Artichokes 2021

Back in April 2009, I wrote about making my Nonna’s stuffed artichoke recipe. It is a wonderful dish, but I’ve been feeling too lazy to go through all that, and with artichokes being plentiful and delicious this spring, I’ve gone back to our other favorite recipe: steamed artichokes dipped in melted butter with lemon, garlic, and dash of salt. O, are they heavenly!

I just finished eating two (yes two) gorgeous chokes — done the truly lazy woman way. I merely rinsed them, cut off the stem even to the bottom, and steamed them thoroughly for nearly an hour.  My memory tells me that both Nonna and my mother insisted they be steamed in glass or stainless steel lest they discolor, so I used my big stainless pot that has a steamer basket/pasta lifter thingie.  I did them a little too long, so the smallest one fell apart a bit.  Here’s the lazy part: I didn’t trim the artichoke at all. They were so tender the thorns were nothing, and the purple leaves in the center were tasty. The remainder of the choke pulled out easily with a fork, leaving the sweet and delightful heart to dip in the last of the butter sauce. Heaven on a paper plate….

Artichokes, April 2009

artichokes-globe

I’m about to make stuffed artichokes like my grandmother did. Take a couple of large, heavy artichokes, trim them and then steam them in an inch of water for about 45 minutes. After they cool enough to touch, dig out the choke and remove any ugly bits on the outside. Make a stuffing of breadcrumbs (Nonna used Progresso Italian Flavored, so that’s what I use), grated cheese, parsley, enough good olive oil to make a crumbly mixture.  Then push small spoonfuls of the breading down amongst the leaves and into the center of the choke.  Sprinkle with a little paprika for color. Then bake covered in the oven (on about 350º) for about 1/2 an hour. Remove covering and continue to bake until the top is slightly browned.

They are awesome!

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!

Onion Tears

We have a family recipe book that I started about 30 years ago — with copies given as Christmas gifts that year. I got my Aunt to help me write-up my Nonna’s recipes, and added my mothers’ and my own.

But today I was trying to remember what kind of onions Nonna used to saute for sauce. And I realized there was no one left to ask. It brought my sister’s death to such poignancy it took my breath for a moment. I’m it now. Three generations of women consolidated in one tired, fairly worn-around-the-edges, nearly 66 year old woman.

And I still don’t know what kind of onions she used for sauce.

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 tomatoes, 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.

Accidental Chicken a la Laurie

So, I made this great chicken dish accidentally.

Accidental Chicken

  • 6 boneless chicken breasts, trimmed
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes, including liquid
  • a tablespoon of basil pesto
  • a cup of dry white wine
  • 1/2 jar of roasted sweet red peppers (fire roasted is best), roughly chopped
  • about a dozen large green stuffed olives, sliced
  • a heaping tablespoon of capers
  • a sprinkle of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 350. Serves 6.

In a large baking dish (mine is about 10×17 Pyrex) spread the olive oil by dragging the chicken pieces through it. Add all the other ingredients, breaking the pesto up. Put the pan in the oven …. and forget about it for about 2-1/2 hours, until the faint scent of tomatoes and browning penetrates your consciousness.  Pull pan out of oven moments before ingredients begin to burn. Loosen juices from pan with a little more white wine.  Serve with quinoa or rice and fresh steamed broccoli.

Voila, Accidental Chicken a la Laurie

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.

Mid-April Madness

Just a few days ago I took the picture of the magnolia tree in flower that I posted. Now the flowers are all spent, the tree has greened up, and the next stage of Spring is here.

Mid-April madness is a mind-set that always comes upon me at this lovely pause in Spring’s sweet progress.

Spring in the Blue Ridge

Things are green, but still slightly golden around the edges. Flowers are still tender — not yet having achieved the profusion and brilliance of a southern summer.

The Blue Ridge Mountains are not yet deep green (they are still pale along the high ridges, where Spring is running a week or so behind).

Misty mornings still hold a touch of frost behind my house, though the birds wake me earlier each day.

I’m still filled with the enthusiasm of Spring. Once Summer arrives in earnest, I wilt way too easily to enjoy the gardens I plan at this time of year. I will soon seek the cool dimness of air-conditioned rooms, instead of baking in the garden’s heat.

For now, though, grandiose plans are the order of the day.

last summer's garden

I visualize spilling containers of herbs, brilliant pots of petunias and zinnias, hot pink roses, and climbing trumpet vines with dancing hummingbirds.

I imagine cool, deep green shadows under arbors heavy with grapes… my magical garden that needs more sweat and muscle than I can provide.

But, I’ve got a plan!

I cook.  In fact, I cook really really well. 

So, I’ve lined up garden and yard work on the barter system for this year. 

One friend to mow, one to trim hedges, one to weed and mulch, and so forth. I’ll make gallons of red sauce, quarts of chicken in wine sauce, pots of vegetable soup, pounds of artichoke salads, baked ziti, casseroles, stews, stir-fries — you name it, I’ll cook it. 

My garden elves will be well-fed, and I’ll finally have the garden my mid-April madness and imagination dictate.

Buon Appetito, garden crew!