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Posts Tagged ‘red wine’

This classic rustic Tuscan tomato soup is called pappa al pomodoro in Italy.  Bright, acidic tomatoes are combined with onions, garlic and basil, thickened with leftover bread and finished off with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano.  It smells heavenly and tastes even better.

I’ve made this soup many times before, but just recently stumbled across a wonderful toasted bread and basil topping to sprinkle over the top.  The topping adds another punch to an already great tasting soup.  Thanks to Ina Garten – I am including the topping too.

I’m just back from a glorious week in Tuscany.  The weather was perfect.  The wine sublime.  The food rustic, simple and delicious.  The villa stunning.  All shared with cherished friends.  About as close to perfect you can get this side of heaven.

Oh…in case anyone is worried the tractor barreling down the lane toward us in this picture stopped just in time.  No  one was injured.  Have you ever tried to photo-shop a tractor out?!?  I’ve decided it adds some “interest” to our picture.

I know if given the opportunity to shop in Italy, most of us would swoon over the fine leather handbags and shoes available in Florence.  However, my passions lie elsewhere:

  Two whole liters of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil bought straight from a charming and delightful heritage farmer.  He let us wander through the grounds of his villa and olive grove.  He proudly explained his organic growing methods and also the artisinal extraction approach he uses involving a centuries old stone wheel which produces hands down the best oil I’ve ever tasted.  Liquid gold.  A little tricky to get back to the states, but well worth it.

I used my newly acquired Italian olive oil to make this batch of soup….oh my it was good!  My post today celebrates all I love about Italy.  Simple food prepared using the freshest ingredients and shared with friends and family.  Wines that compliment and match the flavors of the food.  A little candlelight, a little laughter….perfect.

Tuscan Tomato Soup  pappa al pomodoro

this makes 3-4 servings but can easily be doubled

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

2-3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (try to get an Italian imported tomato like the San Marzano)

2 cups diced rustic Italian bread cubes, about 1 inch each

2 cups chicken stock.

splash of Italian red wine (about 1/4 cup)

freshly grated parmigiano-regianno

For the topping:

another 2 cups of diced rustic Italian bread cubes, about 1 inch each

10-15 fresh basil leaves

sea salt

3-4 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

Method

Toss two cups rustic Italian bread cubes with 10-15 fresh basil leaves and layer on a sheet pan.  Drizzle with 3-4 TBSPS extra virgin olive oil.  Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.  Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 20 minutes.

It will look like this when you pull it out.  The basil will get dark but still tastes delicious.  Set aside to sprinkle on the top of the soup right before you serve it.

  Meanwhile heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large pan.  Saute the onions, carrots and garlic for about 10 minutes until tender.

Add the 2 cups diced Italian bread and saute for another 5 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes, chicken stock and red wine.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook it for 30 minutes.  Stir in freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and sprinkle the toasted bread crumb and basil mixture on top.

    Enjoy!!

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Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver, the other is gold.

In college my sorority ended every chapter meeting with the girls spread out in a huge circle, all connected holding hands by placing our right hand over our left wrist and grabbing our neighbor’s similarly placed hands.  We sang the same song every time, the main verse quoted above.

At twenty I was way too cool for school, not super sentimental and partaking in quite a bit of dramatic eye rolling while engaged in this endeavor – what a sappy old-fashioned song we had to sing.

With quite a few years and tears under my belt, I did find myself humming this verse all weekend.  You see, we were lucky enough to spend the weekend with old, treasured (super treasured) friends and I am sentimental, old-fashioned and sappy thinking about how special these folks are to my hubby and I.

And one of our favorite things to do together is cook, which we did Thursday evening.  We made this salad.  I thought it would be fun to share.

This is a very robust salad with big flavors, especially in the vinaigrette.  If anchovies are out of your comfort zone, just trust me and give them a try.  I love the protein punch the garbanzo beans provide.  The Kalamata olives and Asiago cheese create an antipasto platter taste.  I also add sliced Genoa salami to make it an entrée salad.

Chopped Italian Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette

inspired by Mother’s Best cookbook

Salad Ingredients

1 large head Romaine lettuce, washed and dried.  Cut core off the end and slice lettuce crosswise into very thin strips (about 6-8 cups)

1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives

1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1/2 cup finely chopped red onion

1 cup Asiago cheese, cut into match sticks

1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all salad ingredients in a large rustic bowl and toss with Italian Oregano Vinaigrette

Italian Oregano Vinaigrette Ingredients

3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled

3 TBSP dried oregano (yes – 3 TBSP, please buy a fresh jar – dried spices lose most of their flavor after only 3-6 months on the shelf)

6 oil packed anchovy fillets

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 cup extra light tasting olive oil.  (or you can use half regular olive oil and half salad oil)

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 8-10 times until emulsified.


Drained and rinsed Garbanzo beans, basil  and a can of anchovy fillets.

Asiago cheese cut into match sticks

See, the anchovy fillets aren’t too scary!

Put all vinaigrette ingredients in a food processor and pulse 8-10 times until emulsified.

This vinaigrette packs a powerful flavor punch!

Enjoy!!

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Very recently I discovered the Greek pasta dish Pastitsio.  How did I ever get to be my age without tasting this fragrant, spicy, simple bowl of exquisite-ness?  Traditional Pastitsio, which literally means “a mess”,  is assembled and baked like lasagna with layers of pasta, cheese, a meaty lamb tomato sauce flavored with a hint of cinnamon and topped off with Bechamel, a white cream sauce.  I like the lighter, simpler, somewhat “deconstructed” version on the menu at CityGate Grill. 

Our friends John and Mae own CityGate Grill, one of our favorite Friday night spots to decompress with good food and good wine after the craziness of the week.  Pastitsio, which also happens to be one of John’s favorite childhood dishes, is my favorite item on their menu.

The lamb and cinnamon together, which are so exotic and unexpected, are showcased in the Greek bolognese sauce prepared at CityGate.  The bolognese is then tossed with piping hot bucatinin pasta and Bechamel sauce, sprinkled with Parmigiano Reggiano and served.

Someday I will corner the chef at CityGate and garner the secrets to his Greek style Bolognese sauce.  It is so delicious and complex, I am guessing it involves lamb shanks and hours of braising.  However, until then, here is a quick weeknight version using ground lamb we just can’t get enough of at home.  I like using the ground lamb, however if feeling less adventuresome, ground beef can always be substituted.

If you can find Bucatini pasta it is very fun to use in this dish.  It is a thick, long noodle like spaghetti, but hollow in the middle like macaroni so it soaks up the sauce.  If you can’t find it then use a thicker, hollow pasta like penne so it holds up to the sauce.  This comes together quick, so I hope it becomes one of your weeknight favorites too.

Weeknight Greek Pastitsio

Ingredients

2 pounds ground lamb or beef

1 medium onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups dry red wine

1 TBSP dried oregano

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

2 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes

4 TBSP tomato paste

1 tsp (heaping) good ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 cup heavy cream

salt and pepper to taste

1 pound Bucatini pasta, cooked according to directions

freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

fresh, chopped basil leaves

Method

Saute the diced onions and minced garlic in a big skillet with a little bit of olive oil.  Add the ground lamb (or beef) and cook until nice and brown.  Pour the wine into the skillet and scrape up any browned bits of meat.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, red pepper flakes, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Meanwhile cook and drain the pasta.

Right before it is time to serve, swirl the cream into the sauce.  Simmer a minute until it is piping hot, then toss the sauce with the drained pasta, freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese and chopped basil.

Enjoy!!

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Could it be?  Yes….today is just a bolognese day.  Snuggled back home after a particularly grueling computraining session (thanks to Raouf : 856 calories burned…really?)  I had nothing else on the docket which would induce me to venture back out.  Except I forgot to stop at the grocery store.  I am not going.  It is fa-reezing out there in Chicago today.  Dinner is definitely out of the pantry tonight.

And this is why classic Bolognese Sauce is a beautiful thing.  I almost always have the ingredients to make it in the pantry.  The real deal takes 3 or 4 hours to cook but there is very little prep time involved.  You can put it on to simmer and be oh so productive while the sauce fills your house with the most amazing aroma.  You only need to stop by every so often and give it a little loving before you are back tackling the “to do” list.

The Silver Spoon has been the best-selling cookbook in Italy for over 50 years and is considered the bible of authentic Italian cooking.  It was first published in English in 2005 which was a very happy day for me.  It is a phenomenal resource but runs a little short on the directional side.  I imagine the Italian grandmas assumed the progeny already knew what to do with the ingredients and were not compelled to write overly fussy instructions.  If you ever get a chance watch Anne Burrell’s Bolognese episode on Food Network’s Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.  Anne studied in Italy and in her own words – she “rocks the sauce”.  The Italian grandmas would be proud.  So with a nod to Anne and The Silver Spoon – here we go:

Classic Bolognese Sauce

(adapted from The Silver Spoon and Anne Burrell)

Ingredients

2 small onions peeled and cut in large chunks

2 large carrots peeled and cut in large chunks

3 ribs celery washed, stems and leaves removed and cut in large chunks

4 whole cloves fresh peeled garlic

2-3 TBSPS olive oil

3 pounds ground beef, preferably chuck

3 small cans tomato paste

3 cups hearty Italian wine like a Chianti

3 bay leaves

water

1/2 cup of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese grated

1 box (1 pound) of spaghetti pasta.

Method

 

 

In a food processor add

  • 2 small onions
  • 2 large carrots
  • 3 ribs celery
  • 4 whole cloves garlic

Pulse the food processor 8-10 times to purée the vegetables

Coat a large heavy skillet with about 2-3 TBSP olive oil.   Bring to medium high heat and add the purée.  Season generously with salt.  Cook the vegetable purée for about 15-20 minutes stirring frequently.  The water will evaporate from the purée and the bottom of the pan will caramelize and be nice and brown.  The brown on the bottom of the pan is what makes the sauce so delicious so make sure to let it  develop before you go to the next step.Add

  • three pounds ground beef, preferably chuck.

Season generously with salt.  Cook the ground beef for another 15-20 minutes until it gets really brown (just like the vegetables).  Remember the brown is what makes the sauce taste so good!

It will look like this when it is ready

Add

  • 3 small cans tomato paste

Cook over medium heat until it browns – about 5 minutes

Add

  • 3 cups hearty Italian red wine (I use a Chianti or Barolo)

The wine deglazes the bottom of the pan and all the nice brown flavors developed are now in the sauce.

Cook for another 5 minutes and reduce the wine.  This will intensify the flavor even more.

Add

  • water to pan until it is 1 inch over the meat (about 4 cups)
  • 3 bay leaves

Season it again with salt.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

About every 45 minutes or so add

  • 2-3 additional cups of water

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer , stirring occasionally.  When all the water evaporates again repeat adding water.  After 3-4 hours of repeating this process you will have a robust, hearty sauce with BIG flavor.  As the sauce is simmering and the water evaporating it permeates your house with the most amazing aroma.  Did I happen to tell you it smells really, really good?

Now here is a really fun secret I have withheld until this point!  We just made a double batch of Bolognese Sauce.  You can take half of the sauce and freeze it to enjoy later (or maybe share it with your neighbor).

It is almost time to eat!  Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and cook

  • 1 box (1 pound) of spaghetti pasta.

Grate

  • 1/2 cup of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese

Add the drained, cooked spaghetti and cheese right into the skillet with the remaining sauce.  Add a little water if it is too thick.  Toss the pasta and coat it with the cheese and sauce.

Just pinch me…..it looks delish!

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