Pasta Fagioli Soup

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I remember my parents working very hard to take care of me and put food on the table as a child, but working in retail and road construction just about paid the bills. Once a week, we would go to our favorite Italian restaurant in town and sit at a booth in the corner, away from the parties with tables full of pasta, wine, and appetizers. Our order would always be the same – 3 cups of water, a $9 Sicilian pizza, and a single bowl of Pasta Fagioli soup. I know we were a waiter’s nightmare, but this tradition allowed us to feel fancy. My parents took pride in being able to go out to eat like everyone else, but leave with a $15 bill and some food for leftovers.

My favorite part of the evening was getting the piping hot bowl of Pasta Fagioli delivered to our table (with three spoons), and dipping a piece of crusty bread into the rich and delicious soup. We’d talk about our week and draw pictures on the paper place settings that by this time were already covered with soup and marinara splatter. I would savor each noodle and bean in the soup, forcing myself to eat slowly and memorize the flavors, while minding the very hot pepper in the center of the soup.

This soup is an ode to my humble beginnings and the parents who worked so hard to raise and take care of me. I use tiny rice pasta shells in this recipe to make it gluten-free, but my favorite pasta to use for this soup would be ditalini pasta. To make the soup vegan, just use a vegetable stock or broth and omit any cheese. If you can have dairy, definitely top this soup with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano; you can even throw in a bit of rind into the soup as it’s cooking.

Pasta Fagioli Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • ½ Large Onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 3 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2.5 cups Diced Tomatoes in Tomato Juice
  • 1.5 cups Cannellini Beans (I used dried but you can use canned)
  • 4 cups Chicken or Vegetable Broth
  • 1 cup water or additional broth (if using dried beans)
  • 2 tsp. Dried Oregano
  • ½ tsp. Dried Basil
  • 2 sprigs fresh Thyme
  • ¼-½ tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Lemon Juice
  • 1 cup small shell Pasta (I used Rice Pasta)
  • 1 cup Dino Kale, thinly sliced
  • ¼ tsp. Red Chili Flakes
  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)

Instructions:

*To do in advance – if using dried beans, soak the beans in filtered water overnight, and drain before using.

In a stainless pot or round dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the chopped onion and let them cook for 1-2 minutes, or until the onion starts to soften. Add the minced garlic and stir with a wooden spoon. Once the garlic is fragrant, add the diced tomatoes and sprigs of thyme and stir. Allow the diced tomatoes to come to a boil and then reduce the heat so the pot is cooking at a simmer. If you are using dried beans, add the beans now along with 2-3 cups of the broth and cover for about 30 minutes, then uncover and continue cooking for about 45 minutes, or until the beans are just shy of tender. If you are using canned beans, add the 2-3 cups of broth and cover the pot and allow to simmer for 30 minutes before adding the beans, then drain the beans and allow to cook uncovered for 15 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs and remove the pot from the heat.

Using an immersion blender or blender, roughly blend about ⅓ of the mixture and add back to the pot – doing this will help thicken the soup. Add the remaining cups of broth, and the herbs, lemon juice, and red chili flakes. Place the pot back on the burner over medium heat and allow the soup to come to a simmer and taste, adding salt as needed. Add the kale and allow it to cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the pasta to the pot and stir, then allow the pasta to cook for 5-6 minutes, or the directed amount on the packaging. I like my soups to be thicker and full of ingredients, but cooking the pasta in the broth tends to thicken the broth (especially rice pasta), so you may want or need to add another cup of water or broth. Stir everything together and add additional herbs or chili flakes, according to taste. Top with cheese if desired and serve with crusty bread.

 

Scallops with Creamy Mushroom Risotto and Kale

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Even if you don’t consider yourself skilled in the cooking department, there’s something so sweet and intimate about cooking dinner with someone. Whether it’s with a date, significant other, friend, or family member, cooking together is a great way to be creative, learn together, and bond over a common activity. Dating someone new? Following a recipe together is a great way to break the ice. Been with someone for a long time? Cooking is a great way to work together and have time away from the other things going on in life.

Risotto is a perfect meal to cook on Valentine’s Day or for a date night. It feels special and upscale, while being fairly simple to execute. The risotto needs to be attended to and stirred often, giving you both an excuse to stand together near the stove – stirring, chopping, and sipping wine while you talk. There are also a few other components to this dish (scallops and sauteed kale), so you both have jobs in the kitchen. I find the process of cooking this dish just as enjoyable as eating it!

I made this dish without cheese, but it would be excellent with some Parmigiano-Reggiano. Be sure to purchase dry-packed scallops (not wet-packed) to ensure a nice caramelization on both sides.

Also – just how gorgeous are these poppies? I’m not really a flower girl, but give me poppies and peonies over roses any day! You’ve heard it here, guys!


Creamy Mushroom Risotto & Scallops over Sauteed Kale

*Gluten-Free, Paleo-ish
(This recipe also appears on Edible East End.)

Ingredients:

4 Tbsp. Butter, separated
1 cup Sweet Onion (about 1 large onion), chopped
1 cup Shiitake Mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 cup Arborio Rice
4 cups Vegetable Stock (I like Pacific brand)
¼ cup – ½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano (Optional)
½ lb. Dry Packed Scallops
2 cloves of Garlic, smashed
Salt & Pepper
1 small bunch Lacinato Kale
1/3 lb. Bacon
1 Apple (I used Fuji)

Instructions:

Chop the onion finely and separate into two ½ cup portions. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. butter over medium heat and add ½ cup of the onion. Stir often and reduce the heat down to low. When the onions begin to brown, add the shiitake mushrooms. Stir occasionally until the onions are caramelized and the mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the onions and mushrooms with salt, then remove them from the pan and set aside. Heat another 1 Tbsp. of butter over medium heat and saute the remaining onions for about 5 minutes, until the onions brown.

Warm the stock in a small pot over medium low heat until just warm and set aside. Add the rice to the pan with the onions and allow the rice to toast for about 1 minute, until the onions and rice are well combined. Add ½ cup of the stock and stir with a spoon, until the stock begins to bubble, then reduce the heat to medium heat. Continue stirring until nearly all of the stock has been absorbed by the rice. Continue adding ½ cup of stock to the rice in this fashion until all of the stock has been added and the rice is creamy and plump, which will take about 20 minutes. If the risotto still looks a bit dry, add a little more stock (or water), in small amounts until it reaches the desired consistency. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese if you are using it.

Remove the side muscle from the scallops, and lay the scallops in a single layer between two pieces of paper towel to ensure they are dried. Season both sides with salt and pepper. In a small pan, heat 1 Tbsp. of butter over medium high heat. Once the butter is melted, add the smashed garlic and swirl until the garlic begins to brown. Lay the scallops in one by one and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, being careful not to overcook them. Set aside.

Chop the bacon, apple, and kale into small pieces. Heat the bacon in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the fat begins rendering. Add the apple to the bacon in the pan. Once the bacon begins to brown and the apple softens, add the kale and saute over medium or medium high heat until the kale is just wilted. Plate the scallops and risotto over the kale mixture and enjoy!

Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette

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(This recipe also appears on Edible East End.)

The month of December can feel like a whirlwind of pot-lucks, holiday parties, gift wrapping and eating cookies for breakfast. With all of the rushing around and expectations, it’s easy feel overwhelmed and forget that holiday meals are a time to nourish your family and friends, and enjoy their company. When I hosted Christmas dinner for the first time for my family, I spent so many hours fussing over menus, planning dishes, and preparing that I almost missed out on enjoying the day with my family. Since then, I have realized that colorful, simple meals made with healthy and fresh local ingredients check off all of the boxes – they can impress guests, feed them well, and leave the host and cook enough time to pour the drinks, mingle with guests, and catch up with family.

While my family is traditional and still wants some of their Italian favorites, I add in big chopped salads to entertain their palates and still leave some room for dessert. My new favorite holiday salad is comforting and indulgent, but also healthy and nutritious. You transform cold-weather vegetables like brussel sprouts, kale, and butternut squash into a salad, and get to sneak in some crispy bacon and chopped nuts. The vegetables get tossed in a warm bacon vinaigrette and instantly you have a great side dish. To save time, you can run the brussel sprouts and kale through a food processor with the shredder blade attachment!

Brussel sprouts are incredibly healthy vegetables, providing us with more than our daily requirement for Vitamins C and K. They also are full of antioxidants, have compounds in them that are anti-inflammatory, and help our bodies detoxify from toxins.

I promise this salad will make all of your guests happy at your holiday dinner! It can be scaled up or down to meet your needs, and tastes great as leftovers. You can also make this salad a full meal by adding quinoa – just add cooked quinoa when arranging the salad and gently fold the quinoa in with the other ingredients.

Winter Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette

For Salad:

  • 1 lb. Brussel Sprouts
  • 1 bunch Lacinato Kale
  • 2-3 cups Butternut Squash (1 small/medium squash)
  • 1.5 Tbsp. Olive Oil (or Bacon Fat)
  • 1 Large Apple, Chopped
  • ⅓ lb. Bacon
  • 2 Tbsp. Chopped Almonds or Pecans
  • 2 Tbsp. Raisins

For Dressing:

  • 1.5 Tbsp. Bacon Fat
  • 1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar
  • ½ Tbsp. Honey
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
  • ½ tsp. Onion Powder
  • ½ tsp. Garlic Powder
  • ½-¾ tsp. Salt
  • Pinch of Black Pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay bacon slices out on a sheet pan and bake for 20-40 minutes (depending on thickness) until they are crisp but not burned. Remove from the oven and reserve bacon fat. Chop the bacon into pieces once they have cooled.

Chop butternut squash into ½-¾” cubes. Toss with a little olive oil or bacon fat and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 30 minutes, flip squash over, and continue roasting until the squash is soft. Set aside.

Cut the hard ends off of the brussel sprouts. Lay the brussel sprouts so the cut side is touching the cutting board. Slice the brussel sprouts vertically into thin strips. Alternatively, run the brussel sprouts through a food processor with the shaving attachment. Roll the slices of lacinato kale up lengthwise and cut the kale into thin strips (a chiffonade works well here). For even smaller pieces, you can also cut the thin strips in half.

While the bacon fat is still warm but not hot, mix the apple cider vinegar, honey, dijon mustard, and spices together. Slowly drizzle in the bacon fat and olive oil, making sure to mix well with a small whisk or fork.

In a large bowl, mix the shaved brussel sprouts and kale with the dressing with your hands or two mixing spoons. Gently fold in the apple, butternut squash, bacon, raisins, and nuts. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.