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.

Esquites – Mexican Corn Salad

I’m kind of agnostic on fresh corn. It’s good and I’ll eat and like it if someone serves it to me, but I’m rarely moved to do anything with it myself. Plus, I get sick of flossing after a cob. So when I found this recipe on the food blog Serious Eats, I wasn’t hugely hopeful. I just thought it might make a good side with grilled meats. Then I made a test batch and we decimated the bowl.

When you make this, you might be tempted to up the spicy elements. Try to resist the first time – you don’t want the spiciness to overshadow the fresh and sweet flavors at play. And be very sparing with the salt – you get a nice punch from the cheese.

2 T vegetable oil
4 ears fresh corn, shucked, kernels removed (about 3 cups fresh corn kernels)
pinch salt
2 T mayonnaise
2 oz (50 g) feta or cotija cheese, crumbled
1/2 c finely sliced green onions
1/2 c fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and stemmed, finely chopped
1 medium clove garlic, pressed
juice of 1 fresh lime
pinch chili powder

In a non-stick skillet, heat oil over high heat until shimmering. Add corn kernels (careful – they’ll probably pop and splatter) and stir until well distributed, then allow to cook undisturbed for a couple of minutes. When you stir, the bottoms of the kernels should appear browned and caramelized. Add salt and cook another 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally and browning corn on all sides without burning. Remove corn from heat and allow to cool completely.

After cooling, add remaining ingredients, stir well and enjoy!

Wild Rice & Broccoli Salad

We finally got a grill! And we know how to use it and how to make most of the meaty deliciousness we plan on cooking with it.

So…um, now what? We need accompaniments to the meat explosion. Nice, vegetabley salads are the next hurdle. We generally don’t do salads that need to chill, due to lack of fridge space, but they go so well with grill fare that we might need to clear out some room. This recipe (original is here – measurements are my own) was the side to our inaugural grill usage and we ate it – and enjoyed it – the same day. However, Cliff took the leftover for lunch the following day and said it tasted quite a bit better after the flavors had time to mingle. If you can plan ahead, make it the day before you plan on eating it.

And feel free to tinker with the measurements. I certainly did.

1/2 lb (250 g) wild rice, dry
raw broccoli, 1 lb (500 g) head, cut into florets
3 oz (80 g) goat cheese, crumbled or diced
zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1-2 t honey
1 clove garlic, pressed
fresh rosemary

Cook rice, according to package directions, and allow to cool completely. Mix cooled rice, broccoli florets and goat cheese in a large bowl. Whisk together lemon zest, juice, honey, garlic and rosemary and toss with rice mixture. Chill (at least 4 hours, preferably overnight) and serve.

Pecan Pie

PC291395Pecans are not the easiest thing to find here. Most of the ones you find are smoked or salted or candied or something and not suitable for pie-making. Sarah did find them once at Aldi, but we’ve been prepared this time, somewhat, by importing a few pounds thanks to our Costco-membership-having friends and family on our last U.S. visit.

So, armed with those, we tried out a pecan pie. We took this recipe from used it mostly as-is, with the exception of the orange peel. It seemed dumb to me to only use one half-teaspoon of zest, so we put in the zest of a whole orange. That tasted great. Also, we backed off on the corn syrup somewhat (versus the original recipe), and I think we could have backed off even more.

Here’s what you need:

3/4 stick (75g) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (262g) packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup (150ml) light corn syrup
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Zest from one orange
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups pecan halves (1/2 pound or 227g)

Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C) with a baking sheet on middle rack.

Get yer pie crust into a 10-inch pie plate. Lightly prick bottom all over with a fork. Chill until firm, at least 30 minutes (or freeze 10 minutes). Our all-natural walk-in fridge (the little room between the hallway and our apartment) is ideal for this, but only some months of the year.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in the corn syrup, vanilla, zest, and salt. Lightly beat the eggs in a medium bowl, then whisk the corn syrup mixture into that.

PC291394Dump the pecans into the pie shell and pour the corn syrup mixture evenly over them. Our pie plate was pretty deep, so we didn’t need to worry about syrupy eggy spill-over, but the original suggests baking on a hot baking sheet until filling is set, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cool completely (go with the walk-in fridge again) — overnight is probably best.

Lemon Bars

We’ve never been able to make a really good lemon bar. Maybe that’s not exactly right – we’ve never made a lemon bar that we’ve thought was perfect. Either the lemon mixture wouldn’t gel, or they were impossible to remove from the pan, or there was almost no lemon flavor, and so on. And we were following the directions to the tee, so we couldn’t understand what was wrong.

So I stopped following the directions and started tweaking.

I got this recipe from epicurious, but I’ll post what I did below.

Shortbread Crust Ingredients
3/4 c (164 g) cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) pieces
2 c (276 g) flour
1/2 c (105 g) light brown sugar, packed
1/2 t salt

Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C). Put all ingredients in a food processor and run on medium until mixture begins to form small, pea-sized lumps. Pour mixture into 9×13 baking dish and press evenly onto bottom (a metal spatula is good for this – don’t use your hands! It’ll melt the butter and throw off the texture of the shortbread). Bake shortbread on middle rack for 20 minutes and prepare the lemon mixture.

Lemon Curd Topping
4 large eggs
1 c (210 g) sugar
3/4 c (177 ml) lemon juice
1 T lemon zest (2 large lemons)
1/3 c (104 g) flour

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar. Add lemon juice, zest and flour and stir until just combined. Pour over hot shortbread base and carefully return pan to oven, turning temperature down to 300°F (149°C). Bake for 30 minutes, or until just set in the middle. Allow to cool completely (preferably overnight), then dust lightly with powdered sugar.

Chicken Salad Wraps

I love wrap sandwiches. When we’re anywhere with a Marks & Spencer food hall, I live on the things (mostly because those happen to be in England and it’s hella expensive there). So I wanted to try making my own. Here’s my first iteration – we enjoyed the results!

1 lb cooled poached chicken, chopped or shredded
2 large heads romaine lettuce, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, finely diced
1 large bunch cilantro, chopped (about 1/3 c)
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1/2 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped

1/2 c olive oil
1/3 c lime juice (I used red wine vinegar instead)
2 small cloves garlic, pressed
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp chile powder

Large tortillas or lahvosh bread

Combine all salad ingredients in a bowl. Whisk together dressing and toss with salad. Spread desired toppings in a thin layer on a tortilla (sour cream, cheese, sliced avocado, etc.) and top with salad. This should be enough for 6 large wraps.