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!


Laavanya said...

Michelle thank you for droppy by my blog and leading me to yours. This soup looks beautiful.. i saw something very similar on Giada's show (Food network) but she stirred in spinach and omitted the pasta.. A must try.

Michelle said...

Thanks for stopping by laavanya. I must of missed that episode of Giada, but I can see where some spinach would be good in this soup ... even some Italian sausage. I'll have to try that!