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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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I subscribe to The Food Network magazine.  My favorite feature each month is a cute little pull-out book which gives recipes for 50 different spins on the same item.  Last month the pull-out book highlighted smoothie recipes.  (For those of you who know me well, quit worrying about how I am going to pull off this Lilly pad moment – we are not making scallop smoothies.)

So here’s my thought.  I would love to do a pull-out book featuring my favorite fresh and tasty dish – ceviche!  Ceviche is a popular Latin American dish typically made by marinating raw fish in citrus juice.  The acid in the citrus juice actually cooks the raw fish – how cool is that?  Other than raw fish (you can use scallops, shrimp or any other firm white fish such as tilapia or halibut) and acidic citrus juice, the sky is the limit for what ingredients you can incorporate into the ceviche.  Coming up with 50 different variations would not be hard at all.  It’s also so easy to make, basically a bunch of chopping.  Since the ingredients in this dish don’t have anything to hide behind, be sure to use the freshest, tastiest fish and produce possible.

Fresh Scallop Ceviche

Ingredients

1 pound fresh scallops

1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

zest from one lime

1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1 jalapeño pepper seeded and diced

1 bell pepper, seeded and diced

1/2 cup diced red onion

1 avocado, diced

1 cup fresh pineapple

3-4 TBSPS fresh chopped cilantro

Method

Cut the scallop into quarters.  I am preparing my ceviche today as a side dish to eat with a fork.  I also use the ceviche often as a fresh dip and scoop it up with tortilla chips.   I cut up the scallops smaller into eighths when making a dip.

Juice the lemons and limes and zest the lime.  I zested the lime with my favorite kitchen tool, a micro plane grater.  Fresh citrus zest adds such a zip to this dish.  I got my my micro plane grater at Williams and Sonoma.

Add the juice and zest to the scallops.

tomatoes, jalapeno and bell pepper

pineapple, red onion, cilantro and avocado.  Stir and wait until the acid cooks the fish.  It will only take a few minutes depending on how big your fish chunks are.  This is best if eaten fresh, but cover tightly and refrigerate if you are making it in advance.

Enjoy!!

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