Pasta e Fagioli

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!

Ingredients:

  • 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)

 

Instructions:

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.

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In Praise of Dirt

“You’ll eat a bushel full of dirt by the time you die.” My grandpa told me that once when I was little. I supposed it’s a reminder that a little bit of soil won’t harm you, and in fact might be healthy.

I just cleaned loads of dirt out of my sink. Peeled carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, onions, leeks leave behind a LOT of dirt and sand. Then it occurred to me that this could be considered an anomaly in today’s modern world.

The majority of people buy their food at mega supermarkets, where fruits and vegetables are often picked prematurely, shipped from far away and sold in sterile packages. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they ‘don’t like’ fruit and vegetables because they don’t taste like anything. No wonder!

Of course there are a lot of people who have vegetable gardens, shop at farmers markets or belong to a co-op, but we live in a pretty dense city and growing much more than herbs on the balcony isn’t really realistic.

What really made me appreciate the dirt in the sink was that I did buy my vegetables at the supermarket. There’s a small supermarket near our house that’s a local chain, there are about 4 locations in Barcelona. I feel really fortunate that we live in a place where you can conveniently buy fresh, seasonal produce that’s still got a connection to the Earth, that you know this plant came from the ground and not from a plastic crate.

So, love the dirt and appreciate what it means, but don’t forget to wash it out. No one likes gritty soup.

 

Chicken Pot Pie

Pie! Pot pie! Cutie pie! Joel and I can’t  say the word “pie” without shouting it, I guess to show off our enthusiasm for pie. We sound like Cartman from South Park.

A savoury pie makes for a great one-dish meal in the winter time.  This recipe doesn’t include a homemade bottom and top short-crust because I have little patience. In effect it’s a casserole topped off with yummy puff pastry. I adapted this recipe from Martha Stewart, but have  made a considerable number of modifications, particularly in cutting down the amount of chicken and increasing the veg.

Ingredients:

  • 500 g boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 2″ chunks
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • Two carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 1 cup (approx 200 g) peeled and cubed sweet potato (or parsnip, turnip, swede, etc.)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large leek, washed and trimmed (white and light green parts only), split lengthwise and chopped roughly
  • 2-3 shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon each thyme & rosemary*
  • 2 TB all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp paprika (I use pimentón de la Vera)
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 300 ml semi-skim (1%) milk
  • 1 cacito de caldo de pollo (or 1 chicken stock cube)
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 1 TB fresh lemon juice
  • 1 package masa de hojaldre (puff pastry)

* I have rosemary and thyme plants, so I used a sprig of each (stem removed and coarsely chopped) but dried works just fine. You can even use 1/2 tsp of herbs de provence.

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the chicken and brown lightly on all sides. When the chicken is browned add the chopped onion, leek, shallots, herbs, spices, carrots and potatoes. Sauté until the carrots are crisp tender, about 8-10 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring for 1 minute. (The flour will become pasty like a roux.) Gradually add the milk, stirring until the mixture is smooth. Add the frozen peas and stock cube, and then cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mix starts to thicken.

Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Pour mix into a 8×8 square casserole dish or a deep round pie plate. Unroll the puff pastry and lay over the top of the chicken and veg mixture. Don’t worry if there’s excess pastry that flops over the side of the casserole dish – the pastry will contract as it bakes. Prick the pastry in a couple of places with a fork so that steam can escape.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and bubbling. Let the potpie set for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Servings: Four. 540 calories, approx.

Albóndigas a la jardinera

Typical Spanish meatballs recipe, also called “Albóndigas a la Madrileña.” A hearty all-in-one pot meal, meatballs with loads of vegetables. You can get this as a “segundo plato” in most bars and menú del día type restaurants.

Ingredients:

  • 12 meatballs (I buy them pre-made from the store, but it’s probably about 500g of carne picada)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and diced finely
  • 2 leeks, white and light green tops, sliced
  • 1 potato, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1-2 cups of frozen peas (I like a lot of peas in this recipe.)
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 100 g tomato paste or a small can of triturado
  • flour
  • pimentón de la vera
  • salt
  • 150 ml cheap white wine
  • Olive oil
  • 2 cups caldo or a stock cube + 2 cups water

Instructions:

Dredge the meatballs in a few tablespoons of flour that’s been mixed with some pimentón. In a big pot, heat up a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, brown meatballs evenly over medium-high heat and remove.  Turn heat to medium and sauté onion, garlic and leeks until they start to soften (scraping up bits from the bottom of the pot). Add carrots and sauté for a few more minutes. Then add the white wine, caldo (or stock cube), tomato paste (or triturado) and a cup or two of water. Better to add less water now and see how it looks with all the veg, and then you can add more later if necessary. Add in meatballs, bay leaves, potatoes, peas, and a bit more pimentón. Check for salt. Let simmer for 30-45 minutes on medium-low heat, stirring every 10-15 minutes.

Check the last 10-15 minutes or so to make sure carrots/potatoes are done, but don’t over cook. I like to turn the heat off and let the pot sit for a while so the flavors can blend. Right before you serve, heat the pot back up up to simmering and serve.

Update: I’ve made this now half a dozen times or so, and it’s fast becoming Joel’s favorite. In addition to onion, leek and garlic I also throw in a couple of rough-chopped shallots. You can also sub out some of the potato and/or carrots with parsnips, for more root vegetable goodness!

Servings: Six, approx. According to MFP each serving has about 400 calories. Not bad!