Confession time:  Last night, I ate two big bowls of this soup in one sitting.  Partly because it tastes soooo darned silky and yummy, and partly because it reminds me of my grandma.

See, my heritage is Italian – Northern Italian in the Piedmont region, to be specific.  So, while everyone else immediately thinks of tomatoes and mozzarella when they think of Italian food, I think of lighter fare – and, particularly the way my grandma cooked, spinach in everything. (Side note:  her version of ravioli was chicken and spinach served in a chicken broth.  The first time I ever saw ravioli made with beef in a tomato sauce, I was revolted.)

My second confession – I keep this soup very simple – I don’t throw in a lot of potatoes or butternut squash, nor do I add any herbs.  I just wanted the simple flavors of the root vegetables to come through.  You can add layers of flavor by adding some dried thyme when you’re cooking the vegetables, or finish with chopped dill just before serving.  Or you could chop up some waxy potatoes or butternut squash for additional filler, extending the soup even farther.  But, that’s the nice thing about soups, isn’t it?  It’s so easy to adapt and change, depending on what you have in your fridge or pantry.

One other thing – this could easily be turned vegan by substituting vegetable stock – or, if you’d like to make it a little heavier, you could add some chicken or pork, so feel free to tinker with you as needed.

But, if you just want to keep it at it’s basic foundation, you’ll be just as happy – the final result is gorgeous and hearty, filling you and warming you on a cold winter night!

Garlicky Winter Vegetable Soup

  • Good couple of glugs of garlic-infused olive oil (about 4 Tbsp)
  • 3 large leeks, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2″ discs
  • 3 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, trimmed and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • About 4-6 oz frozen spinach (don’t worry about thawing and draining)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot over medium heat, add the leeks, carrots and celery, cooking until the leeks are very wilted and the carrots are soft.  Add the garlic and cook a minute, then add the chickpeas and stock.  Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes.  Add the spinach, then cook another 5-10 minutes until everything is thoroughly heated.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed.

Serve with big honkin’ pieces of garlic toast.

Garlicky winter veg soup

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So, last night, I was making dinner for me and the mister when I realized … what’s the most basic, family-friendly, homey dinner you can possibly make?  Spaghetti.  And what is the one dish that HAVEN’T I posted on my bloggy blog?  Spaghetti.  I mean, how lame is that?  Talk about missing the forest for the trees!

Plus, the fun thing about spaghetti sauces is that no two homes are the same.  Much like chilli or curry or any other stew-y kind of dish, everyone has their own take on it.  Heck, I’d lay money that my sister and I each have such divergent ways of making spaghetti, you wouldn’t realize that we’re from the same family.

Then, there is the great carrot atrocity.  Hang on to your seats people, the following scenes contain content which may be disturbing to certain audiences.  Here in the UK, they add carrots to their bolognese sauce.  Carrots!  I ask you!!  I mean, what kind of self-respecting person does that to their spaghetti sauce??!!  Not I.  But, one thing that everyone will agree on is that a traditional sauce starts with pancetta and usually involves a blend of ground beef and pork.  However, since I do try to make things a little healthier so that my husband doesn’t accuse me of trying to kill him with cholesterol, I make mine with ground turkey thighs … thus the “fauxlonese.”

This dish makes 4-5 good sized portions and tastes best if you let it simmer for at least an hour.

Spaghetti Fauxlonese

  • good couple of glugs of olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 large onion, trimmed, peeled, and cut into a small dice
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into a small dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 1 wine glass of red wine (Chianti or Montepulciano)
  • 2 cans of chopped tomatoes

In a wide, pot over medium heat, pour in the olive oil and add the red pepper flakes.  When the oil is hot and the chili flavor has been swirled into the oil, add the onions and red bell pepper and cook until soft, about five minutes or so.  Add the garlic and cook another minute.  Add the ground turkey and season with salt and pepper as well as oregano, then chop up and mix thoroughly with the onion mixture to thoroughly flavor the meat.  When the meat has cooked through, add the tomato paste and mix into the meat before adding the red wine and cooking for another minute or so until thick.  Add the tomatoes and bring to a rapid simmer before lowering the heat to a light simmer and cooking, partially covered, for an hour.

Serve with cooked spaghetti, linguini or even tagliatelle noodles and big honkin’ pieces of garlic bread.

SpagFaux

You know what I hate about the winter?  No, it’s not the shorter days.  It’s not the cold or the snow.  It’s not even the bleak gray skies that we have more often than not.

It’s the lack of good tomatoes.

Seriously, it really makes me crazy when you go to the store and you see these round, red things that look like tomatoes and even say tomatoes on the sign, but when you take them home, they’re mealy and flavorless and, let’s face it, just gross.

So, last night we had friends over for dinner – the menu was a beef stew, so obviously soup wasn’t going to be my starter of choice.  And, the weather is really too raw right now to make salads a viable option.  So, I wanted to do something that would be warming but light enough that it wouldn’t be too filling.  One of my favorite summertime starters is bruschetta – toasted bread with olive oil and garlic, basil and juicy, yummy tomatoes.  So, I thought it would be nice to adapt it for a cold winter evening and this is what I came up with.  This makes a good six pieces of sourdough bread.

Oh, and one more thing – if you can let this cook slowly over about two hours, it is well worth the wait, silky and smooth and incredibly tasty.

Winter Bruschetta

  • 6 pieces sourdough bread (cut about 1″ thick)
  • Olive oil
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 3 medium-sized red onions, about the size of a fist, trimmed, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly (about 1/4″)
  • 1 large red pepper, cored and seeded, sliced thinly lengthwise
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced, plus one more peeled but kept whole
  • 8 oz. spinach or Swiss chard, chopped (I used frozen and it worked fine)
  • 1 can cannelini beans, rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • Parmesan cheese for garnish

In a large shallow pan with a lid, drizzle in a couple of glugs of olive oil, add the red pepper flakes and turn the heat on – a good medium heat.  Let the oil get warm and the chilli flakes infuse, then add the sliced onions and the red pepper.  Sprinkle with some salt and pepper, then cover and let cook for about 15-20 minutes or so until soft.  Add the garlic, stir in thoroughly, then cover and cook another five minutes.

Now, add your spinach.  If you’re using frozen, don’t worry about draining, just stir it in, then add the beans and stock.  Leave the heat on medium and let it simmer, partially covered, until the majority of the stock has been absorbed or evaporated.  Taste for seasoning.

When you’re ready to serve, toast the bread with a drizzle of oil until hot and lightly crispy (about five minutes in a hot oven will do it), then rub with the whole garlic clove and top with the onion mixture.  Top with some shaved or grated Parmesan and serve.

Winter Bruschetta

I’m feeling a bit housebound.  It’s been a snowy weekend, starting on Friday, then a fresh batch of the white stuff on Sunday, so I’ve been working from home.  And while I do love being able to pack up my laptop and papers and work from the comfort of my sofa, I miss my coworkers.  I miss adult conversation (I love my Wondermutt, but she’s not much of a talker).

But, the nice thing about working from home is that you can make a decent lunch.  I don’t mean putting together a sandwich, I mean, actually cutting up some vegetables and cooking a lunch.  In this particular case, it was soup.  A delicious, warming white bean soup.  And the thing about beans and lentils and legumes in general is that they make you feel full for quite a while.  As much as I love tomato soup (and I so do!), it doesn’t really stay with you, does it?  Not without a good grilled cheese sammich to go with it.

But, this one does – the beans make it good and hearty and filling.  Just what you want for a healthy lunch that won’t make you craving cookies later in the day.

As for the chorizo, I did a bit of a cheat – I bought really thinly sliced chorizo, as thinly sliced as parma ham.  If you can’t find that, just cut up the sausage into a small dice.  The fact is, that it has so much flavor, you don’t need a lot of it – you’re just trying to render out some of the paprika-spiced fat to use as a little extra flavoring and the sausage as a garnish.

chorizo

If you don’t want to use chorizo, then try a little bit of regular bacon.  If you want to keep this a vegetarian dish, then heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil with about a quarter of a teaspoon of sweet or hot paprika to infuse it, then drizzle over the soup when finished.  This recipe serves four.

White Bean Soup with Chorizo

  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion (bigger than your fist), trimmed, peeled and diced
  • 2 medium carrots, trimmed peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, trimmed and diced
  • 4 fat cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
  • 2 cans cannelini beans, drained and rinsed thoroughly
  • 4-5″ sprig of rosemary, chopped finely
  • 5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 slices thinly sliced chorizo or, if you can’t find that, cut it into matchsticks

In a large pot over medium heat, pour a few good glugs of olive oil and add the onion, carrots and celery, cooking until the onions are translucent (about seven to ten minutes).  Add the garlic and rosemary and cook another two to three minutes.  Add the drained beans and stock, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes.  While that’s cooking, heat a little olive oil in the pan and cook the chorizo over medium high heat – what you’re trying to do is render the yummy paprika flavor out into the oil and cook it until it’s crispy to make a nice garnish.

When the soup has finished simmering, you’re going to use your trusty hand blender to puree the soup.  The way I like to season is to half-puree, then taste and adjust as needed, then finish pureeing (because, let’s face it, nothing is going to stir in the salt and pepper better than a blender!).

Finish by topping with the cooked chorizo and drizzle with some of the oil from the pan you cooked the chorizo in.

white bean and chorizo soup

 

I know this is will be a shocking disclaimer – and there are many people who may doubt my bona fides as a home-cook after I say this, but … I don’t like pot roast.

Yes, it’s a classic dish.  Yes, it’s a great way to feed a family.  Yes, braising is a wonderful way to cook meat and keep it moist, blahblahblah.  But, at the end of the day, I like my roast beef to be red on the inside and, well, meaty.  Not pull-apart-able and brown.  I mean … BROWN, fercryingoutloud!  That’s just over-cooked, that’s all that is.

So, because of this prejudice, I tend to see the words “pot roast” in any cookbook or magazine and happily turn the page.  Until this week, when I saw a recipe for pot-roasted chicken – then, I thought this my be totally do-able.  But, when I read the recipe for what was supposed to be a “hunters’ sauce”, I thought it needed work, so this is what I came up with and, holy Moses, is it good.  How good is it?  Let’s just say that there aren’t nearly enough leftovers for another night’s dinner for both of us.  Score!

To make this work, you need a casserole dish that is deep enough to hold the chicken and still get the lid on.

Pot-roast Chicken

  • olive oil
  • 6 slices of bacon
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 2 parsnips, trimmed, peeled and diced
  • 1 large carrot, trimmed peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, trimmed, halved lengthwise and diced
  • 2 fat garlic cloves, mashed and minced
  • 4 oz. button mushrooms
  • 1 wine-glass of red wine (I used a Côte du Rhone and it was perfect)
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp dried tarragon
  • 1 tsp hot smoked paprika
  • 1 whole chicken (3-5 lbs)
  • drizzle garlic oil

Preheat oven to 325 F.

If you have a flame-proof casserole dish like Le Creuset, you can do this all in one pot.  As I do not, this is how I do it:

In a very large frying pan, heat a good glug or two of olive oil over medium-high heat (this should be enough to give the bottom of the pan a thin coating).  When shimmering, add the bacon and cook until crispy.  Remove and set aside on a paper towel to drain.  If there is loads of grease, drain excess as necessary to keep the fat to just coating the bottom of the pan.  Add the chopped onions, parsnips, carrot and celery to the pan and cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent and the vegetables are lightly browned.  Add the garlic and stir in thoroughly before adding the mushrooms and cooking for another two to three minutes.  Add the wine and scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pan before adding the tomatoes.  Stir and cook a bit (about two minutes) to let the sauce thicken a bit, then add the chicken stock and crumbled- or chopped-up cooked bacon.  Taste for seasoning, then adjust as necessary.  Add the tarragon and paprika and stir thoroughly before pouring the lot into a deep casserole dish.  Set the chicken on top (the liquid should be about half-way up the chicken’s thighs), then drizzle the top of the chicken with the garlic oil and season with salt and pepper.  Cover with the lid and pop in the oven for an hour.  After that, take the lid off and baste the chicken with the sauce every 10-15 minutes for the next hour.

I served this with mashed potatoes and it was scrumptious.  No other word for it.  Scrump.  Tious.

Pot roast chicken

So, I just finished my first workout in the C25K program – essentially, it’s a workout program to help you go from the couch to running a 5K in two months.  While I’m in fairly decent shape because of the walking I need to do for work – not to mention, the full commuter combat that goes on everyday on the Tube – getting on that treadmill was a rude awakening.  But, I got through it and am now set up to feel nice and smug the rest of the afternoon.

You know the feeling.

That great, self-satisfied, “I just worked out and, boy, can’t you already tell how good I’m going to look” feeling.  I love that.  I just need to make sure that I don’t reward it with a half-dozen chocolate cookies!

So, along those lines, here is a fantastic hearty soup that is low in fat but high in flavor and is incredibly filling!  This makes about four servings and is perfect with some nice crusty bread on a damp Saturday afternoon.

Curried Celeriac and Parsnip Soup

  • Good glug of olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp medium Madras curry powder (I like Barts)
  • 3 parsnips, peeled and diced
  • 1 celeriac peeled and diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • small handful cilantro

In a large pot over medium heat, add the oil, onion, celery and garlic and sweat until onion is translucent.  Add the curry powder and cook another minute or two, then add the parsnips and celeriac and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the vegetable stock, then bring to the boil before reducing to a simmer and cooking for another 20 minutes, until the parsnips and celeriac are tender.  Use a stick blender to puree, then taste for seasoning.

In a small bowl, use the blender to puree the yogurt and cilantro, then swirl a bit into the soup to serve.

Celeriac and Parsnip Soup

Happy New Year!

So, got any resolutions?  I always do, but I try to keep them reasonable.  I’m going to start the C25K program this year to try to get rid of some of this excess (I’m a tad too pudding-y around the middle … this must go).  I’m also going to try to do one meat-free meal a week.  This will hopefully be good for my middle, the mister’s cholesterol and the planet.  Oh, and our grocery bills.  So, be prepared to see a few more meat-free recipes in the coming months so that we can all try to eat a little cleaner and healthier.

With that in mind, the first recipe has fish, so it’s not totally meat-free, but there is so little in it – but with so much flavor – you really won’t feel like you’re missing much!  And, it’s so flipping EASY!  The most complicated part of the recipe is boiling the pasta.  Seriously, this is a great work-day meal when you need to get dinner in front of you in under 15 minutes.  The recipe below gives a decent-sized portion for four or a big portion for three.

Smoked Salmon Pasta with Chili Crumbs

  • 1/4 lb smoked salmon, pulled or cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 lb dried pasta (I like to use fusilli lunghi, but penne would work fine)
  • 2 big handfulls of baby greens (a mix of baby spinach/chard/arugula is perfect)
  • 1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • olive oil
  • juice of 1-2 lemons

Boil the pasta as directed in well-salted water.  While that’s doing its thing, in a small saucepan over medium heat, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan plus a bit – probably around a quarter of a cup in total.  Add the red pepper flakes and swirl around to flavor the oil while it heats.  When it starts to sizzle, add the breadcrumbs and cook them in the hot oil until they start to color and toast.

Put the greens in the bottom of the strainer you will use for your pasta – you’re going to use the hot pasta water to wilt them.  When the pasta is cooked, drain over the greens, then quickly toss with the pasta before pouring into a bowl.  Sprinkle in the smoked salmon and pour in the spicy breadcrumbs and hot oil.  Finally, squeeze the lemons over everything and toss thoroughly to incorporate all the flavors and serve!  You can top with a little Parmesan if you like, but you don’t need to.  It’s lovely and light and zingy on its own.

Smoked Salmon Pasta2

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