Zuppa Toscana

Zuppa Toscana

 

While most people lament the arrival of cooler temps in the waning days of summer and early days of fall, I couldn’t WAIT to unearth and dust off my collection of soup recipes this week. After three wonderful – but very hot – years in southern California, Germany’s crisp mornings, drippy afternoons, and windy evenings are utter perfection in my book. Soup weather, how I’ve missed thee!

I’ve been wanting to try this recipe for Zuppa Toscana F-O-R-E-V-E-R. Oh my goodness – it did not disappoint! This is quite simply one of the best soups I’ve ever eaten. The combination of spicy Italian sausage, melt-in-your-mouth potatoes and slightly crisp kale is heavenly. And the broth – oh, the broth! Perfection! My husband and I intended to eat this as leftovers over the course of a few days, but alas, it did not see a second day. Yep, we ate all 12 servings. Two people. In one day. We’re still sad it’s gone, and speak of it fondly. It is that good.

Enjoy, and you’re welcome!

 

ZUPPA TOSCANA

Yields | 12 servings

Inspiration | Olive Garden & Food.com

  • 1 lb ground mild or hot Italian sausage
  • 4-6 Russett potatoes, diced
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 slices raw bacon, snipped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 8 cups water
  • 7 tsp Better than Bouillon chicken base
  • 1 bunch fresh kale, stemmed and torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese (optional), to serve
  1. In a large pot on medium-high heat add the ground sausage and crushed red pepper flakes. Using a wooden spoon, break up the sausage until it is browned and fully cooked through. Pour the cooked sausage into a large bowl and set aside.
  2. In the same pot add the olive oil, chopped onion, and bacon until the onions become translucent and begin to brown (about 10 minutes). Add garlic and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
  3. Add wine to the pot and stir well to de-glaze. Combine water and Better than Bouillon chicken base, mix well, and add to the pot.
  4. Add potatoes and cook until fork tender, approximately 20 minutes. (Note: You may wish to add more salt, but be careful – the chicken base is very salty. Taste for saltiness after each addition.)
  5. After the potatoes are done, add the cooked sausage back into the soup. Using a large spoon, skim off most of the fat from the sausage that floats onto the surface.
  6. Add the fresh kale and stir in to allow the leaves to soften slightly. Reduce the heat to low and add the heavy cream. Stir.
  7. Add freshly ground black pepper, if desired.
  8. Garnish each serving with shredded Parmesan cheese, if desired.

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream1

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Garlic + Herb-Stuffed Tomatoes

Garlic + Herb Stuffed Tomatoes

 

“Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.” -Rumi

This statement hit me like a ton of bricks – in a good way! – when I heard it yesterday. This move from California to Germany has really tested my ability to ‘go with the flow’ – to let things fall into place without excessive hand-wringing, all-consuming worry, and internal meltdown on the scale of Fukushima. Where will we live? What will we do until our car arrives? How will I pay my student loans if we don’t have a second income? I can’t understand what anyone is saying!!!

Long story short, I need to chill the f___ out. I need to stop worrying. I need to stop dreading that every situation – finding a home, buying a car, getting a job, learning the language – is going to be difficult. I need to stop assuming that things won’t “work out”; that there will be nothing but hiccups, roadblocks, and doors slammed in our faces. I need to be strong enough and prepared enough to deal with the occasional challenge or disappointment – because there will be some, inevitably – but not ruminate about their eventuality. I need to take a deep breath, keep my chin up, and smile. I need to be positive, hopeful, and determined. I need to remember that I am extraordinarily blessed – with wonderful friends, the most loving family (furbabies included!), and a wealth of amazing experiences. Life truly is rigged in my favor. I need to start living it that way!

So, back to food. I was surprised and delighted to find a small kitchenette in our temporary accommodation here. It has just about everything I need to continue cooking and baking for our family until all of my pots, pans, and gadgets show up with our household goods in November. #rigged! The preparation space is a bit on the wee side, so I’m trying to keep our meals simple and healthy; this dish fit the bill on both counts!

The original recipe – from Food.com – listed the garlic as “optional”. Optional?! In my world view, garlic is never optional, and should be doubled whenever possible. I even swapped out Italian seasoned breadcrumbs for the garlic and herb variety. Sure, I’ll have raucous breath for a few days, but I’ve shared the wealth with my husband and so far we’re canceling each other out. That’s how it works … right?

This dish is easy to prepare and takes less than 30 minutes start to finish. My husband – who visibly cringed when I said “we’re having something vegetarian tonight” – gobbled up two of these as soon as they were cool enough to eat. So did I, despite never having been much of a tomato fan. Give them a try – you won’t regret it!

 

GARLIC + HERB-STUFFED TOMATOES

Yields | 5 servings

Inspiration | Food.com

  • 5 beefsteak tomatoes
  • 1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3⁄4 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup provolone cheese, grated
  • 1⁄4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp butter, softened
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Slice the tops off the tomatoes and set aside. Scoop out the seeds and pulp from the tomatoes with a teaspoon, being careful not to cut through to the base or sides. Chop the pulp and keep the seeds, but discard the hard, central cores.
  3. Place the pulp and seeds in a medium bowl. Add the parsley, garlic, bread crumbs, cheese, and pepper and mix gently to combine.
  4. Place the hollowed tomatoes in a buttered casserole dish, and fill with the bread crumb mixture.
  5. Drizzle the top of the tomatoes with olive oil. Bake until the tops are browned, approximately 20 minutes.

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Baked Apple Cider Doughnuts

Apple Cider Doughnettes

Rustic Apple Galette

Rustic Apple Galette

Happy first day of Fall, baking gods and goddesses!

The first dessert feature of the season goes to this rustic apple galette: a free-form, crusty tart filled with lightly sweetened apples. I found the recipe – originally contributed by the legendary Jacques Pépin and Grace Parisi – in the September 2003 edition of Food & Wine magazine. I made only minor variations (because seriously, you don’t fool around with a Pépin creation!), and absolutely LOVE the result. With buttery, flaky crust and insanely delicious filling, this tart is already lodged in my ‘make this again ASAP’ folder!

A couple of notes: first, this is – HANDS DOWN – the best and easiest pie crust I’ve ever made. I’ve experimented with dozens of recipes over the past decade, and this one beats them all by leaps and bounds. The dough is incredibly easy to assemble and manipulate (there’s no chilling required!), and bakes up like an absolute dream! Second, I highly recommend following Pépin and Parisi’s instruction to use Golden Delicious apples. As the picture above indicates, I used Granny Smiths – this was an unfortunate mistake. While they hold up well to baking, I found them slightly too tart for this recipe. If you aren’t able to find Golden Delicious at your local grocer or farmer’s market (as I wasn’t), substitute with a sweeter variety like Honeycrisp, Mutsu or Pink Lady.

This galette is heaven served warm with vanilla bean ice cream. If you’d like to make ahead or have leftovers (good luck!), the baked tart can be stored overnight at room temperature and reheated in a 325 degree Fahrenheit (160 degree Celsius) oven. Enjoy!

RUSTIC APPLE GALETTE

Yield | 6 servings

Inspiration | Food & Wine

  • 1 1/2 cups + 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter (cut into 1/2-inch pieces), + 2 tbsp, melted
  • 1/3 cup ice water
  • 3 1/2 tbsp finely granulated sugar
  • 4 large Golden delicious apples (peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices)
  1. In a large food processor, pulse 1 1/2 cups flour with the salt. Add the cold butter and process just until the butter is the size of peas (approximately 5 seconds). Sprinkle with ice water and process just until moistened (approximately 5 seconds). Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead 2 or 3 times, just until it comes together. Pat the dough into a disk and roll into a 16- or 17-inch round approximately 1/4-inch thick.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer the dough to the parchment. (Rolling the dough around your rolling pin helps considerably with this step!)
  3. In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the sugar with the remaining 1 tablespoon of flour and sprinkle over the dough. Arrange the apple slices on top in overlapping concentric circles to within approximately 3 inches of the edge. Fold the dough over the apples in a free-form fashion. Brush the apples with the melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar. Refrigerate the unbaked tart for 10 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius). Bake the tart in the center of the oven for 1 hour, or until the apples are tender and golden and the crust is deep golden and cooked through. Slide the parchment onto a wire rack and let the tart cool slightly before serving.

*Re-posted from my old blog, Cucina Fresca*

Rosemary Garlic Focaccia

Garlic Foccacia Bread

For those of my readers that don’t know, my husband and I recently moved from San Diego to the Rheinland-Pfalz region of Germany. We are so excited to be back in this area – a place we also lived from 2010-2012 – and look forward to eating and traveling our way across Europe once again. The only downside of the move is that our household goods – including nearly all of my kitchen gadgets and supplies – are on a boat moving verrrrrry slowly in this direction. Until they arrive in mid-November, most of my posts will feature recipes once included on an old blog of mine. Oldies, but also hopefully goodies!

The last recipe I made before leaving California was this loaf of Rosemary Garlic Focaccia. While cleaning out our fridge for the move, I was determined not to throw away a large bundle of rosemary that a friend had generously offered as a gift from her garden. There are few savory flavor combinations I enjoy quite as much as garlic and rosemary (or garlic and any fresh herb, for that matter!), so this bread was an easy pick. With six cloves of garlic, it packs quite the punch; while that’s right up my alley, you can use less if garlic isn’t really your thing (or you need to speak within six feet of someone in the next 48 hours). As homemade breads go, this is relatively easy – and it soaks up pasta sauce like a dream!

ROSEMARY GARLIC FOCACCIA

Yields | 8 servings

Inspiration | Kiss My Spatula

  • ¼ ounce active dry yeast (1 envelope)
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 1 ½ cup water
  • 4 cups flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Coarse sea salt
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in ½ cup warm water. Let stand 10 minutes, then add 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  2. Combine flour and ½ teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Strip and chop leaves from 5 of the rosemary branches and stir into flour with chopped garlic. Add yeast mixture and 1 ¼ cups water and stir until dough becomes too stiff to continue.
  3. Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Shape dough into a ball, transfer to a large oiled bowl, and cover with a damp cloth. Allow dough to rise in a warm spot for 2 hours.
  4. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled baking sheet. Knead dough down and press with oiled hands into baking sheet. Cover with a damn cloth and set aside for one hour.
  5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Whisk together remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Remove cloth from dough and dimple dough with your fingertips, then brush with oil and water emulsion. Arrange small sprigs of rosemary from remaining 3 branches over dough and sprinkle with coarse sea salt and grated Parmesan cheese.
  7. Bake until golden, 30 to 40 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Parmesan Polenta Tart with Heirloom Tomatoes

Parmesan Polenta Tart with Heirloom Tomatoes

 

Polenta – a dish made of yellow or white cornmeal boiled in water or stock into a thick, solidified porridge – is a popular cooking staple throughout central Europe, particularly northern Italy, France, and Switzerland. While I’d eaten it on a handful of occasions in the United States – usually at an Italian restaurant – I’d never before cooked with polenta until giving this recipe a try. I was pleasantly surprised – its remarkably easy to prepare and can be formed and set into virtually any shape.  It doesn’t have a great deal of flavor on its own, but with the addition of a flavorful stock or cheese, polenta is a wonderful base for meat stews, seafood, or vegetables.

This colorful wee tart – recipe courtesy of The View from Great Island – was a huge hit in our household! The tomatoes were delicious – a bit reminiscent of a chunky bruschetta topping – and looked absolutely beautiful arranged atop the bright yellow polenta base. My husband – who usually grumbles his way through anything vegetarian – ate 3/4 of the tart on his own. If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is!

 

PARMESAN POLENTA TART WITH HEIRLOOM TOMATOES

Yields | 8 servings

Inspiration | The View from Great Island

 

  • 2 cups polenta (stone ground yellow corn meal)
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups reduced fat (2%) milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese + extra for garnishing
  • 1 generous pint multicolored cherry tomatoes
  • 1 medium heirloom tomato
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 or 2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 10 large basil leaves, cut in fine ribbons

 

  1. Bring the water, milk and salt to a boil in a heavy bottomed pot. Slowly add in the polenta, stirring to avoid lumps. Lower the heat and let it cook gently for about 15 minutes. You will have to stir it most of the time. I like to use a silicone spatula. Be careful because the polenta with splatter as it bubbles, and it’s hot.
  2. Take it off the heat and add the butter and the cheese. Mix well. Add some fresh cracked black pepper, and then taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.
  3. Pour the polenta into a greased 9″ springform pan or tart dish. (Note: I ended up using only 3/4 of the polenta, as I didn’t want my tart to be too thick.) Smooth it out quickly so the top is level. The polenta will begin to set up immediately. Let the polenta cool.
  4. Meanwhile, make the tomato topping. Do this no more than one hour before you want to serve the tart. Slice your cherry tomatoes in half. You can cut the larger ones in wedges, and leave the very tiniest ones whole. Chop the regular sized tomato in small chunks. Put them in a bowl with all the juices and add the oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper.
  5. Let the tomatoes sit at room temperature to allow the juices to flow and mingle for up to an hour. Just before you are ready to put the tart together, chop the basil and add it to the tomatoes. (Note: don’t do this earlier, as the basil may turn dark)
  6. Just before you are ready to serve it, spoon the tomatoes and their juices on top of the polenta. Garnish with any remaining basil leaves and sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese.
  7. Slice with a sharp knife and serve with more cheese.

 

Tomatillo Salsa Verde

Tomatillo Salsa Verde

TOMATILLO SALSA VERDE

Yield | 6 to 8 servings

Inspiration | allrecipes.com

  • 1 pound tomatillos, husked
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1-2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 serrano chile pepper, minced
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt, to taste
  • 2 cups water
  • Chips, to serve (optional)
  1. Place tomatillos, onion, garlic, and chile pepper in a saucepan. Season with cilantro, oregano, cumin, and salt; pour in water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the tomatillos are soft, 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Using a blender, carefully puree the tomatillos and water in batches until smooth. Serve chilled or warm, with chips (if desired).

Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

It. Is. HOT.

While the rest of the country goes back to school, bundles up, and prepares for the onslaught of all things pumpkin, it’s still a million (okay, 90+) degrees here in southern California. Ugh. The thought of turning on my oven this week made me cringe, so I opted for a no-fuss, cool treat instead. Behold the glory of Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream!

The best part of this recipe – originally featured on Pastry Affair, one of the most beautiful food blogs on the Internet – is that it doesn’t require an ice cream maker, or any fancy tools except a hand or standing mixer. It’s also incredibly easy – a great option for those who’d like to make their own ice cream, but are intimidated by the process of cooking crème anglaise. The result is a rich, creamy dessert bursting with blueberry deliciousness. I ate all three cones in this photo, if that’s any indication of its amazing flavor. Make, enjoy, and bring on the Fall!

BLUEBERRY CHEESECAKE ICE CREAM

Yields | 1 quart

Inspiration | Pastry Affair

  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 6 ounces softened cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 cups whipping cream, cold
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Waffle cones, to serve (optional)
  1. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, cook blueberries and granulated sugar until berries burst and release their juices (approximately 5-10 minutes). Add the cornstarch to thicken and continue cooking for another 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and place blueberries in the freezer to cool quickly (approximately 15 minutes).
  2. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth. Add 1/2 cup cream and whip until the cream cheese mixture becomes incorporated. Scrape the bowl as needed. Add the rest of the cream and the vanilla extract and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. (this step may also be done with a hand mixer and a healthy dollop of patience!)
  3. In a plastic container, spread half the whipped cream. Top with half the blueberries. Spread the remaining cream and top with the remaining blueberries. Using a knife, swirl the ice cream. Cover and place in the freezer for at least 6 hours. Serve in waffle cones, if desired.