Friday, November 23, 2012

Zuppa Di Lenticchie e Manzo

Fig.1. Just before adding water. 

If you’ve been a faithful follower of THI for more than one winter, you’ll no doubt be aware that nesting is a part of my pre-winter routine. While cold air might involuntarily compel some people to stack their pantry shelves with Campbell’s canned soup, the cold air triggers the need in me to nest by way of homemade soup. (By the way, did you know that Campbell’s discovered several years back that they could increase soup sales by linking their radio advertising spots with cold weather. They developed an algorithmic computer program that tells different radio stations across the Continent when to run their soup ads; if you’re hearing a Campbell’s soup ad on the radio, there’s a good chance you’ll need an umbrella and a parka.)
Cold, frigid air demands a hot and hearty soup and nothing does hearty like lentils and beef. Protein is the key word here; one bowl is usually enough to keep you satisfied for hours. I’m getting tired of saying this, but this soup does taste better the next day.

Fig.2. Zen And The Art of Mis-en-Place

Zuppa di Lenticchie e Manzo  
Beef and Lentil Soup
Serves: a small army

When I make soup like this, I make enough to freeze. Knowing that I have several containers of soup nestled in the freezer nurtures my inner nester.  If meat isn’t your thing, just omit the beef, at your own peril.

4 to 5 tbsp olive oil
about 700g Stewing beef, cut into large pieces (I like to use the blade, but feel free to use pre-cut cubes of stewing beef. Some stewing beef sold in supermarkets isn't the greatest so go to a butcher instead and tell them you want a beef cut that will shred easily when braised or boiled.)
1 large onion, chopped
4 large parsnips, chopped
4 to 5 large carrots, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
4 to 5 medium potatoes, diced
4 cups chicken stock
1 can (28oz) whole plum tomatoes
4 bay leaves
1 ½ cups lentil (I use Easton Green, they take very well to being boiled and won't go mushy)
Salt and Pepper

Fig.3. Browning the meat and getting a proper fond on the bottom of your pot is crucial to any soup or stew.  The trick is patience and low to medium heat.  Never set burners too high.

Add olive oil to a large Dutch oven or heavy bottom pot and set over medium heat.  When your oil begins to shimmer and slightly smoke, add some meat to the pot (do not over-crowd). Brown meat on both sides and set aside.  Add some more olive oil to the pot if necessary and add the onion, parsnips, carrots, celery and potatoes. Cook and stir well for about 8 minutes. Place the meat back into the pot and add just enough water to barely cover the meat.  With a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of your pot making sure you dislodge all the fond stuck to the bottom (this is all flavor baby!)  Add the chicken stock, the can of tomatoes and the bay leaves and bring to a gentle boil.  Add the lentils and simmer until lentils are done, carrots are tender, and beef breaks apart. Season with salt and pepper.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Squashes Squishy And Frozen

Eating in season this time of the year means winter squash and cabbage, and you'll be hard pressed to find a vegetable that is heartier than winter squash.
Historically, winter squashes were preserved and consumed primarily by cultures in dire straits. I'm saddened when I see winter squashes left to rot in fields and angered by pumpkins wasted during Halloween (I love Halloween but advocate using at least some of the seeds and pumpkin flesh before they become Jack-O-Lanterns)
Cooking and preserving winter squash is not complicated, in fact, the cooking part can be done while you watch television or deal with your laundry: Squash goes into oven and oven cooks squash.
When it comes to seasoning your squash, like talking after sex, I truly believe less is more.  Like all vegetables in season, all the flavours you need are bursting through. Maybe a little salt and pepper, yes some butter will add flavour, but I implore you to not mask the natural flavour of the squash.
Cooking directions are given under each photo below.

Fig.1. Squashes from Birri

Fig.2. Butternut, acorn, spaghetti, and others I do not know the name of. All edible and delicious.

Fig.3. Seeds are not garbage! My trusty sidekick, Marcella DeVincenzo from Cucina Chronicles, saw to it that no seeds were harmed in the making of this post. Wash the seeds thoroughly under cold water (don't worry if some seeds still have squash-flesh still attached, the flesh will be cooked off.) Lay the seeds to dry on a newspaper or a kitchen towel.

Fig.4. While the seeds are still a bit wet, sprinkle them with any seasoning you desire. Hungry Ella opted for Berber seasoning. Roasting these small seeds makes them completely edible. I eat the whole seed, shells and all. Makes for great roughage.

Fig.5. Cut the squash in half and roast in a 400 degree oven. (close the oven door)

Fig.6. The squash is ready when you can insert a knife into the flesh without resistance.   I like a little caramelising on the surface of my squash, that's where the sweet flavour resides.

Fig.7. Once the squash has cooled down considerably, scoop out the flesh into a big bowl with a spoon.

Fig.8. Fill some freezer bags with the squash and place in the freezer. Winter is coming.  Isn't nesting fun?
Make a soup, make a casserole, a Shepherd's pie, add it to risotto, or just serve some mashed squash along side some meat. And talk about getting your money's worth, twenty bucks for about 40 kilos provides for lots of good eating.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Lumachelle All'Urbinate: A Noble Minestrone

Fig.1. A minestrone from Umbria with liver and Swiss Chard.

Umbria is the only landlocked region in Italy and best known for the town of Assisi, the birthplace of St Francis. Its geography is similar to that of neighboring Tuscany, with rolling hills and sparse farmlands, except where the mighty Apennines pass.  These imposing and high mountains are responsible for colder than usual micro-climates in many of the high altitude Umbrian towns; as a result, soups are popular in Umbria.
The soup featured in this post was inspired by The Duchess of Urbino, Beatrice Sforza (nee D’este).  During the late 1400s, Sforza was a patroness of the Renaissance art scene, helping architects such as Donato Bramante and artists such as Leonardo Davinci. But Sforza was also a gourmand and might have seen cuisine as an art form in itself; not in-so-much as having hands-on creativity in the kitchen, (Sforza was Royalty, as such, she did not do her own cooking; although, she is reputed to have been a good cook herself) but by involuntarily inspiring her cooks to create dishes that the Duchess might find visually pleasing. So her cooks turned to colors and shapes, relying on visually appealing fruits and vegetables to please the Duchess.  The Duchess was known in noble circles for having good taste, and along with her husband Ludovico Sforza, loved to entertain and were known for their lavish and elaborate parties.
This soup was known as Piatto alla Beatrice Sforza, Duchessa d’Urbino, it is currently known in Umbria simply as, Lumachelle All’Urbinate.

Lumachelle All’Urbinate
Lumachelle are snail-shaped pasta. I did not have any in my pasta armory so I used orrecheitte.  The dish varies depending on what neighborhood of Umbria you are in, you can substitute different vegetables depending on what’s fresh; however, the liver is constant. 

Fig.2. Winter is coming, a soup like this will keep away those pesky White Walkers.
4 tbsp butter
2 large carrots, chopped
Meat from 4 medium sausages removed from their casings
2 veal livers, chopped
4 large tomatoes, diced
4 cups chicken or beef stock
Swiss Chard, 1 Bunch, chopped (you can also use cabbage, substitute 2 cups)
2 cups or lumachelle pasta (any small pasta will work)

Set a large, heavy bottom pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the butter, carrots, sausage meat, liver and tomatoes to the pot and cook, stirring often, until meat cooks through and the bottom of your pot is caramelized, about 12 to 15 minutes.  Add the stock and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.  Add the Swiss Chard and simmer until carrots are tender.  Add the cooked pasta to the soup and season with salt and pepper.  Serve hot and with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Like all soups and stews, this one is better the next day.