5-Lentil Soup

I got chatting with a lovely woman in the therapy pool at physical therapy today, and wound up talking nonstop about food and recipes.  I talked about this soup, and only realized when I got home that I’ve never posted the recipe for my absolute favorite soup!

So here it is, in its current iteration:

5-Lentil Soup

List of Ingredients:  Brown, French, Beluga, White & Orange Lentils, Smoked Pork Necks, Ham Chunks, Diced Tomatoes (canned or fresh), Turnip, Parsnip, Celery, Carrots, Onion, Garlic, Bay Leaves, Zucchini, Chopped Spinach (fresh or frozen), Herbs & Spices.

Start by filling a soup kettle (I use a 12-quart one) halfway with cold water.  Add a package of smoked pork necks (I used about 4 pounds) and some chunks of ham, a large peeled onion, 3-4 cloves of peeled garlic, 4-5 ribs of celery with leaves if you have that, 2-3 carrots, and 2-5 bay leaves. Add a parsnip and turnip if available. This should pretty much fill the soup pot.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat, stirring occasionally.  Simmer this for a minimum of 3 hours. You want the veggies to be mush, and the meat bits falling off the bone.  Longer is better.

Let the stock cool enough to allow safe handling, and strain into another container (I usually use my 8-qt pot for this).  Remove the bones and bits of meat and save.  For a lower fat soup, chill overnight so the fat can be removed easily.  Reheat the stock to a boil and add the first round of lentils, and lower the heat to a gentle simmer.

I start with about a cup each of the five kinds of lentil. While they start simmering, chop 4-5 carrots, 2 inner stalks of celery, and 2 zucchini.  Adjust the amounts to your preferences and the size of your soup pot. When the lentils are tender, start adding additional lentils, so you’ll have them cooked to varying degrees of tenderness.  When these are back up to a simmer, add the carrots first, as they take longest to become tender. Let them simmer about 15 minutes and add the celery and zucchini. At this point, add a can of diced tomatoes (I use DelMonte Petite Diced with no added salt), and the chopped spinach (usually a block of frozen store brand). While all these ingredients are getting tender, clean the reserved meat off the bones, break up the ham chunks to bite size and add these to the soup.

At this point the soup broth will have started thicken a bit, so be sure to stir often so it doesn’t stick or scorch.  Next season the soup:  I add about a teaspoon of cumin, thyme, Italian seasoning, paprika about 3 Tablespoons of dried parsley or about half a bunch chopped of fresh. Add whatever other herbs and spices suit your tastes. Occasionally I’ll add a little smoked paprika or a shake of cayenne pepper.

I like to serve the lentil soup over any small-sized pasta (I use Barilla gluten-free elbow macaroni), and add a goodly amount of grated cheese at the table.  It’s also gorgeous with a good french bread for dipping.

This soup freezes very well too.  It will get thicker on sitting, so sometimes adding a bit of extra broth (any type) is needed for the leftovers.

Mangiamo!

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Stracciatella

stracciatella-6While homemade broth was simmering yesterday, I suddenly remembered a favorite quick lunch my Nonna made when I visited. Her homemade chicken broth, tiny noodles (pastina, flakes, or tiny circles) with an egg-grated cheese mixture drizzled in as it boiled. Quick, easy, nutritious, and easy to digest.

Some recent and persistent stomach issues are making me dig deep for comfort foods! By the way, it was delicious!

Stracchiatella

  • About 2 cups chicken broth (of course homemade is best) per person
  • small pasta shapes cooked right in the broth
  • Beat 1 egg per person with about 1/4 cup grated parmesan or romano (I use a combo)
  • When pasta is al dente, pour the egg mixture slowly into the simmering soup, stirring quickly with a fork.
  • Some variations: add fresh chopped parsley, grated carrots, or chopped spinach.

Voilà!

Three AM Al Fredo

Some friends suggested I write up this story and recipe, so here it is.

3 AM  Al Fredo

vegan-alfredo-sauce-pasta7When I was a teenager I sometimes made myself pasta for a late-night meal. One night I had the pasta nearly ready to drain when my father came home (in those days one of the restaurants he had was an  after-theater bistro in midtown and he often came in close to dawn). He asked if I had a enough to share, and what I was going to put on it.  I said there was plenty and I was just going to put butter and grated cheese. He asked if I was interested in learning a quick sauce and then taught me this:

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the water. On low heat, melt some butter in the pot along with the reserved water, beat in a bunch of cream, a lightly beaten egg yolk, and stir in grated parmesan or romano cheese. Toss with the pasta and serve.  The egg is optional, he said, but it’s richer with it.

We ate it together and then went our separate ways to bed.  It wasn’t until years later when Alfredo sauce was all the rage that I realized what he’d taught me to make.

Ingredients
1 lb. pasta cooked al dente & drained
½ cup of the cooking water
4 oz butter
1-1 ½ cup cream (any kind – the richer the cream, the richer the sauce)
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten (optional)
¼ cup grated “Italian” cheese
sprinkle of pepper to taste (optional)

Melt butter in a saucepan or skillet, adding in the reserved pasta water. Add cream and egg, stirring constantly. Add the grated cheese. Simmer gently for a minute or so, then toss with pasta, topping with a sprinkle of fresh black pepper. Add more cheese at the table to taste.

Update: Fusco’s Kitchen Re-Opens or Learning to Love Low-sodium

I’m simply adding this preface to an old post to replace the original introduction. This past blogless year I was diagnosed with early heart disease. Things are okay, but I need to take some steps to stay okay. One of these, much dreaded, was reduce the salt in my diet.  I’m slowly learning to adapt favorite recipes, and have been blessed by the recent introduction of get this — LOW-SODIUM OLIVES!!!!!!manzanilla olives

For me this is the equivalent of winning the Publishers’ Clearinghouse contest. Life is sweet again.  So, I’ve been encouraged to work on a few of my favorites. Simple fixes like tons of dill in tuna salad or green beans, lemon on nearly everything, and more cumin in lentil soup have become the norm, but a few items have eluded me. One is the red beans and yellow rice dishes I developed a few years ago. Tonight I’m using a stray can of red beans that’s moderate in sodium (320mg per serving), but I’ll be making a batch salt-free next time. I’m also stretching the premixed rice by adding a cup of uncooked plain rice in with a cup of the rice mix. More garlic and some sodium-free diced tomatoes with the juice should cover the needed changes.

The savory update will have to wait til this weekend, when I’ll shop and get more olives!


 

The Original Recipes

The emphasis this week has been on convenient, healthy, frugal foods. I’ve been eating variations on yellow rice and beans all week.

simple and good

I cooked a pound of red beans in the slow cooker overnight.  Then cooked a family-sized package of yellow rice (makes about 8 cups).  I took about 4 cups of the beans and packaged them in Ziplock baggies in the freezer, and refrigerated the balance in a covered bowl. The rice was also refrigerated.

Meal 1:  heat medium skillet, add splash of olive oil. While oil heats, quickly dice zucchini and mushrooms. Pulverize 1 clove garlic in press or under knife, add to veggies sauteing along with parsley and a little oregano and thyme.  Stir in 1 cup yellow rice and 1/2-2/3 cup beans. Mix until ingredients are hot. If they are too dry, drizzle broth, tomato or V-8 juice in while stirring to proper texture. Season with grated cheese or a splash of lemon juice.

Meal 2:  Microwave lunch:  Put 1 cup rice and 1/2 cup beans in a microwaveable container. Grate directly into container: 1 small zucchini, 1 small carrot (or half each larger ones).  Again, splash generously with V-8 or other tomato based juice  or soup. Refrigerate until lunch. Heat, add grated cheese and enjoy.

tapenade

Meal 3: Savory version.  Dice Zucchini, saute with minced garlic in olive oil.  Saute yellow rice and beans (same 2:1 proportion as other recipes). with the squash. In food processor, roughly chop a large handful of green stuffed olives, a can of drained artichoke hearts, some capers, a few black olives, a clove of garlic and fresh herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, or rosemary might work well).  Lightly pulse these ingredients along with a handful of red beans. top sautéed beans and rice with a dollop of this tapenade and enjoy.

Whatever combination of savory ingredients (add almonds, diced tomatos, or the classic anchovies, for example) can be handled this same way for a wide array of flavors, all based on simple red beans and yellow rice.

Old-Fashioned Beef Vegetable Soup

soup 3My mother used to make this amazing vegetable soup. I learned to like barley from that soup. Oddly enough, the only food I really miss in eating gluten-free (I mean, besides good french bread), is barley.

There’s something about the sweet nuttiness, and slightly chewy texture that makes vegetable soup just perfect. I started adding it to other soups too, especially turkey noodle soup after the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

For the past two years I’ve been trying to re-conjure the taste and feel of my mother’s soup, sans barley. I think I’ve finally done it.

The soup was made in the slow cooker, but doesn’t require much adaptation for the soup kettle — it would just take two days, instead of three.

Laurie’s Old-Fashioned Beef Vegetable Soupsoup ingredients raw

Two marrow bones and about a pound of boneless beef stew meat

Or two beef shins with plenty of meat

Enough cold water to fill the cooker or kettle about two-thirds full

A sprinkle of salt

One large onion, peeled

2 cloves garlic, peeled

3-5 large stalks of celery, with leafy tops

2 big carrots,

Whatever other limp but usable vegetables (I had a half of zucchini, but I’ve also added green beans, pea, parsnips, or turnip — nothing too dominating in flavor, though)

Simmer overnight

While the stock is cooking, soak a cup or two of red beans, or a combination other beans of your choice (cannelloni, navy beans, october beans, red kidney beans are others I like to use)

When the stock has deepened in color and the veggies are nearly mush, strain the broth, reserving the “stuff” to pick out the clean bits of meat.  Press the cooked vegetables through a sieve to get all the moisture and flavor out

Add the drained beans, 1 can of diced tomatoes, and the cleaned bits of meat (no gristle allowed) and simmer again overnight

soup 2Add:

4-5 medium-sized carrots, peeled and diced

6-8 small potatoes, peeled and diced (I used Klondike Rose this time)

3 stalks of celery, diced very fine

1 large zucchini, diced

A handful of chopped fresh parsley, or dried if necessary

Other herbs I usually add are powdered onion and garlic, paprika, thyme, sage, rosemary, and oregano.

Simmer until the vegetables are tender.

Add 1 can of corn, another can of diced tomatoes,

Perhaps a couple of cans of cooked beans if you need to stretch the soup for more people. Salt to taste, add more herbs if needed.

That’s it.

taco-soup-in-the-crock-pot (1)I think the corn and several types of beans add the sweetness the barley used to provide, and if you want a little thicker soup, go heavier on the potatoes and don’t drain all the liquid from the canned beans.  Another possible addition is a little chopped cabbage — people don’t think it of it as sweet, but it really is in soups.

I’m ready to go have seconds now.

Dutch Oven Soup

It’s one of the first chilly evenings (at least, the first one I feel chilled), so I made soup.

I was in the midst of nasty financial management homework, so I didn’t have much time, thus a quick made-up soup in my new favorite cookware:

I took a smoked beef sausage, cut in half slices, sauteed in grapeseed oil so I could use a pretty hot burner, added two sliced carrots, a diced up celery stalk, and a pressed clove of garlic. When nicely browned I added a can of pink beans (drained) and a 32-ounce carton of chicken broth. Let it come to a good simmer, then threw in four large-diced klondike-rose potatoes, a pinch of dill, some sage, thyme and rosemary and a chopped up zucchini. Also a dash of my new “secret ingredient” — onion juice in bottle. Simmered till the vegetables were tender.

It was awesome. Just right for a chilly early autumn evening, and, apparently good brain food, since I finished all my homework on time.

Delayed, But Successful

Ingredients for Pesto

I found two packages of fresh, organic basil at Earth Fare for way too much money.

On the way home, I got to thinking that perhaps the olive oil was rancid, as well as the pine nuts. The batch of pesto I tossed was really, really bad. So, I tasted the oil when I got in, and sure enough, it was rancid too.  The hot summer certainly took a toll in my kitchen!

Back out I went, this time to the local supermarket, and purchased a very small bottle of extra-virgin olive oil, and larger bottle of Berio classical olive oil (both on sale☺).

Returning once again, I delayed for some dinner — by now it was after 8 pm. Then to work on the pesto. This batch came out very well — not the best I’ve ever made because the basil was a very mild variety, but still very good. 

The finished product

I now have five 4-oz jars, topped with a layer of olive oil, sitting in the freezer, waiting to be given as holiday or thank-you gifts.

Success is just lovely, even when delayed.

F is for Frustration

I’m going out to the expensive whole-foods grocery to get basil.

I had basil — I lovingly tended a second crop — for pesto. Picked, cleaned it, made the pesto. Yuck! I used the wrong jar of pignoli nuts. They were slated to be checked and perhaps thrown out. They should have been.  They were way too old. They imparted a bitter, rancid flavor to all my lovely basil. I threw it all out (pause here for rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth). 

Now I’m heading out to spend my change jar on more basil. I still have plenty of pignoli nuts (in the other jar) as well as garlic, olive oil, and grated cheese.

Not going to stay thwarted for long!

Fusco’s Kitchen Opens: Red Beans & Yellow Rice

For years now I’ve had friends, acquaintances, colleagues, students, clients and, well, pretty much anyone who’s eaten my cooking, tell me I should a) teach a class, b) write a book, c) do a cooking show, d) open a restaurant, e) or do catering. 

My reaction has always been, “eh, not so much.”  I love to cook, teach, write, perform, and sometimes even serve, but not full-time, not as a real job. So I’ve confined myself to casual barter and a few random posts on cooking. 

That may be changing. I’m spending a considerable part of my down time contemplating the ideas that persistently rise up, teaching cooking, having a specialty line, writing a cook book, all have their charms. My emphasis this week has been on convenient, healthy, frugal foods. I’ve been eating variations on yellow rice and beans all week. 

simple and good

I cooked a pound of red beans in the slow cooker overnight.  Then cooked a family-sized package of yellow rice (makes about 8 cups).  I took about 4 cups of the beans and packaged them in Ziplock baggies in the freezer, and refrigerated the balance in a covered bowl. The rice was also refrigerated. 

Meal 1:  heat medium skillet, add splash of olive oil. While oil heats, quickly dice zucchini and mushrooms. Pulverize 1 clove garlic in press or under knife, add to veggies sauteing along with parsley and a little oregano and thyme.  Stir in 1 cup yellow rice and 1/2-2/3 cup beans. Mix until ingredients are hot. If they are too dry, drizzle broth, tomato or V-8 juice in while stirring to proper texture. Season with grated cheese or a splash of lemon juice. 

Meal 2:  Microwave lunch:  Put 1 cup rice and 1/2 cup beans in a microwaveable container. Grate directly into container: 1 small zucchini, 1 small carrot (or half each larger ones).  Again, splash generously with V-8 or other tomato based juice  or soup. Refrigerate until lunch. Heat, add grated cheese and enjoy. 

tapenade

Meal 3: Savory version.  Dice Zucchini, saute with minced garlic in olive oil.  Saute yellow rice and beans (same 2:1 proportion as other recipes). with the squash. In food processor, roughly chop a large handful of green stuffed olives, a can of drained artichoke hearts, some capers, a few black olives, a clove of garlic and fresh herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, or rosemary might work well).  Lightly pulse these ingredients along with a handful of red beans. top sautéed beans and rice with a dollop of this tapenade and enjoy. 

Whatever combination of savory ingredients (add almonds, diced tomatos, or the classic anchovies, for example) can be handled this same way for a wide array of flavors, all based on simple red beans and yellow rice.

Delizioso!

I finally ate my Fusco’s gourmet penne rigati. My friend Carolyn and I had it for supper with a tomato sauce – rich with fresh basil from my garden – and a little grated cheese.

It was scrumptious. The pasta tubes were huge – much bigger than I expected, and had just the right resistence to the tooth, truly al dente!

This evening is a cultural melting pot for me. Carolyn is dealing with her brother’s death and all the mess and upheaval a family death brings. We talked a lot about funeral customs and other very culturally determined concepts. Then I made us true Italian comfort food…

Next we’re going to watch some old West Wing episodes. These are our friendship’s cultural comfort food. I’m “petting her” this evening, which is southern Appalachian for fussing over her and giving comfort.

Gotta go… President Bartlett, Josh Lyman and treasured friendship rituals await.