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Thursday
Sep182008

Tuscan Bean Soup


This is a traditional Tuscan dish made with farro and beans, both staples in Tuscan cooking. This soup is really hearty and paired along with a salad, is a complete meal. The beans, of course, are high in protein but so is the farro, making this dish a great vegetarian meal. Farro is an ancient grain that has been used in Italy forever. It's similar to spelt. It has a great nutty flavor.

The beans I've used are the best beans you can buy. Never heard of Rancho Gordo? You should check them out. This guy lives in Napa Valley and produces heirloom beans that are really outstanding. He has all kinds of beans from yellow beans and pinto beans to hard to find beans such as Christmas lima beans and flageolet beans. And if you think you've had good black beans, try his black turtle beans. You've never tasted such great black beans. I make vegetarian tacos with them and never miss the meat.

Tuscan Bean Soup

 

for a recipe only to print, click here

serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/3 cup diced carrot
  • 1/3 cup diced onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1.5 cups dried white beans such as cannellini or Great Northern, soaked in water overnight
  • 6 cups Chicken Stock
  • 15 ounce can plum tomatoes, San Marzano preferably
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3/4 cup farro
  • Olive Oil for drizzling
  • Grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano for grating or shaving for garnish

 

 

Instructions:

In a large pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the vegetables and garlic and saute slowly, about 7-8 minutes. Drain the beans and add to the pot with the stock. Break up the tomatoes a little with a spoon (I use my fingers) and add to the pot with the rosemary. Raise the heat a little and bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until all the beans are tender, about one hour. Discard the rosemary.

Meanwhile, cook the farro in a small saucepan with water to cover and simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Take an immersion blender (please get one if you don't have one and save yourself a lot of trouble) and insert into the soup and puree. I like to puree it just until it's thick and you have some small chunks of the bean left, not until it's perfectly smooth. You can puree further if you like. If you do not have an immersion blender, transfer the soup to a blender or food processor, blend and then transfer back to the pot. Add the farro and reheat gently.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and shave Parmigianno-Reggiano cheese on top. Serve immediately.

You can buy farro here

For my recipe for Farro Salad (one of my favorites) click here

Thursday
Sep112008

Plum Tart


Plums are really fantastic right now and my local farmer's market has tons of them. Even the ones in the grocery stores are very good right now.  I really wanted to make a plum dessert and specifically a tart. So I turned to Alice Waters and her beautiful book "Chez Panisse Fruit". This book is a must if you love to go to the market, see what fruits are in season but can't think of what do with them. Alice Waters has the book divided by fruits with interesting discussions of each fruit and how to buy them, store them and cook them with really wonderful recipes.  In fact, when Chez Panisse opened in 1971 and served their first dinner, plum tart was the dessert.  I've loved all the tarts from Chez Panisse and this one is outstanding.


Plum Tart

makes one 10" tart

for recipe only, click here

Ingredients:
  • 8 large plums
  • 1 prebaked 10-inch pâte sucrée tart shell (recipe below)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1.5 tsp plum brandy, grappa or kirsch (or plain brandy if that's all you have)
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 3 Tbsp. flour
  • 2 Tbsp. heavy cream

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the plums in half, remove the pits, and slice into 1/2 inch wedges. Arrange the wedges in concentric circles in the prebaked tart shell. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Let it bubble gently and cook until the milk solids turn a toasty light brown. Remove the butter from the heat, add the lemon juice to stop the cooking and set aside to cool.

Beat the eggs and sugar together with an electric mixer until the mixture is thick and forms a ribbon when dropped from the beaters, about 5 minutes. Add the butter, brandy, vanilla, salt, flour and cream. Stir just until mixed. Pour the mixture over the plums, filling the tart shell. Cover the tart crust with a pie crust shield or, if you don't have one, just use strips of foil. The crust will be too brown if you do not. Bake in the top third of the oven until the top is golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove tart ring. Serve warm or at room temperature.

for the Pâte Sucrée

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1.25 cups unbleached all purpose flour

Instructions:

Beat together the butter and sugar in a medium-size bowl until creamy. Add the salt, vanilla and egg yolk and mix until completely combined. Add the flour and mix until there are no dry patches. wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap and press into a 4" disk. Chill several hours or overnight until firm.

Place the dough between two pieces of parchment paper, lightly dusting the dough with some flour. Roll out the dough into a 12 inch circle. The parchment paper will make the dough easier to roll out. Chill the sheet of dough inside the parchment paper for a few minutes.

Remove the top sheet of paper and invert the dough into a 10 inch tart pan. Peel off the remaining piece of paper, press the dough into the corners of the pan and pinch off any dough overhang. Use the dough scraps to patch any cracks. Let the tart shell rest in the freezer for 10 minutes before baking.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Transfer the the tart directly from the freezer to the oven. Bake until slightly golden, about 15 minutes. Check the pastry halfway through baking and pat down any bubbles that may have formed. Let cool before filling.


 

For Chez Panisse's Almond Tart, click here

Tuesday
Sep022008

Tomato Harvest


The farmer's markets are full of tomatoes right now and I've made tomato soup and tomato sauce but one of my favorite things to do with fresh tomatoes is to roast them. If you have a lot of tomatoes that you want to put to use, try using them this way. I usually use Marcella Hazan's method - slow roasting them in the oven with garlic and chopped parsley. The slow roasting dries them out and concentrates their flavor. You can't believe how intense they taste. I love to eat them as a snack or serve them as a side dish at dinner but you can also put them on sandwiches and salads. It's a super easy method with amazing results.

All you need to make this dish are any kind of tomatoes (I used Early Girls in this post), garlic, parsley, olive oil and salt and pepper. Slice the tomatoes in half and place on a baking sheet. Chop some fresh parsley and and mince some garlic and combine. Sprinkle this mixture over the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and pour some olive oil on the tomatoes. Place the baking sheet on the upper rack of the oven and back at 325 degrees. Marcella bakes hers for one hour. I like to bake mine for two hours. They should be a little blackened around the edges when they are done. Delicious!