Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Beans)

It is possible to eat too much pizza. For me, at any rate.

On our last jaunt through Italy, I kept meaning to order something that wasn’t pizza and failing spectacularly. Every region has different specialty toppings! I might miss out on something!! But when my body finally said NO MORE, I went for Pasta e Fagioli (pasta and beans) instead. And my goodness, was it ever rewarding. Borlotti beans are the creamiest, most flavor-absorbing beans I’ve ever come across. I plan to try making it sometime with dried beans, but this canned version comes together in a flash.

100 g diced pancetta or bacon
2 T olive oil
1 large or 2 small yellow onions, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 c/100 ml white wine
1/4 t red chili flakes
1 large sprig fresh rosemary leaves
4-6 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1/2 t ground black pepper
4-5 c/1-1.25 L weak chicken broth
3 15 oz/400 g cans borlotti (cranberry) beans, drained and rinsed
1 generous c/250 g short pasta
1 c/200 mL boiling water (optional)
1/2 c/100 g grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
1/4 c/50 g chopped parsley

Heat deep soup pot to medium heat. Add pancetta or bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until a little fat renders, then add olive oil. Turn heat to medium-low and add onions and garlic, stirring frequently until tender and translucent, but not browned. Add white wine, chili flakes, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and black pepper, stirring until wine is mostly evaporated. Add chicken broth and beans and allow mixture to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and turning down heat if necessary.

After 10 minutes, remove bay leaves and strip rosemary and thyme leaves from sprigs, returning the leaves to the pot. Either mash some of the beans with the back of a spoon or briefly use a stick blender, making sure to leave about half of the beans intact. Add the pasta (if there’s not enough liquid to cook the pasta or the soup is already too thick, add the extra water) and cook until almost done. Remove from heat and cover for 5 minutes. Serve with grated Pecorino or Parmesan and chopped parsley.

Garlic Lemon Cream Pasta

I’ve been on the hunt for a creamy lemon sauce for years and have tried a few that just didn’t do it. They either weren’t lemony enough or had way too much cream (Cliff has no gall bladder – too much cream or butter does him in). This one finally has the right balance of flavor and creaminess. Here’s the original, with my version below.

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
2 c chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup capers
Juice of 1 lemon
1 c artichoke hearts
1/4 cup cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 t herbes des Provence
1 lb broccoli florets (optional)
1 lb pasta

Heat butter and oil to medium in a deep skillet. Sauté garlic, shallots and lemon zest until tender and fragrant. Add broth and simmer until reduced by half and syrupy*. Add capers, lemon juice and artichoke hearts and stir until heated through. Remove from heat and stir in cream and add salt, pepper and herbes. Set aside sauce. Cook pasta and broccoli to desired doneness, drain and toss with sauce.

*I wasn’t happy with the ‘syrupy’ texture and wanted the sauce to be a little thicker, so I added a cornstarch slurry (1 T cornstarch and 1 T water whisked until smooth). Pour the slurry into the simmering sauce and stir well until thickened, then proceed as above.

Egyptian Red Lentil Soup

I just had my wisdom teeth out, so on top of not being so smart anymore, I have to eat soft food. Luckily, I know a few recipes for delicious soft food. The original recipe involves a fried onion topping, which looks wonderful yet chew-intensive. Luckily, lentils and a stick blender yield a gently textured, full flavored product that I’ll happily eat even with teeth.

3 T olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t ground cumin
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 sprig fresh thyme (or 1/2 t dried thyme)
1/2 t cayenne pepper or ancho chile
1/2 t sweet smoked paprika
3 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
2 T tomato paste
8 c beef stock (vegetable stock makes this vegan!)
salt and pepper to taste (how much salt depends on your stock – taste often)
2 c red lentils
1 lemon, juiced

Pick over your lentils for any unwanted debris. Heat oil to medium high in a soup pot or deep dutch oven. Add onions, carrots, celery and garlic and sauté until soft. Add spices and stir well into vegetables, cooking for a couple of minutes until very fragrant. Add tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes, until they begin to break down. Add tomato paste and stir well. Add stock and reduce heat to medium low – soup should not boil. Season with salt and pepper and add the lentils. Simmer 30-40 minutes (reducing heat to low, if necessary), until lentils and vegetables are very soft.

Remove soup from heat and process with immersion blender (or purée in batches in a heat-safe blender) until desired texture is achieved. Remember, it will thicken as it cools. If soup is still too thin, bring it back to a simmer for a few minutes. Check seasoning and stir in lemon juice. Serve with additional wedges of lemon and yogurt.

Creamy Lemon Asparagus Pasta

SPARGELZEIT!!1!

It’s that time of year again. While the locals are losing it over the white stuff, I’m partial to green asparagus (more flavor). This will definitely make another appearance before the fleeting season ends. Here’s the original, my version is below.

500 g/1 lb pasta (whole wheat pasta would be great here)
500 g/1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces (you could easily double this)
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk or cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small shallots, minced
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Cook pasta in well salted water. For last 3-4 minutes of cooking time, add asparagus pieces. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.

Whisk together mustard, flour, milk or cream, salt and pepper in a bowl and set aside. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and shallot and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned. Whisk in mustard mixture and bring to a simmer, cooking until thickened. Stir in lemon zest and juice and half of the cheese. If sauce gets too thick, loosen it by stirring in a little pasta water or more milk.

Combine pasta, asparagus and sauce, tossing until well coated. Serve and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

I’m sick of cooking. Yeah, I didn’t think it would ever happen, either, but the recently wrapped-up holiday season kinda tested my limits. Mostly because I’m tired of doing dishes, but at least part of it is a lack of inspiration. As much as I wanted to go out last night, I didn’t feel like spending the money, so I looked inward…to my pantry. It had to be something made from staples that wasn’t boring. The technique came from one recipe and the flavor profile from another and it yielded delicious results: subtly sweet and smoky, with a salty punch from cheese and some half & half to ease the acidic edges. And it came together in the amount of time it took to boil the pasta.

Maybe my mojo’s not entirely gone.

1 T olive oil
1 T butter
2 shallots, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T tomato paste
1/4 c white wine
1/2 t basil
1/2 t oregano
large pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1 jar (3-4 peppers) roasted red peppers, drained, lightly rinsed and roughly chopped
2/3 c half & half
1/4 c Parmesan cheese, grated
salt to taste*

In a small saucepan, heat oil and butter to medium-low. Sauté shallots and garlic until just tender, then stir in tomato paste and cook for a couple of minutes. Add wine, basil, oregano and red pepper flakes, stir to combine and allow wine to reduce to 1/3 (the boozy smell the should be gone). Reduce heat to low, add the red peppers and half & half and stir until everything is combined. Allow to heat to a bare simmer, then blend with a stick blender until very smooth. Stir in the cheese and bring sauce to a simmer for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly, but do not allow it to get to a full boil. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Toss with pasta and serve with more cheese for sprinkling.

*The peppers I used had a little salt in them, as part of the preservation process. Combined with the cheese, that was salty enough for us. Plus, be careful not to blot out the peppers’ sweetness – I think that’s where the interest comes from.

Cranberry Brown Butter Shortbread Bars

The cranberries are in! There isn’t a whole lot of cranberry love here in Germany, so when they showed up at the green-grocers, I came home and started strategizing. The brown butter creates an extra step, but the different flavor is very worth it. I made Cliff brown the butter (because hot popping grease freaks me out) and he did a fantastic job. I found this recipe here, and have changed very little (used a little less sugar with the berries), but I broke down the instructions into a more readable format. Don’t let the lengthy instructions put you off – it’s a lot easier to execute than to explain.

1 c + 5 T (263 g) butter
1 c (210 g) sugar, divided into 3/4 and 1/4 c
3/4 t salt
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/4 t almond extract (didn’t have any, so we used amaretto)
3 c + 3 T (404 g) flour
1 lb (500 g) cranberries, picked over and rinsed
3/4 c (158 g) sugar
1/3 c orange juice

  1. Prepare brown butter. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Once it’s completely melted, turn heat up to medium and stir constantly until milk solids separate out (it will foam, just keep stirring). Butter will smell very nutty and turn golden brown. Pour into a heatproof bowl, set aside and allow to cool, stirring occasionally.

  2. Line a 9×13 pan with foil or parchment. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooled butter, 3/4 c sugar and salt, stirring until well mixed. Add yolks and almond extract, stirring until smooth. Next, add the flour. The original recipe says to use a spoon or rubber spatula, but I incorporated it with a pastry blender. Worked for me. The dough will be quite stiff and dense, just go with it. Transfer about 2 c of the dough to the lined 9×13 and press it until it knits together. It will still be kind of bumpy, but that’s cool. Put the pan of dough into the fridge for about 40 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 c of sugar to the rest of the dough and work it in with the pastry blender until it’s crumbly.

  3. Prepare cranberry jam. In a deep saucepan over high heat, bring cranberries, sugar and orange juice to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and stir constantly until cranberries have popped and jam achieves chunky, thick consistency. Set aside and allow to cool a little.

  4. Heat oven to 325° F/163° C. Remove dough from fridge and prick all over with fork. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from oven and turn heat up to 350° F/175° F. Spread cranberry jam evenly over hot shortbread, then sprinkle remaining dough crumbles over the top. Return shortbread to oven and bake for at least 25 minutes or until streusel is golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool on trivet for at least 1 hour.