Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Soup: Making Minestrone

Welcome to Sunday Soup. This week's special is minestrone.

Minestrone is simply an Italian vegetable soup which often includes pasta. My minestrone is never exactly the same each time; that’s a good thing.  What I’ve posted below are guidelines, recommendations. Use seasonal ingredients and leftovers. Be creative and have fun.

When we camp in the desert, I make a version we call Playastrone, with canned veggies and beans instead of fresh veggies & pasta. When the smell wafts and unexpected guests drop by, I may ask if they have anything to contribute to the soup to stretch it. Canned corn, black beans...all gifts go in the pot. No one leaves hungry.

Both recipes serve 8 - 10 people.

Basic Minestrone 
  • Greens: 1-2 bunches. I like kale and beet greens. Chard works, too. Spinach, meh – something about the metallic aftertaste I don’t care for in my soup.
  • Mirepoix: about 1 1/2 c. chopped. equal amounts of red onion, carrots, celery. Red bell pepper too, if it’s available.
  • Other veggies: roughly 4 cups chopped: wild or cremini mushrooms, green beans, a generous amount of fresh tomatoes (Roma or grape are my faves for this -- don't skip the tomatoes!), garlic, zucchini. If they're in season: fava beans, fresh garbanzo beans, green garlic, green tomatoes (they are mild and sweet, try it and see).
  • Meat is optional, but we like it: leftover chicken or beef, or Italian sausage (precooked before adding to the pot)
  • Fresh Italian herbs (or dried herbs if you don't have fresh): parsley, basil, rosemary, lemon thyme. about 1/4 - 1/3 chopped/fresh, about 2-3 T/dried. use alight hand and taste as the soup brews. you can add but you can't take away.
  • A starch component: tortellini or beans (garbanzo, cannellini, kidney are good; lima beans or black-eyed peas are not). or leftover potatoes. or diced winter squash. or all of the above.
  • Broth: 8 cups for a big stock pot of soup.
  • My secret ingredient: lemon or orange zest. Don't get crazy with this. You only want to use enough to "freshen" the broth.
  1. Chop everything into bite-sized pieces. Lightly sauté the mirepoix in olive oil until they start to soften. Then add the garlic & tomatoes and stir a minute more. Burned garlic = bad.
  2. Now add the other raw veggies, herbs, meat, and broth. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Veggies should be cooked enough, not to death.
  3. Pile the leafy greens on top and simmer with the lid on the pot. Check periodically. Soup should be ready to serve in 5-10 more minutes.
  4. What you do next depends on your starch component.
    • If I have tortellini on hand (I do today), I’ll cook the pasta separately. I hate over-cooked pasta and it tends to absorb the broth if you store leftovers in the fridge overnight. Just ladle the soup over your pasta before serving. 
    • If I don’t have or want pasta in the soup, I’ll add a can of beans to the pot. Or I’ll dice up a leftover baked potato or kabocha or butternut squash.  Or all of the above. Just don’t use yams or sweet potatoes, please.
  5. Season to taste with a little salt and pepper, and top with parmesan and fresh chopped Italian parsley.
  • 2-3 diced red onions
  • 2 diced green peppers
  • 4 diced carrots
  • 4 diced celery sticks
  • 6 c. broth
  • 28 oz. can stewed or diced tomatoes
  • 15 oz. can each kidney, garbanzos, green beans
  • 2-3 cans chicken
  • 2 T. dried parsley
  • 2 t. Italian seasoning
  • 1 t. lemon pepper
  • 1 t. garlic powder
  1. Saute onion, peppers, carrots and celery over med-low heat until soft. 
  2. Add broth, beans, chicken and seasoning. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Hint: Dice veggies at home, ziplock and store in the cooler.

Sunday, July 06, 2014


We adore Roasted Red Pepper Fougasse, but alas, no peppers on hand, so today we’ll bake two versions of fougasse -- onion rosemary flat bread and another topped with za'tar.
First the dough.  You can use any yeast or pizza dough you prefer. I’m a fan of the Master Dough recipe in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and made a version of their olive oil dough, subbing whole wheat for some of the AP flour and using a tad more olive oil.

Onion and Rosemary Fougasse
Ingredients for basic dough
2 ½ c lukewarm water
1 ½ T yeast (or two packets)
1 T sugar
1 ½ T salt
4 T olive oil
4 c AP flour
2 ½ c whole wheat flour

  1. Stir the yeast and sugar in the water and let it bloom for about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the olive oil to the wet mix.
  3. Combine salt and flours, then mix with wet ingredients.
  4.  Mix until well combined. Some folks prefer no-knead method. I love my standup mixer. Using the dough hook, the ingredients combine to make a non-sticky dough after about 5 minutes. Works for me.
  5. Cover and set aside for about 2 hours for the first rise.
  6. Now you’re ready to form the fougasse. Don’t forget to pre-heat the oven to 425.
  7.  Quick aside: Because you’ll have enough dough to make several fougasse, I suggest holding off adding the secondary components until you are ready to bake.
  8. For the onion rosemary bread, I lightly browned ½ medium red onion in a tad of olive oil and drained it well on paper towels. Then I chopped about 2 T of rosemary fresh from the garden.
  9. Divide the dough into 5. Take one of those and knead the half of the onion and rosemary into the dough, roll out to about ½" thin, then cut slits in the traditional design. Fougasse looks like a leaf. Like this or this or this. This short video demystifies the process. 
  10. I topped the second batch with za’tar.. Brush the top of the dough lightly with olive oil, then sprinkle the herbs and maldon salt.
  11. If you’re famished, you can actually throw this in the oven now. But letting the dough sit for 20-30 minutes yields a slightly lightly bread. Remember to brush the top with olive oil before popping it in the oven.
  12. If you use a baking stone, you know the drill. Sprinkle it lightly with cornmeal, then slide on the bread. Otherwise, a baking sheet with parchment paper works well.
  13. Bake until golden, about 20-25 minutes.
  14. Then mangia. Fougasse is best eaten fresh from the oven!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ginger Shrimp & Pork Wonton Rolls

This is a non-traditional, very fast recipe for when we crave shrimp wontons. With ginger. Lots of ginger. Serve them with a sweet chili sauce; my go-to brand is Mae Ploy (I've never made it from scratch as we don't eat it very often), which you can find at most Asian food stores but can also purchase online. This recipe serves 4-6.

Ginger Shrimp & Pork Wonton Rolls

2 lb shrimp
1 lb lean ground pork
1/2 head small cabbage
1/2 small red onion
1-3 inches of fresh ginger
2 T mirin or sherry
1 T soy sauce
2 T hoisin sauce (optional)
1 T sesame oil
2 t cornstarch
1 lb egg roll wraps
vegetable oil for frying

  1. Briefly pulse the shrimp in the food processor or chop by hand.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, add the shrimp to the pork.
  3. Shred the onion and cabbage in the food processor or chop by hand.
  4. Mince or grate ginger on a microplane -- to taste. We like a lot.
  5. Add all the other ingredients to the bowl and mix by hand until well combined.
  6. Put a heaping tablespoon of the shrimp mix in the middle of a wonton wrapper and fold it. There should be directions on the back of the egg roll package if you don't know how and of course, there are plenty of suggestions on the internets.
  7. Heat your skillet to medium. When the oil sizzles, add the rolls, folded side down, and brown them slowly, so the meats cook thoroughly and the wrappers are golden brown on all sides.
  8. Drain on paper towels. Eat while warm.
You can use the smaller wrappers if  you prefer smaller portions or wish for these to be an appetizer rather than a main course.