Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rustic Minestrone

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I wish every meal I make is wonderfully delicious. But like every cook, I have good days and bad days. This recipe started as a food experiment gone horribly wrong. I saw a minestrone recipe on Food Network and thought the technique was worth trying. After a bit of tweaking, the soup base tasted fine. But I made the rookie mistake of adding the pasta too soon. By the time I was ready to enjoy the soup, the pasta had swollen to three times its original size and soaked up all the soup. It became limp, saggy pasta soaked in vegetable puree. Needlessly to say, it was FAIL of epic proportions. This is my second attempt at the recipe. It turned out much better.

You'll need:
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 3 stalks of thyme
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 2 cups of dry red wine (I used two buck Chuck, it's fine)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar or Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 2 cups of cooked (or 1 15-ounce can, drained) cannellini beans
  • 1/2 pound of cooked ditalini pasta
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley and/or basil as garnish
Add onion, carrots, celery stalks, and garlic into a food processor. Puree until the vegetables become a fine paste. Fry the paste with thyme and dried red pepper flakes in a large pot with olive oil over high heat for 5 to 10 minutes. It's okay if the vegetables becomes slightly burned. De-glaze pot with red wine. Add tomatoes, vegetable stock, Bay leaf, sugar, tomato paste, dried basil, dried parsley, dried oregano, dried rosemary, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to boil then reduce to simmer. Cook until all the flavors melt together, or about 30 to 45 minutes. Add beans and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. Add cooked pasta and garnish right before serving.

The pureed vegetables really give this soup a rustic feel. The laundry list of ingredients adds depth to the flavor, so the soup is tangy, sweet, savory and a little spicy. The small ditalini pasta is the perfect size for the soup. I served this soup with homemade potato bread. It's a warm and hearty cold weather soup.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cheesy Gnocchi

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For Christmas, I got myself a potato ricer. I used the ricer to make gnocchi again. My last batch sat in the freezer too long and tasted like the plastic bag that it was in. It wasn't too much better fresh either -- heavy, gummy, and chewy. This time, armed with the proper tools, gnocchi tastes light and fluffy. The four cheese blend (Pecorino, Mozzarella, Emmental, and Gruyere) covering the gnocchi and baked to cheesy goodness doesn't hurt either.

For the gnocchi, I baked three russet potatoes, peeled them while hot and then pressed them through the ricer. This process produced a much superior product than boiling the potatoes and turning them into gummy paste using the food processor.

As a side dish, I blanched some Brussels sprouts and then tossed them quickly with chopped shallots, minced garlic, whole grain sweet mustard, and caraway seeds. All of a sudden the kitchen smelled like a Reuben sandwich. Weird, but delicious.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cannellini Beans and Artichoke Dip

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Okay, I admit it, the recipe is just fancy beans on toast. But it's still very good and super easy. I whipped this up one night after a long day at work. It takes 10 minutes and requires almost no cooking. VB enjoyed it so much that I made it again a few weeks later. This would be a good recipe to entertain with as an appetizer. It's as simple as Beans. Toast. Done.

You'll need:
  • 2 or 3 large marinated artichoke hearts (thawed frozen artichoke hearts will also do), roughly chopped
  • 1 15-ounce can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • juice of a small lemon
  • bread, sliced into 6 to 8 1/4-inch slices and toasted
  • loose arugula leaves, about 4 or 5 leaves per slice of bread
  • extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • coarse flaky sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
Saute garlic in a little bit of olive oil until fragrant, about a minute. Add beans and artichoke hearts. Cook until heated through. If you don't mind cold bean dip and raw garlic, you can even skip this step. I prefer to cook the garlic a little bit to take out the sting of raw garlic.

Put mixture into a food processor and add lemon juice. Pulse. While pulsing, drizzle in about 2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Spread dip onto toast, top with arugula leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

As a side dish, we had a roasted beets and pear arugula salad with orange lemon vinaigrette. Fresh, easy and seasonal. It would be even better with some goat cheese on top.

For fans of the F Word, you can check out this Gordon Ramsay beans on toast with cheese recipe. It's very Michelin star fancy pants.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Baked Eggplant Parmigiana

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Over Thanksgiving, we had some pretty awesome eggplant parmigiana courtesy of an Italian American family that spent the holiday with us. Ever since then, I've been eager to make the recipe myself. This is a recipe that I pieced together from our dinner conversation. It's not quite as good as the one that we had on Thanksgiving, but not too shabby for my first attempt.

You'll need:
  • 2 large eggplants, cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 2 eggs, beaten with a dash of water added
  • 1 1/2 cups of flour
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 24-ounce cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of Italian dried herbs (a combination of basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and parsley)
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, sweat onions in olive oil until translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add canned tomatoes, sugar, dried herbs, salt and pepper. Simmer until the vegetables fall apart or about 1 to 2 hours.

If you find eggplant bitter, salt both sides and let sit for 20 minutes. Then blot with paper towels to remove the water and salt. If not, then don't bother.

Dredge eggplant slices in beaten egg and then flour and place on a baking sheet sprayed with canola oil or olive oil. Bake in 450 degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until the eggplant slices are browned. Remove and let cool. If you want to be fancy pants about it, you can remove the skin, which makes a finer and more delicate product. I'm too lazy, so the skin stays on.

In a large oven-proof pan, add enough marinara sauce to cover the bottom of the pan. Layer eggplant slices to cover the pan. Add another layer of marinara sauce. Add the remaining eggplant slices. Top with sauce. Bake in 375 degree oven for another 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with Parmesan cheese on top, if you want.

The result should be almost cake-like with very little liquid. The eggplant should be very tender and the tomatoes should be sweet and not acidic at all. Sure, it's a pretty labor intensive recipe, but it's very delicious and darn healthy since the eggplants are baked, not fried.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Great Pumpkin Experiment

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So November was not a good month for updates. That doesn't mean I haven't been cooking. Here's a picture from the Great Pumpkin Experiment. I heard about the recipe from KCRW's Good Food, a fun and hunger-inducing weekly podcast all about food. The recipe is about a savory cheesy bread pudding that puffs up when baked inside a pumpkin. Naturally, I had to try it. As you can see, the bread mixture did not puff up as much as the recipe said it would. I blame the poor result on the fact that I substituted cream for half and half. That ought to teach me a lesson about cutting down on fat.

Although the result wasn't as visually impressive as I had hoped, the cheesy bread pudding was very delicious. Also, it was the first time that I've ever had pumpkin that's not in the form of pie filling from a can. Turns out, pumpkin has a texture that's similar to spaghetti squash and tastes nothing like pumpkin pie. But overall, a delicious dish that packs a wow factor (assuming that it puffs up)

The recipe is from the now defunct Gourmet magazine. You can find it here as well as a picture of the puffed up roasted pumpkin.