Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Hopefully you can handle this.

Here goes: I keep a journal.

Sort of.

Okay, it’s not a real journal. I don’t gush about my hopes and dreams, but rather a little notebook I carry with me to record dishes and flavor combinations I want to prepare.

Essentially, I like to write down ideas when the inspiration strikes so I don’t forget them later. These can range from a dish I’m enjoying at a restaurant that I want to try to recreate (i.e. zucchini rolls with macadamia nut filling), to a recipe I read in a magazine, to a funky smell wafting through the air as I walk down the street.

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The third item on the never-ending list is pasta e fagioli, a Tuscan white bean soup traditionally made with pancetta although I usually use bacon instead. I think I added it after visiting family in Florida last Thanksgiving. For some reason pasta e fagioli is really popular in south Florida and I eat so much of it when I’m there that I pretty much get my fill for the year. Just like I only eat salmon burgers on vacation, but I’ll save that story for another time.

Back to the “journal.” Every so often when I read the list – and hopefully cross a few things off – I think how nice a thick, rich, steaming bowl of pasta e fagioli would be on a chilly day. I mentally slated it for late October when the weather would be turning cold.

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Well, the weather dude seemed to have a different idea and it got pretty cold this month, so I figured now was as good a time as any to make pasta e fagioli.

But I did discover a silver lining to making pasta e fagioli in August: it’s the perfect time of year to use really incredible fresh tomatoes. Just look at the size of these tomatoes I picked up at the famer’s market, they’re more than 1 pound each!

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Here’s the recipe:

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Mint Pea Soup with Greek Yogurt

Mint Pea Soup with Greek Yogurt

Mint Pea Soup with Greek Yogurt

Peas. Mint. Yogurt.

I couldn’t get those three ingredients out of my head all weekend. I didn’t know how they got in there to begin with, all I knew was that I wanted – no NEEDED – to make something with them

Sure, I could have prepared some interesting pesto-type sauce or a dip, but I wanted something a bit simpler that wouldn’t require extra ingredients to enjoy my concoction. The result: Mint Pea Soup with Greek Yogurt.

Mint Pea Soup with Greek Yogurt: caramelized onions Mint Pea Soup with Greek Yogurt: simmer peas Mint Pea Soup with Greek Yogurt: puree soup

Essentially a simple puree of peas (either fresh or frozen work; I used a combination of both because that’s what I had) with mint and aromatics (yellow onion, garlic and ginger), this was a clean and refreshing soup finished nicely with a dollop of tangy Greek yogurt.

Oh, and did I mention that it’s bright green? No? Sorry about that, it should have been the first thing I said because I think the color makes the soup kind of fun.

Mint Pea Soup with Greek Yogurt: reheat puree and season

Here’s the recipe:

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Help Fight MS! Plus Recipe for Low-Sodium White Bean & Sweet Pepper Soup

Jackie, Val, Chris, Ari, Dee at MS Walk 2008

Jackie, Val, Chris, Ari, Dee at MS Walk 2008

Today’s challenge, which I chose to accept, was to prepare two dishes in my friend Ari’s kitchen using only the sparse ingredients on hand and no added salt!

But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. I was at Ari’s house today to sit with her as she recovered from surgery. We’ve been friends for 21 years so I was perfectly comfortable going through her cabinets and running a blender while she napped on the couch. But cooking for Ari comes with some restrictions, namely that she has to be careful about the amount of sodium she consumes because of her MS medications.

Yes, Ari has multiple sclerosis. She was diagnosed a few years ago and handles the challenges of this horrendous disease with incredible dignity and a positive attitude. I feel inspired by her bravery every time I see her. But she doesn’t accept help easily so there are really only three things I can do for her:

1) Be there for her when she asks (and when she doesn’t).

2) Cook for Ari and her incredible husband.

3) Raise money for her MS Walk team, Turtle Express.

I’m always trying to accomplish #1, I fulfilled #2 today (recipe follows), but I need your help with #3. Please visit my walk page to make a tax-deductible donation to the Illinois MS Chapter where 88% of every dollar raised is used to fund programs and services for families impacted by MS along with vital research into its cause and  cure.

Fridge finds

Fridge finds

As for today’s challenge, I decided to make myself at home in Ari’s kitchen once she fell asleep on the couch. The cabinets were pretty bare although I did find two cans of great northern white beans. But luckily her mom had thought ahead and had gone to the grocery store so there was a nice selection of fresh produce to choose from: baby sweet peppers; cherry tomatoes; a cucumber; zucchini and yellow squash; onions; lettuce and spinach.

The first thing I thought to make was a white bean salad with sweet peppers. I chopped the peppers and sauteed them with half a diced onion. I then rinsed the beans very well to wash away the excess sodium (something like 480 mg/half cup) and added them to the pan. The only problem was that these beans weren’t holding their shape and were quickly turning to mush.

Simmering white beans and sweet peppers

Simmering white beans and sweet peppers

No problem. How about a white bean soup, I thought. I added about 2 1/2 cups water (not broth because of the sodium) to the pot and simmered the beans and vegetables for 10 minutes. The soup then went into the blender, then back into a pot to be reheated and seasoned with paprika, black pepper and lemon juice.

The result: a tasty, nutritious soup with tons of fiber and protein that’s low in sodium.

White Bean & Sweet Pepper Soup

White Bean & Sweet Pepper Soup

Here’s the recipe:

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Exploring Green Garlic: Pasta & Soup Recipes

Trimmed green garlic

Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a lot of produce available at the indoor farmer’s market yesterday. I had gone in hopes of finding ramps, but instead discovered green garlic.

One of the first crops of the year, I was thrilled to get my hands on this leafy garlic stalk that looks like a cross between a scallion and a baby leek with the root still attached. In reality, the flavor is all garlic but is a bit more subtle and sweet than traditional garlic cloves. To use green garlic, remove the beard (the roots), trim the tough green tops (about 1 inch), and peel away any slimy pieces around the stalk.

Green garlic whole

But what to cook with this treasure? It’s true that green garlic can be used any place you’d use garlic cloves, but I wanted to make something that would highlight the unique flavor of this seasonal delight.

Minced green garlic

I considered a lot of options (garlic chicken, spinach-green garlic soup, salad, etc.), but in the end I decided it was silly to limit myself to just one green garlic dish, so I made two: pasta with green garlic, bacon and Spring vegetables and green garlic and potato soup, a twist on the classic potato-leek soup (or vichyssoise if served cold).

Pasta with Green Garlic, Bacon & Spring Vegetables

The pasta dish is basically a pan sauce with bacon, green garlic, mushrooms and spinach, and can be made in the time it takes to cook the noodles. At the end stir in parmesan cheese and a bit of the cooking liquid, and you’ve got yourself an amazingly fragrant and filling meal. Also, you can use any type of bite-sized pasta, in this instance I chose miniature farfalle.

Green garlic and potato soup

The green garlic and potato soup is just as simple to prepare although it takes a bit longer. But it’s worth the wait for the soup’s thick, creamy texture.

In both recipes the green garlic flavor is subtle yet prominent in that it doesn’t overwhelm the palate, but you definitely know it’s there.

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Beef & Barley Soup Yet Another Way to Enjoy a Superfood

Beef and Barley Soup

Beef and Barley Soup

Remember how excited I was to make my Grandma’s Junk a few weeks ago? Not only was the junk delicious, but it also piqued my interest in barley as a superfood and got me thinking about other ways to use this incredibly nutritious grain.

Enter beef and barley soup. This was simple to make, again a one-pot dish, and was so incredibly filling with all the vegetables and barley that it could easily be dinner all on its own.

Look how hearty the soup is!

Look how hearty the soup is!

The recipe is pretty basic: sweat the vegetables (onion, celery, carrot, mushroom) in a bit of olive oil. Add diced beef, then barley, broth and seasonings, and let simmer. But there’s a suprise ingredient that elevates this version over all others by adding tremendous depth of flavor: soy sauce. It may sound like a strange choice for a classic soup but you’ve got to trust me on this, it works.

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