Saturday, March 8, 2008

Goin' South

Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen.
Willa Cather (1873 - 1947), My Antonia

It's been a long, stale winter here in Oklahoma and that's why I decided to head south and make a couple dishes from my childhood:

Black-Eyed Peas and Jambalaya.

For the black-eyed peas, I sautéed garlic, celery, jalapeno and onion in a little butter, then added a good bit of seasoned salt, some thyme and freshly ground pepper and let it simmer for several hours until the black-eyed peas were nice and tender. My family likes to top it off with a little more jalapeno and some hot sauce.

The Jambalaya was adapted from a Southern Living recipe and it turned out savory and delicious. My 21 year old son ate 3 bowls and added extra hot sauce to his.

There are so many great recipes heralding from the South, and every time I make one of them, or enjoy a nice glass of iced tea, I think of my two grandmothers and their southern heritage and love of food. It makes me happy to know that I can pass this on to my kids. It's like having a great big warm hug in a bowl.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Under the Okie Sun

Oklahoma winters can be depressing.

Sometimes the sky turns a grayish-white and stays that way until spring.

No sunsets.

No snow topped mountains.

No billowy drifts of snow to enjoy.

Just dull, pallid, lifeless landscape.

Weary and windblown, we Okie's trooper on.

Now I can see why so many people packed up and headed west to California.

I am guessing ...  that if it weren't for the soup lines, my impoverished ancestors probably would have left too.

But this desideration of soup runs deep in the genes ... and seems to grow proportionately with each passing generation.

Thankfully, it is March, and we are experiencing a glorious, sunny day. So I decided to head across the ocean to Italy and make a Pasta e Fagioli.- a hearty Italian pasta and bean soup.

My daughter the soup fiend, had at a version of this at college earlier in the week and couldn't stop raving about it. So I knew I had to try it. I consulted my Italian Classics cookbook by the editors of Cook's Illustrated and the results were easy and delicious. In fact, I wouldn't change a thing. Well, maybe one thing. Their recipe omitted carrots. I think the sweetness of the carrots may have balanced out the earthiness of the beans. So next time, I will probably add some carrots to the mirepoix.

Also, I recommend chopping the pancetta and the vegetables finely for this recipe. That's one thing I've learned, the more I make soup, the more I realize that the size of vegetables matter. Some soups call for a large rustic chop. While other soups, such as this one, a small dice is preferable. Also, I recommend using a good olive oil, fresh parsley, and good Parmesan cheese. For this soup, freshness counts.

Pasta e Fagioli
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 ounces pancetta, chopped fine
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 medium stalk celery, chopped fine
1 medium carrot, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 Parmesan cheese rind
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
4 cups homemade chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces ditalini or other small pasta
1/4 chup chopped fresh parsley
Ground black pepper
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1.) Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and saute until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, celery and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, and hot pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.

2.) Add the tomatoes and scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the cheese rind and the beans. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the flavors meld, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, 4 cups water, and salt. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender, about 8 minutes.

3.) Off the heat, remove and discard the cheese rind. Stir in most of the parsley and season with pepper and additional salt, if needed. Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Drizzle some of the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over each bowl and then sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately, passing the grated cheese at the table.

This soup makes an excellent dinner when combined with a green salad and crusty bread!