennel seed
- 1/2 tsp thyme
- 1 tsp rosemary
- 1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and pepper to taste
- 500 ml chicken or vegetable broth
- 1200 ml water
- 400 g cannellini or Santa Pau beans
- 1 cup small pasta
- secret ingredient: parmesan rind (optional – when I finish a wedge of parmesan cheese I chuck it in a ziploc in the freezer)
Brown the bacon in a large pot (I use a 5.5 liter pot) over medium high heat. When the bacon is browned, swirl in the olive oil, reduce the heat to medium and sauté the onions until they start to become translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the celery and carrot and cook until they start to become soft, about 10 min.
Add the red pepper flakes, herbs, tomato sauce, spinach, broth and water. Chuck that parmesan rind in if you have it! Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 min. Add the beans and allow to gently simmer for 10 more minutes. Adjust for salt and pepper. Finally, add the pasta and simmer until al dente.
Serve with bread and grated parmesan.
Err, so this summer’s menu has consisted mostly of mini Weetabix and BLT sandwiches. Not that I haven’t had time to cook, but baking a baby (we’re almost there!), moving house and scorching temperatures sucked all the energy out of me. I have made one thing on the regular because it takes less than 30 minutes start to finish and is oh-so-delicious and decadent. It ain’t cheap to make, but when the rest of your meals are bowls of cereal it averages out.
I’ve adapted this recipe from Jamie Oliver; he describes it as a starter, but we usually eat it as a main summer salad for two. I bulk it out with more greens and use jamón ibérico instead of parma ham, which c’mon, we all know is the best thing ever.
- 4 peaches
- quality olive oil
- sea salt (flakes if you got ’em)
- cracked pepper
- 1/2 lemon
- 125 g ball of buffalo mozzarella
- 100 g jamón ibérico
- 125 g arugula or mesclun
- a couple of sprigs of mint, leaves picked
Pre-heat the oven (top + bottom elements) to 200ºC/450ºF. Vertically halve and destone the peaches, then lie them cut-side up in a snug-fitting roasting tray. Drizzle with oil, a bit of salt, slide into the hot oven and roast for 20 minutes, or until charred and sticky. Keep an eye on them and rotate the tray for even cooking.
In the meantime, squeeze the juice of half a lemon, double as much olive oil, sea salt and pepper to taste into a jar with a sealable lid and shake-shake-shake. Usually when the peaches are done roasting I add a tablespoon or two of the peach juices from the pan to the jar, the sugar from the juice helps emulsify the dressing.
Divide the greens on plates, lie the peaches cut side up on the greens, tear the mozzarella up and pop a chunk on top of each peach. Arrange the jamón around the salad and drizzle the whole lot with the dressing. Sprinkle the mint leaves on top and serve straight away.
Servings: Two as a main meal or four as a starter.
As you may have gathered, we like lentils in this family. It’s just that they are so versatile, and cheap, and healthy! I like the peppery flavor of Du Puy (French green) lentils. Continuing on from the vichyssoise we have another a French-inspired summer dish. It’s great to make ahead and goes nicely with some grilled tarragon chicken. If you Google tarragon chicken you’ll find approximately eight jillion recipes. Adapted from Epicurious.
Put lentils in a small sauce pan and cover with 2 inches of water. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes until they are tender but not falling apart, rinse carefully with cool water and drain well. Put lentils back in the saucepan and stir in 1 tablespoon vinegar and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
Put dry couscous and another pinch of salt in a large bowl. Bring water to boil on the stove top (I use an electric kettle, much faster). Pour water over couscous and stir with a fork, then cover and let rest for 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon oil and cool completely.
In a small bowl (or in the mortar you used to mash the garlic) whisk together garlic paste, remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar, remaining 3 tablespoons oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir lentils and dressing into couscous. Chill salad, covered, for 45-60 minutes (or overnight if you really want to make-ahead). After this time stir in the remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill additional 30 minutes and give the salad a squeeze of fresh lemon juice right before serving.
Servings: Six. 260 calories.
I’m pretty sure everyone knows what puttanesca means so I won’t go into it. Puttanesca sauce is a spicy, piquant, garlicky, anchovy-imbued delight. Mmm, anchovies. Good thing I’m married and it doesn’t matter if my garlic/anchovy breath offends Joel. He likes it.
I’ve made this a few times, and based on experience I recommend using a long pasta, like spaghetti, spaghettoni or linguine. Use a thicker pasta, not capellini (angel hair), to keep the hot sauce from continuing to cook the pasta – you don’t want to lose that nice al dente bite.
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 4-6 garlic cloves, smashed and finely chopped
- 2 TB capers
- 1 tin (50 g) anchovies packed in olive oil, drained
- 2 handfuls (about 200 g) black olives (preferrably oil-packed)
- 1 TB olive oil
- 1 tsp hot chili flakes
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp dried parsley or 1 tsp chopped fresh parsley
- 1 large tin (800 g) whole peeled tomatoes, drained (reserve half the liquid) and coarsely chopped
- 1 TB tomato paste
- 400 g pasta, cooked al dente
Heat a large saucepan/pot over medium heat and add oil, onion, garlic, anchovies, and capers. Saute mixture until anchovies melt into the oil and onions and garlic are tender. Add herbs, hot pepper flakes, olives, tomatoes, tomato paste and the reserved liquid. Bring sauce to a bubble, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.
Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. Serve sprinkled with fresh basil and grated Parmesan.
Servings: Four (sauce + 1/4 of the cooked pasta). 529 calories
Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver for Food Network.
It’s wintertime (a relative concept in Barcelona) and nothing goes better than a bit of stodge. There’s not much commentary needed for this post as mashed potatoes are pretty standard, but I feel as if this beloved side dish has been unfairly maligned. Potatoes aren’t terrible in and of themselves, it’s when you cover them with cheese and bacon and sour cream that they become calorie bombs. I think that the addition of rosemary and roasted garlic adds the flavor kick that you need with just a little butter and milk for creaminess.
- Three medium-sized yellow skinned potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
- a sprig (about 4″ long) of fresh rosemary, or a 1/2 TB of dried rosemary
- 4-5 cloves (half a head) of roasted garlic*
- 75 ml semi-skim milk
- 1 TB butter
- cracked black pepper and sea salt to taste
* To make roasted garlic just drizzle a few cloves with olive oil and wrap them in aluminum foil to make a little packet. Place in oven on one of the top racks and roast under high heat for 20 minutes or so, until you can smell the garlic. The garlic will be soft and you can just squeeze it out of the papery skin.
Bring salted water to a boil and add potatoes and sprig of rosemary. Boil for 12-15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Drain and remove the rosemary stem if you’ve used a fresh sprig. Return potatoes to pot and add roasted garlic, milk and butter. Mash potatoes using a hand masher or a ricer. If you use a mixer you run the risk of over-mashing them and then they become gluey. Add salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste.
Servings: Two generous portions. 273 calories.
Ranch dip forms part of my American (United-Statesian? Estadounidense!) psyche. ‘Mericans put it on salad, potatoes in all their various formats, vegetables, hamburgers, pretzels, Thanksgiving turkey (in my family at least), sandwiches, chicken wings, the list is really endless.
You can use ranch to make anything tasty and/or incredibly unhealthy. It’s easy to put that out of your mind when you’re eating it though. When I first moved to Spain I really missed it and so decided to make it from scratch using what I had at hand. As it turns out, the homemade version is super easy to make and far less nasty than using the spice mix from a packet stirred into a bunch of mayonnaise. Surprised? Not really.
- 250 ml (two pots) of natural Greek yoghurt (this recipe is pretty low in fat as it is so do yourself a favor and use regular yoghurt, not the watery low-fat stuff)
- 1 teaspoon each of: sea salt, garlic powder, black pepper and dried parsley – you can adjust the ratios to your liking
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) milk
- juice of one lemon wedge
Combine yoghurt and spices in a bowl (cereal-sized) with a whisk until well-blended. Slowly whisk milk and lemon juice in, the extra liquid will keep the dip from becoming too thick. Allow to chill for at least 15 minutes before serving, if the dip is too thick for your tastes whisk in a wee bit more milk.
Did you know that buttermilk (traditionally a key component in ranch dip and many other tasty dishes) can be perfectly substituted with natural yoghurt and a squeeze of lemon juice? True story!
Servings: Four. 88 calories. (Not including the huge packet of Ruffles that you’ll be using as a vehicle for this nom-rific dip.)
Two factors influenced the decision to post another baking recipe. First off, I teach (a bit of a stretch, we hang out and talk in English) a pre-teen called Mar, and one of our favorite activities is cooking. We’ve gone through a lot of recipes over the years, so many that I’ve had to dig deep in the archives. As she gets older she gives me more input about what she’d like to make, and this week she requested brownies, the quintessential chocolate-y North American treat.
Her request got me thinking about brownies and the absolute dearth of chewy chocolate goodness in this city. There are quite a few cafés, bakeries and hip bar/restaurants that offer “the best” brownies in BCN. Sheer fallacy. For the low price of 5€ you can enjoy a chalky, dry, cake-like brownie that barely tastes of chocolate. I have no idea why this is when all the ingredients for a gooey chewy brownie are within easy reach. This recipe is so easy even a 12-year-old can make it.
- 1/4 cup (62 ml) melted unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup (62 ml) sunflower oil
- 1 cup (250 g) white granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (67 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (65 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Valor Cacao Puro en Polvo)
- 1/8 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) of chopped up walnuts or a chocolate bar, or a combo (optional)
Preheat oven to 175ºC/350ºF and grease a square (9×9) cake pan. You can also line it with aluminum foil so you can remove the brownies later.
In a medium bowl whisk melted butter, oil, sugar and vanilla. Beat in eggs. Add flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt, whisking gently just until dry and wet ingredients are uniformly mixed. It’s okay if there are a few lumps.
Pour brownie mix into prepared pan. Sprinkle chopped chocolate over the top of the batter and use the tip of a knife to gently push some of the pieces into the batter.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the batter starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. Allow to cool to just warmer than room temperature, this is when they are at their chewy best!
Servings: Nine. 263 calories.
What’s in a name? Does a good neighbor bring you a cake? Or do you bring someone a cake to be a good neighbor? Either way, this cake is simple and scrummy. It’s a family recipe, from my mother’s aunt Fern. As previously stated I’m not that great of a baker, but you can’t ignore your family heritage! This is my go-to cake for a birthday or special occasion. I especially love the dark chocolate flavor, and the cake stays nice and moist for up to a few days, if it lasts that long! As a final note, this is just a half recipe, if you want to use a rectangular 9×13 cake pan (3.5 liter for my metric friends) just double the ingredients.
- 1 cup (155 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (200 g) caster sugar
- 1/2 cup (50 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 cup sunflower or other light vegetable oil
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup (250 ml) boiling water
Pre-heat oven to 177ºC/350ºF and grease and flour a square cake pan. In a medium-sized bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and baking soda. I use a whisk to make sure everything’s thoroughly mixed. In another smaller bowl, whisk together the egg, oil, and vanilla extract until you achieve a smooth mixture. Pour the egg mixture and boiling water into the dry ingredients and stir together just enough until the mixture is uniform. Pour into the cake pan and bake for approximately 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Serve cake dusted with icing sugar (powdered sugar) or with whipped cream. Or ice cream. Or eat it furtively in the kitchen when no one is looking. Ahem.
Vegan variation: Increase baking powder to 1/2 tsp in the dry ingredients and substitute the egg for one very ripe banana. Whisk (or even better, use a hand blender) together the banana, oil and vanilla until you achieve a smooth mixture, almost like an emulsion. Proceed as instructed above.
Servings: Nine squares. 204 calories per square.
Flat-sharing is an integral part of the Barcelona experience. Very rarely does anyone live on their own right off the bat, as the city takes some time to get used to and it’s rather expensive living on your own. I shared a flat for four years until Joel and I moved in together. I made some lifelong friends and met some interesting characters. One of those interesting characters was a Portuguese woman called Iris. She could be alternatively very generous and caring or moody and sanctimonious. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. The best thing about Iris is that she could cook her socks off and she liked to share. This recipe comes from her and it’s the best cold remedy I’ve ever found. Joel’s at home with a stuffed-up head so this is what we’re having for dinner tonight.
- 250 grams (about half a pound) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1″ chunks
- 2 onions, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 5-6 slices of fresh ginger
- as many slices of canned jalapeños as you can stand
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled & cut into 1″ chunks – you can also sub more potatoes for chicken to make this a vegetarian recipe
- 1 tsp sea salt
- chopped fresh cilantro
- one avocado
- fresh lemon juice
This soup couldn’t be easier. Put the raw chicken, onions, potatoes, garlic, ginger, jalapeños and salt in a stock pot. Cover with water. Bring mix to a boil and then simmer until chicken is cooked through. (Approx 20-25 minutes.) In the meantime, slice the avocado and divide between two bowls. Throw a handful of chopped cilantro in each bowl and squeeze the juice of one big slice of lemon over the top. When the soup is finished cooking, carefully ladle the soup over the top of the avocado mix in each bowl. Keep Kleenex on hand as this will clear out your sinuses. Whee!
Servings: Four bowls, approx. 210 calories per bowl.
Baking has never really been my strong suit, mostly because I hate following instructions. Measuring and sifting and weighing and whatnot, I can’t be bothered. Despite my aversion, there are a few baked goods that always turn out well. I like this particular recipe for cornbread because it’s super easy and you can play fast and loose with the ingredients and it’s always good. It’s good for breakfast, dessert (drenched in honey, mmm!) or as an accompaniment for chili.
- 1 1/2 cups (250 g) yellow cornmeal (sémola de maíz)
- 1 cup (140 g) plain flour
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp sea salt
- a pinch each of cumin and ground nutmeg
- 1 cup milk
- 1/3 cup sunflower oil
- 2 eggs
- Add-ins: up to 1 cup of corn kernels, cubed cheddar cheese or chopped jalapeños
Preheat oven to 200º C/400º F and grease a square glass pan. In a mixing bowl, stir all the dry ingredients together using a whisk or a fork to make sure everything is well blended. In another smaller bowl, whisk all the liquid ingredients together. Pour the liquids into the dry mix and whisk gently until the batter is evenly blended. Fold your add-ins (whatever combination you choose) into the batter. Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake covered with aluminum foil for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean and the top is golden brown. Remove from oven and tent with foil, allowing to cool for 10 minutes or so (the foil helps keep the bread moist).
Cornbread is best served warm, but it’s also good toasted the next day.
Servings: Nine squares. 300 calories per square.