Minestra di Ceci
In Italy there’s an organization called the Italian Academy of Cuisine, which was founded 60 years ago to preserve their culinary heritage. The result of their efforts is a phonebook-sized cookbook that I just bought, titled La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy.

 

Only Italians would have an academy of cuisine dedicated to preserving recipes. They clearly have their priorities straight.

 

These are grandma’s recipes. Simple ingredients, yes, but sometimes it seems like a step or two was left out. For that reason, I think a beginning cook might get a little frustrated with this book. But overall, it’s an incredible reference for Italian country cooking, and a far cheaper way for me to get my Italy fix than hopping across the pond.

Minestra di Ceci

From La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy, with a couple of added notes in the directions.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb dried chickpeas
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 2 oz prosciutto crudo, chopped
  • 1 lb plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 3 endive leaves, cut in pieces
  • 10 oz pork rib meat, cut in pieces
  • grated pecorino romano
  • toasted slices of bread, such as ciabatta
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Place chickpeas in a pot and cover with water. Add baking soda. Let soak for 24 hours.
  2. In a pot, heat the oil and butter and sauté the onion, parsley, garlic, and prosciutto.
  3. Drain chickpeas and add them to the pot.
  4. Add tomatoes, stir, then add 12 cups of cold water.
  5. Raise the heat, letting soup come to a boil. Add celery, endive, pork, salt, and pepper.
  6. Cook over low heat for 3 hours, or until water is reduced by half.
  7. Place a slice of bread in each bowl, ladle soup over, and top with pecorino.
  8. Salt and pepper to taste and serve.
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Happy birthday to him

by April on September 27, 2012

Yellow cake, chocolate frosting, sprinkles

Mom: Should we pick up a cake for Luis’s birthday?

Me: If I ever bought Luis a birthday cake, he might wonder if our marriage was in trouble.

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Olive oil and sherry pound cake

by April on August 19, 2012

Pound cake with olive oil and sherry

Making this pound cake cost me $65.

But maybe it’s not entirely fair to blame the cake.

See, Pure Dessert author Alice Medrich calls for flavorful olive oil in this recipe. But I was almost out of my beloved Cobrancosa oil. And so I had to buy more.

But there were new oils in stock! And I hadn’t yet bought the grapefruit balsamic I’ve been eying for the last two months.

I stopped short of picking up a loaf of olive ciabatta, but congratulations are not in order. I regretted that decision as soon as I got home.

Anyway, back to the $65 cake.

It’s got enough sugar to make it count as cake, but not so much that it crowds out the interesting flavors of fresh olive oil, sherry, and orange zest. And if those three ingredients sound odd, you’ll just have to trust me and try this for yourself.

It’s been disappearing two slices at a time around here.

Recipe after the jump!

[click to continue…]

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Eat, Memory

by April on August 4, 2012

“Even after our mother was delivered back to us healthy, the loss of our father throbbed in each instant of our growing older without him. But, still, we feasted. Because to hunger is to live, and even when we lose the things that really matter, we can always taste, and in tasting, have our appetites restored.”

Tamar Adler, “Eat, Memory”

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Coconut almond butter "brownies"

I have a thing for coconut.

Fresh coconut water, The Body Shop’s Coconut Body Butter, mint coconut ice cream… I still remember my first taste of tom kha gai and hunting down a Thai cookbook the very next day.

And here’s a little secret: Although coconut pies are sinfully delicious, the heaps of sugar and condensed milk drown out the light, fresh-cracked taste that draws me to coconut in the first place.

Unsweetened coconut is perfect just as it is, so when I make a healthy dessert like these coconut almond butter brownies, I pack it in, and I don’t even miss the sugar.

The original recipe comes from the book Primal Body, Primal Mind, and it’s more of a list of ingredients and optional ingredients than an exact recipe. So from the list, I add all things coconut: shredded coconut, coconut flour, and coconut butter. And coconut goes so well with chocolate that unsweetened cocoa powder and cacao nibs are only logical.

Add butter, almond butter, and toasted nuts, and the fact that this is a low-carb dessert is totally beside the point.

If these aren’t enticing enough already, here’s one more reason to make them: you don’t have to turn on your oven. No baking. One hour in the fridge, and they’re ready to eat.

As a native Texan, I’ve come to appreciate recipes that don’t require an oven, especially in the summer…which lasts until October.

Recipe after the jump!
[click to continue…]

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Garlic mashed faux-tatoes

by April on May 17, 2012

Mashed Faux-tatos

Press play, then read on.

This food is white, mashable, and not a potato.

Time’s up!

The answer: “what is cauliflower”.

When I was on my post-Euro trip detox, I learned a lot of magic tricks with cauliflower. You can “rice” it. You can turn it into pizza dough. You also can steam it, mash it, add some butter, and abracadabra! Mashed faux-tatoes!

Here’s how to do it.
[click to continue…]

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Niçoise, to go

by April on May 15, 2012

Niçoise to go

Making salade Niçoise is a process.

Grilled tuna, hard-boiled eggs, lemon balm potatoes, lemon thyme-scented green beans, a lemon-herb vinaigrette, not to mention prepping the lettuce, tomatoes, and onion. (See my favorite recipe here.)

It’s worth it, mind you.

But you have to really want it. And have an afternoon to kill. It’s not something you can prep in the morning and brown bag for work.

Until now.

Several months ago Martha Stewart Living mysteriously started appearing in my mailbox. I didn’t order it, and as far as I can tell, I’m not being charged for it. It’s a gift from the generous god of glossies.

Anyway, this month’s Good Things column is about a single-serving, cooking-optional Niçoise. There isn’t even a proper recipe. Just layer a bunch of ingredients and top with chopped basil and olive oil. Voilà!

Ingredient options:

  • roasted red and yellow peppers
  • white beans
  • olives
  • artichoke hearts
  • olive oil-packed tuna
  • olive oil-packed anchovies
  • blanched green beans

Tip: Buying high-quality jarred or canned ingredients makes all the difference.

In other words, nothing cheap or tasteless. We are what we eat, as they say.

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Word to my mother

by April on May 13, 2012

Blueberry Oat Scones

I didn’t get my love of cooking from my mom.

She used to cook every day, and she baked a lot. But when I left for college, she mostly stopped.

Her passion is sewing. She’s a pretty talented painter, too, even though she doesn’t do it anymore and will tell you she wasn’t very good. She can make a poster look like a framed painting, and I say with all honesty that I’ve never seen a Christmas tree as sugarplum-wonderful as hers.

That’s just the beginning, though. If you sit next to her on a plane, you’ll want to be her BFF by the time it lands. She’s empathetic, often to a fault. She’s been pulled over for speeding countless times, and has yet to get a single ticket. She’s the fiercest of the mama bears.

But the kitchen was never her favorite place. She did it all those years because she loved me. Because it’s what moms do.

So this morning I wished her happy Mother’s Day with these blueberry oat scones, which quickly disappeared over coffee and conversation. See, I handle the baking these days, since she handles pretty much everything else.

Recipe after the jump!
[click to continue…]

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Fennel Pear Salad

In my quest to prove I eat produce (declaration here, underneath the cupcake, and exhibit A here), I bring you this fennel-pear salad.

If I were one to play favorites, this one comes in second. And if I were one to make a list of favorite salads, here’s how the top three would line up:

  1. Avocado-Mango Salad with Queso Fresco, Bacon, and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
  2. Salad Pictured Above
  3. Fruit-Cheese Salad with Avocado, Feta, Tomato, Dried Cranberries, Toasted Walnuts, Bacon, and Green Apple

We’ll get to the first and third one, promise. But for now, let’s talk fennel, pear, and Parmesan.

This recipe comes from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, creator of the popular Orangette blog (please subscribe and join me in my girl crush). Molly has an uncanny ability to send me straight to the kitchen to recreate her Paris with French apple turnovers or some other slice of her life, and this salad was just the latest recipe of hers to become a minor obsession of mine.

As obsessions go, at least it’s a healthy one. Even if you aren’t a fennel fan, you should give it a go. The lemon juice seems to subdue the delicate licorice taste of fennel, creating a bright, crisp flavor that’s rounded out by the sweetness of the pears and the saltiness of Parmesan.

Before I send you off to the kitchen, though, I have to make a case for fresh, quality olive oil. We ran out of good oil two fennel pear salads ago, and the result was less remarkable. I bought a new bottle of my current favorite, Cobrancosa (get it at Con’Olio), and the fennel-pear salad sparkled once again.

Liquid gold, people.
[click to continue…]

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It’s easy eating greens

by April on April 27, 2012

Green Smoothie

As I said, I do eat more than cake.

Exhibit A: The green smoothie.

I swear I wasn’t holding out on you, I just didn’t think many people would be interested in drinking something green that didn’t include the words “tequila” and “on the rocks”. But I’ve been asked for this recipe so many times, by family, friends, and complete strangers, that I’m starting to think my assumption was all wrong. Maybe you want to drink your salad, too.

That sentence made this whole thing sound really unappealing.

Let’s just move on.

Why the green smoothie
A green smoothie is basically green foods — spinach, kale, mint, celery, etc. — and fruit thrown into a blender and poured into a glass. The reason for this drink’s existence is three-fold:

  1. I love a good juice bar, but juicing extracts the fiber from your produce. What did fiber ever do to deserve that? (The “experts” argue about juicing versus smoothies, but I’m not getting into that here. I’ve got your back, fiber!)
  2. Juice bars are expensive, and juicers can be, too. I also don’t want yet another kitchen appliance. But I already own a blender…
  3. Sometimes it’s 8 p.m. and I realize I haven’t eaten much green food that day. Eating a big salad is one option, but this is a faster one.

How to make a green smoothie [click to continue…]

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