Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sicilian Meatball Soup

Food and Wine Magazine
What to cook for dinner? Some days I find inspiration from the ingredients in my pantry; some days I find inspiration from a recipe my mom made years ago. ....and some days I am absolutely clueless about what to prepare for dinner.

That's when I go to the internet.

I did that today and found a wonderful soup. And (happy day!) the ingredients are already in my pantry. Thank you to Food and Wine Magazine for this wonderful dinner:

Sicilian Meatball Soup

1/2 pound ground beef
5 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 1/2 quarts canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup small pasta shells or other small macaroni

In a medium bowl, mix together the ground beef, 4 tablespoons of the parsley, the Parmesan, raisins, bread crumbs, egg, half of the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper until thoroughly combined. Shape the mixture into 24 meatballs.
In a large pot, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the carrots, onion, celery, and the remaining garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in the broth, tomatoes, rosemary, and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes.
Add the remaining tablespoon parsley, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and the pasta to the soup. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the meatballs and simmer gently until the meatballs and pasta are done, about 5 minutes longer. Serve with additional Parmesan.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"Italian" dumplings


I love homemade soups and stews, and I love Italian food. I've been to Italy several times, and my oldest (living) sister has a home there in Aviano--just a hop, skip, and a jump from Venice. Before visiting my sister, whenever I thought of Italy I thought of "pasta". But Italian food is so much more than that. In northern Italy there is less emphasis on pasta--risotto and polenta are the "carbs celeb".

There are two ways of serving polenta--it can be cooked, spread out on an oiled surface and allowed to solidify. Then slabs of the firm polenta are sauted. The other version (and my favorite) is to cook polenta and then, when all of the grains have become blissfully toothsome and creamy, stir in a bit of cream or marscapone cheese and serve the polenta as a creamy puddle of Heaven ( my bias showing a bit here?).

But there is an in-between stage. No longer soft, but not firm. That's when I think we could make something wonderful, like "Polenta Dumplings".

Polenta Dumplings
3 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth
1 cup quick-cooking polenta
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup half and half

Prepare a large cookie sheet by covering it with a sheet of parchment paper. Spray the parchment with non-stick cooking spray or grease lightly. Set aside.

Bring 2 cups of the broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir the remaining 1 cup of broth into the dry polenta in a small mixing bowl.

Gradually add the polenta mixture to the boiling broth, stirring constantly. When mixture returns to a boil, reduce heat to low. Cook and continue to stir until mixture is very thick (about 5 minutes). Be careful--it will sputter.

Remove from heat. Stir in the cheese and half and half. All to sit for about 15 minutes. Using a small cookie scoop, form about 25 to 30 dumplings, placing them on the prepared cookie sheet. Cover and chill about one hour.

To cook, carefully drop dumplings into simmering soup. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes.

Tastes Like Your Grandma's Vegetable Soup

I woke up this morning craving the vegetable soup my mom made when I was a little girl. It was the 1950's. We lived frugally, but I don't think we ever considered ourselves poor.We had a house and clothes to wear. Daddy had a car, and we had nourishing food every evening. Our meals weren't gourmet--they were frugal, but they were homemade and made with love. Back then there was no "Hamburger Helper", we hadn't heard of McDonalds, and frozen dinners were still relatively new--and a luxury we really couldn't afford.

As I reflect on those days, I'm amazed at how much Mom was able to do with so little. She never measured her ingredients, so there's no written recipe. But in the afternoon, when I got home from school, I usually sat at the kitchen table working on homework while the evening meal was prepared. I was an inquisitive little kid, and liked to observe what was going on in the kitchen. Here's what I think she did:

Mom's Vegetable Soup
1 pound beef for stew
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup dry navy or white beans
1/2 cup dry red kidney (brown) beans
6 cups water
1/2 cup dry lentils
1 medium onion (about one cup), finely chopped
2 medium carrots (about one cup), thinly sliced
1 small stalk celery, finely chopped (no tops)
1 cup diced cabbage (optional)
3 vegetable bouillon cubes
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 medium potato, diced (about one cup)
salt and pepper to taste

  • In a large stock pot saute the beef in olive oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally until browned on all sides. Remove from pot and set aside.
  • In the same pot add white and brown beans and 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Return sauted beef to pot. Cover and simmer about 2 hours or until beans and beef are tender.
  • Add lentils, onions,  carrots, celery, cabbage, bouillon cubes, tomato sauce, and potatoes.
  • Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender
  • Add salt and pepper to taste