Spinach and Rice Soup

This simple soup is a classic in Italian cuisine. I believe its origins are in Piemonte, but I suspect it can be found fairly broadly in Northern Italian cooking. I’ve made different versions before, but this one from Marcella Hazan is the best so far, and a new example for me. You’ll find the recipe in her book, Essentials of Classic Italian cooking.

One of the thrills for me tonight in making this soup was the opportunity to use a refurbished copper pot for the first time since it was re-tinned and polished. I’m not sure when I first acquired this pot, but it’s a heavy, well-made French fait-tout from Williams-Sonoma. It had lingered, unused for years, having been replaced by newer, lighter-weight pots of various kinds. It sat for 6 months on a table, awaiting its fate (do I sell it? or refurbish it?). Finally, I decided that it was too beautiful to let go, so I sent it to East Coast Tinning, and they made it like new in less than a week!

Marcella’s recipe is simple and straightforward, using 1 lb. of fresh spinach, 1/3 cup of risotto rice, chopped onion, and Barbara’s homemade vegetable stock, all finished with Parmigiano Reggiano. We added a few homemade croutons and opened a bottle of Lugana from Ottella,

Buon Appetito.

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This relatively obscure pasta shape is becoming my favorite fresh pasta. What is unique about it is that, when I roll out the sheet of pasta, I don’t roll it anywhere near as thin as I do with other shapes. There are six settings on the machine. Normally, I finish on number 6 for fettuccine and ravioli, but I stop at number 3 for tonarelli. The thicker shape is nearly identical with the width dimensions when they are cut into shape, so they are similar to spaghetti and chitarra as a finished product.

This week I made it with a different formulation for the dough. I used:

  • 65 grams of “00” flour
  • 65 grams of Durum wheat flour
  • 1 extra large whole egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • salt
  • olive oil

I liked how the Durum flour added “chew” to the pasta, without being too firm. Next time, I will try to use 2/3 “00” flour and 1/3 Durum wheat, to see how I like the softer texture that should produce.

I had been thinking of the vegetables available and what I want to use for this pasta. I chose to slice some leeks, zucchini, yellow squash, and plum tomatoes, garlic and herbs, cooking each separately until almost done. At the end I sautéed them together, along with balsamic vinegar, and then used that mixture to top the pasta. The results were delicious.

The richness of the vegetables and balsamic suggested a fairly full-bodied wine. Aaron’s Arizona Mourvedre (Minotaur) was a perfect fit.

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Really? What is that? How often do I write about any foods from Germany and Austria?

Almost never, is the answer. But last week, Barbara found an article in the latest Fine Cooking, and it intrigued both of us. I was making pan-roasted salmon with mushrooms, accompanied by Romanesco broccoli for dinner, so I decided to learn how to make Schupfnudeln to go with it.

Serendipity! The texture and flavors of this gnocchi-like pasta went very well with the salmon. I can recommend the technique with enthusiasm.

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Soup ‘n Salad

But not the usual stuff. My wife makes superb composed salads, and then matches them with a simple, elegant, and delicious tomato soup, as shown below. The soup was a Marcella Hazan recipe, with just tomatoes and butter. These were well-matched with a biodynamic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

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Pasta with Mushrooms, Baked Squash Gratin

You already know I love mushrooms. Here’s a dish with Oyster Mushrooms from Fat Moon and sautéed Shiitakes, served with thinly-sliced and baked zucchini, summer squash, and tomato gratin.

Best of all was the wine selection: a Cabernet Franc from Friuli, compliments of Gemma Iannoni and I Clivi wines. It was terrific and unexpected!

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Vegetarian Paella

So far, January has been a marvelous month for cooking. One of the best dishes was inspired by the food blog, Lemons + Anchovies. It was a vegetarian paella dish, and it called for all of the ingredients I had available. Even better, it suggested using the spiralizer to cut the butternut squash and beets, reinvigorating a tool I had not used in some time.

Here is their recipe: https://lemonsandanchovies.com/2018/10/vegetable-paella-with-shiitake-bacon/

It was pretty easy to make, and it was fun making a parasol from the chunk of butternut squash I had leftover from the previous week. The colors were marvelous.

The final dish was delicious, although more high heat on the pan to crisp up the socarrat at the end would be advisable next time.

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Farro and Bean Soup of Abruzzo

In 1984 Joyce Goldstein launched one of my favorite restaurants, Square One, in San Francisco. That was a decade when I was frequently in the Bay Area, for both business and pleasure, and I enjoyed her cooking and the style of her place as often as possible. (To get a flavor of the Chef and her philosophies, you can peruse this article from the Christian Science Monitor, written in 1990.)

Since those golden days, Joyce has written a number of excellent cookbooks. One of those is Italian Slow and Savory, a tribute to slow cooking which brings out the rich, full flavors of Italy. Today’s post is about Le Virtu, the Farro and Bean Soup from Abruzzo which I made for dinner last night.

Farro and Bean Soup

I followed this recipe pretty closely, and it seemed to work out well.

The wine recommendation was a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, naturally. Fortunately, the biodynamic 2019 bottle by Cirelli, which I got from Eataly NYC last Fall, fit the bill perfectly.

The warm, rich colors and flavors of this Sunday night soup provided a comforting contrast to the six inches of snow and bright, cold sunshine Friday and Saturday.

snow pack on the railing
looking down the cleared driveway
the woods in snow through a stained glass panel

the meadow at sunset

darkness descends

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2021 All Pasta Review

While we’re wrapping up last year and reveling in our favorite carbohydrates, I thought I would offer the Pasta Year in Review via a 2:47-minute video with Vivaldi for audio accompaniment.

It was a good year for Pasta, and I hope that 2022 will be even better.

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Last Breads of 2021

Field Blend #1.1
Country Brown Levain

If my notes are complete, I baked sourdough bread 17 times last year; that’s 34 loaves. A few days before New Year, I decided to go out in a blaze of glory, and also do some compare and contrast with different recipes, as a way to learn and improve my technique. Here is the 2021 Bread Log.

It’s interesting to note that for the first 9 months of the year, I made Tartine-style breads. Then, for some reason not obvious to me at the time, I switched to Ken Forkish formulations and techniques — similar, but not identical. The last breads of the year were two of Ken Forkish’s recipes: Field Blend #1 (a hybrid bread with 1/2 tsp. of added yeast, along with the levain), and Overnight Country Brown (pure levain, no added yeast, providing a slower, longer dough development).

I renamed the Field Blend version as #1.1, to denote my alteration which added rye and spelt flours to replace some of the bread flour. I find that the combination of spelt and rye flours in a 2:1 ratio adds extensibility to the dough, making it easier and more productive to stretch the dough for better gluten development.

I usually freeze one full loaf from each recipe, and then freeze about half of the bread I expect to use less frequently, as well. In this case I liked the Field Blend better, so I cut up some of the Country Brown and froze the other half of it. It’s still an attractive bread, though, and it contains a good deal more whole wheat flour for flavor and health.

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New Year, New Meals, and a Corsican Wine

My first day of the new year turned out to be a fine day for revised approaches to favorite dishes. The surprise was that they were anchored by a rosé from Corsica.

For lunch I decided to select a jar of tuna fish from deep storage. I’ve been using tins of Luças Portuguese Ventresca Tuna as my primary source for tuna salads, but since the jar had been in storage for a long time, I figured it was time to bring it out.

The tuna looked very good, so I set about assembling the other elements to make lunch:

  • finely diced red onion
  • chopped plum tomato
  • chickpeas from a jar
  • Castelfranco Radicchio, finely sliced
  • Treviso Radicchio, finely sliced
  • Hondarribi zuri bittersweet Basque vinegar
  • Moroccan olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper
  • chopped dill

The savory nature of this dish seemed to call for a rosé. With a quick trip to the wine cooler, I was able to locate a Corsican rosé, a 2020 Clos San Qulico from Patrimonio, which I found a few monts ago at Winestone, a great boutique wine shop in Brookline.

In keeping with the unorthodox selection of the tuna, I studied the origins of that jar and the chickpeas. The tuna had a legitimate Italian title. “Tonnino”, so I was surprised to find that its origin was Costa Rica. Nevertheless, it was real Ventresca and quite delicious.

The chickpeas were organic, and sourced in Italy. I had previously tried this brand (Jovial) at Whole Foods, and I found them to be as good or better than anything I could make from dried chickpeas.

I tossed all the ingredients together, filled my salad plate, and poured some wine. Life is good!

Dinner time was just a few hours later. After discussing a variety of alternatives (including several, well-worn leftovers), we settled on a baked vegetables and rice dish, inspired by Spanish cooking from the past. The impetus for the dish was a large eggplant which needed to be used, and it was also an opportunity to clean the refrigerator — with several small portions of a plethora of vegetables. Here’s what the final components were:

  • eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch cubes, flavored with olive oil, Greek oregano, Spanish pimenton. salt amd pepper, and roasted in a 400° F. oven
  • thinly-sliced hearts, extracted from 2 fresh globe artichokes, roasted with the eggplant
  • thinly-sliced cabbage, sautéed in a hot skillet with olive oil and garlic
  • 1/2 zucchini, dices and sautéed
  • 4 large cremini mushrooms, sliced and sautéed
  • wax beans, cut in 1″ segments and boiled until crisp-tender
  • homemade dried breadcrumbs
  • shredded Manchego cheese
  • Spanish Calasparra rice, steamed
  • a small chunk of unused plum tomato, diced

These elements were all mixed together in a large bowl and then baked/roasted in a cazuela in a 425° F. oven until the breadcrumbs and cheese were lightly browned and crisp, finishing with a short blast under the broiler. The Corsican wine was every bit as good with this dish, as well.

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