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.

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.

Chipotle Corn Soup

The Germans aren’t huge fans of corn – I think it’s a more a novelty or garnish that makes something ‘American’ to them (see pizza). So corn season can be a fraught, unreliable affair filled with dashed expectations.

But the corn is ok this year, so I get to try things like this! The original is here, but I tweaked and tinkered, so this is my version.

2 T butter
6 green onions, sliced thin (about 1 bunch)
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 t chipotle pepper in adobo, roughly chopped
1 1/2 t salt
ground black pepper to taste (go easy – chipotle is potent)
1/2 t ground cumin
6 ears corn, shucked and kernels cut off
2 small potatoes, peeled and diced (optional)
3 c chicken broth
1 c whole milk

In a Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat until foaming and add green onions, garlic and chipotle. Sauté until onions are tender and fragrant. Add salt, pepper, cumin, corn and potatoes (if using) and stir well to coat with butter. Add chicken broth and milk and bring to a low boil, turn down heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove soup from heat and blend with a stick blender. The original recipe instructs you to then strain soup through a food mill or fine mesh sieve, removing solids and pressing all liquid out of them. We skipped the sieving, which leaves lots of…um, ballast. Consider the quirks of your digestion going forward.

Avgolemono (Greek Egg & Lemon Soup)

I got this one from here and it’s harder to explain than to make. It looks a little intimidating, what with the tempering, but it is quite simple. I suggest you have someone help you with the tempering, but it is possible to do it alone if you have a stick blender w/whisk attachment and a steady hand.

2 T olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 c chicken broth
1 c water
3/4 c rice
salt to taste
2 c chicken, cooked and chopped (I used a rotisserie chicken)
1 t black pepper, coarse grind
1 t dill, dried (or 2 t fresh)
3 eggs
1/2 c lemon juice

In a deep soup pot, heat oil over medium-low heat. Sauté onion and garlic until tender and slightly translucent, 3-5 minutes. Pour in chicken broth and water and turn heat to medium. Bring to a gentle boil and add rice. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 5-7 minutes. Add salt, chicken, pepper and dill and continue simmering 5 minutes.

While the broth is simmering, in a heatproof bowl (I used a large pyrex measuring cup) beat eggs while slowly pouring in lemon juice. Taste a grain of rice; when it’s almost completely cooked, it’s time to temper the eggs. Add hot broth by the ladle (3 will probably be enough) to the eggs while whisking. Once the eggs have warmed up, take the soup pot off the heat and stir the egg mixture into the soup until completely integrated. Serve immediately.

Bean Stew with Red Wine Syrup

Got it from here originally, but we’ve adapted it slightly for our locale while on vacation in Mexico. Plan ahead — starting with dry beans means an overnight soak before you can get started in earnest.

Want to make it meatless? Be careful. The bacon provides salt, smoke flavor, and fat to keep the beans from going chalky on you. So if you’re going vegetarian here, you might consider adding pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika) or even liquid smoke flavoring, salt, and plenty of olive oil to compensate.

Ingredients

1/2 pound bacon, diced or in postage-stamp-sized slices
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped or smashed
1 pound dried pinto beans, soaked overnight
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt, more to taste
2 cups dry red wine
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Shredded cotija cheese, for serving (optional)
generous bunch cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Instructions

1. In the bottom of a large pot over medium-high heat, brown bacon until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in onion, celery, carrots, garlic and rosemary. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, 5 to 7 minutes.

2. Drain beans and add to pot along with 1 tablespoon salt. Pour in enough water to just cover the beans (about 7 to 8 cups). Bring liquid to a boil; reduce heat and simmer gently until beans are just tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

3. Meanwhile, in a small pot over medium heat, simmer wine until it is reduced to 2/3 cup, 20 to 30 minutes.

4. Pour wine into beans, mix in the cumin and chili powder, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes longer to meld flavors and thicken broth to taste. Sprinkle with cotija cheese and chopped cilantro.

Celery Root Soup

Are you aware that celery is a root vegetable? I was a having dinner with my (German) boss and (Mexican) colleague a year ago, and one of them was surprised that Americans often don’t realize that celery stalks are not the whole plant. You can’t really blame them, since most of their exposure is just to the stalks — and if you’re like me, primarily as a childhood peanut butter delivery vehicle, or an early science class experiment in plant vascular systems.

But upon moving over here, we saw the roots (“celeriac”) available in grocery stores nearly as frequently as the stalks. Last year, around the time we started roasting our vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts), I saw this video from the NY Times, so we began thinking about celeriac in future meal plans.

Then Sarah recently found this recipe: http://junglefrog-cooking.com/celeriac-soup-with-crunchy-bacon-bits/

As usual, we applied our own touches and substitutions to it — in this case, mostly out of convenience. We found the mild flavor comforting and the soup’s thick-but-still-liquid texture very filling. It holds warmth really well, which makes it a great dinner on an unseasonably cold autumn evening.

Our Substitutions/Additions/Omissions

  1. Freshly grated nutmeg — not too much — and black pepper seemed appropriate here.
  2. We skipped the olive oil drizzle at the end.
  3. We went with regular old bacon instead of pancetta or lardons or something fancier.
  4. Dried thyme instead of fresh, because buying fresh around here means like a pound of it — way more than we could ever use.
  5. We used whipping cream instead of double cream.

Ingredients

150 g bacon, chopped
bit of butter
1 large onion, chopped finely
1 bay leaf
tablespoon of dried thyme
1 celery root, peeled and cut into chunks
850 ml chicken stock
100 ml whipping cream, unwhipped
a couple scrapes of freshly grated nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions

In a soup pot, fry the bacon until the fat renders and it has gotten as crispy as you want it. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-covered plate to drain, but leave the rendered fat in the pot. If you need more fat, add a little olive oil or butter (no more than a tablespoon) to the pot and add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it becomes translucent. Add the bay leaf, the dried thyme, and the celeriac and cook for another 2 minutes.

Pour the stock into the pot, bring it to a boil, then turn it down and leave to simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the celeriac is soft (knife slides into a chunk easily). Remove the bay leaf, stir the cream in, add the black pepper and nutmeg, and puree the soup with a stick blender until smooth. Throw the bacon back into the soup pot or add it to the bowls upon serving.

Thai Garlic Meatball and Pork-Filled Cucumber Soup

Geng Djud Teng Gwa Jad Sei Mu Sab(?)
I think that’s Thai for “Can’t handle the fish sauce? Eat this!”
A while back we attended an evening of Indian cooking instruction at our local Volkshochschule. The next installment was last week, and we moved a little further East, culinarily speaking, to Thailand. Given Sarah’s rules about fish (it better be canned tuna or beer-battered cod) and derivative products, I was flying solo on this one. But I brought home a winner of a recipe that met with her approval this evening at home, too.

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