Winter Minestrone

1513974_10151948350970326_269901050_nWhat to eat on a cold snowy night? Soup! Duh! This is one of my absolute favorites, it works for everyone – it’s hearty so meat lovers won’t mind, and it’s completely vegetarian, and can easily be vegan by making sure you choose vegan products. Most importantly it’s packed with nutrition and its delicious! I like to serve this with toasted sourdough or a rosemary ciabatta roll. Also, you can chop the veggies as fine or as large as you like, I prefer a chunky soup so I tend to chunk up the veggies rather than dice them, your call!

What you need:

  • 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 3 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (or more to your taste! I really use like 5 but that’s a lot for some people)
  • pinch of dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano
  • 1 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes (preferably without salt added)
  • 1 quart vegetable broth/stock (you can substitute chicken broth/stock if you like)
  • 1 14-ounce can of cannelini beans
  • 1 bunch kale, center rib removed and leaves shredded
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 box of ditalini pasta, cooked
  • freshly grated Parmesan, for serving

What you do:

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat (I used a large dutch oven, but any large pot will do). Add the veggies and cook, stirring occasionally until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flake, oregano and rosemary and cook another minute. Add the can of tomatoes and the broth, and bring to a boil. Once the soup is boiling cover and reduce heat to low, cook for 25 minutes. While the soup is cooking, prepare the ditalini pasta according to the package. After the soup has simmered, add the beans and the kale to the soup and let it wilt. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  ( You can also add more herbs to taste at this point as well) Right before serving stir in the red wine vinegar. Serve with a sprinkle in Parmesan cheese.

Meatballs…Versatility On a Plate!

So, it was Friday, and I realized that I had a really busy weekend and upcoming week! I needed to multi-task! So I made my meatballs! Why not, they’re perfect and logical. I can bring them over to the Easter party, I can throw them in with some pasta (and that can be all pretty with spaghetti and garlic bread, or just whatever I got in the pantry), and I can even do subs. That’s three meals, they keep well in the freezer, I can’t think of a reason why not to, and my meatballs are sooooooooooooooo good! So, here it is, I will do my best to give you the recipe, cause it’s one I sort of concocted in my head from many many other recipes.

Now, if I was doing this for one meal I would only use a pound of meat, yesterday I used two because I knew I needed some for the party (I roll these into smaller bite sized meatballs and use the crock pot, which I will get to later) and some for subs, and some for slop (blog to come later about slop, uses for all the crap in your pantry!). So here is my recipe for one batch, you can easily adjust it for your needs, my measurements aren’t exact, and you can customize it to your tastes, the important part is the method!

Ok, So start with half an onion (I prefer a BIG Spanish or sweet onion), finely chopped. When you’re done with the onion, and done wiping away the tears from your eyes go for the garlic, I really like garlic so I used 4 or 5 really big garlic cloves, or you can get some elephant garlic and use a clove or two of that. Elephant Garlic has a slightly more mild flavor, so if you like the aroma but don’t want all that bite try it! Again mince the garlic very fine (if you’re feeling lazy buy the minced garlic in a jar, I prefer fresh, but not everybody has the time/patience to deal with it). In a large skillet over medium heat, heat up three tablespoons of olive oil. Toss in the onion and garlic. Saute until soft and just starting to color. Now here is my trick, to create a flavor payload add your spices to the onion garlic mixture. I used (and these are rough estimates, adjust to your taste) 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon fresh cracked pepper, 2 teaspoons dried rosemary, oregano, parsley, and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (again, if you don’t have all that stuff just get some Italian seasoning, McCormick makes a ‘grinder’ version that is pretty good, I actually use it on garlic bread). By bringing all the aromatics together and letting them get all happy in the pan they really have a big impact, and they have plenty of time to mingle and create the flavor you are looking for in the end.

Remove the onion/garlic/herb mixture and let cool for about 10 minutes. In another bowl add your meat. Now I think I said earlier a pound of ground beef, you don’t have to use ground beef, it is just what I prefer. Many people like to use equal parts beef, pork and veal. I personally can’t stand veal or pork, so I don’t use it. But I hear it does give even more of an incredible flavor, so by all means if you like that stuff, do it up!

Add the onion mixture, 1/3 cup of freshly grated Romano (you can use Parmesan too, just don’t use the stuff in the green canister! Invest in a good chunk of Parmesan or Romano and you can grate/shave it over anything at anytime it keeps forever!) and three eggs to the bowl with the meat. Yes, that’s right THREE eggs per pound of meat! Think of this like you are making little Italian meatloaves. This really gives you the texture you want. You don’t want little rocks of beef, you want delicious fluffy herbalicious goodness! With your hands, lets not be prissy here, mix it all really really well. If you are a little grossed out by this get some rubber gloves (like latex gloves but without powder, ick doesn’t taste good in your food!) or this is a great way to get the kids involved! When all the ingredients are really really well mixed add 3/4 cup of breadcrumbs. I like the Italian seasoned ones for a little extra herb kick. Just go for the regular breadcrumbs though, not the panko or anything else, they don’t stand up to the abuse they will endure. Anyway, mix in the breadcrumbs, you want the mixture to be sticky but not wet, so add more breadcrumbs as you see fit. The mixture should be almost dough like. Then you are ready to get rolling!

Break out a big plate, tray or platter to rest the meatballs. You will also need a small bowl full of more of the breadcrumbs. I like to use a small ice cream scoop for this, but feel free to eyeball it. Scoop up a little of the mixture and roll it around in between the palms of you hands gently to form a ball. Then put it in the bowl of breadcrumbs and give it a nice little coating and then place on tray and move on to the next little bundle of yum! Keep going until you have used up all the meat mixture.

In a large frying pan, preferably a deep one (you can use a large pot if you don’t have a deep skillet or frying pan), heat a 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium-high, you may need to add more, you want the olive oil to come at least a quarter of the way up on your meatballs. When the oil is hot, place the meatballs in the pan gently, leave at least an inch between each meatball. You may have to do a couple batches. When  you take out the meatballs that are done just put them back on the tray. Too many meatballs in the pan are bad because they decrease the temperature and they will stick together, the idea here is to create a nice brown crust on the outside of the meatballs. This should only take a few minutes, just rotate them and make sure they brown entirely on the outside and have a nice crust, but not burnt!

After all the meatballs have a nice crust, drain the pan. Then pour in a batch of your favorite red sauce. I prefer the basic marinara sauce from GiadaDeLaurentis , but regular Prego is really good to when you are in a pinch, in fact I like it better than almost all the other fancy jars out there. Place the meatballs back into the sauce and bring the sauce to a simmer, allow to simmer for at least half an hour. At that point I usually check by taking out one meatball and cutting it in half, it its is no longer pink they are good to go. I like to let them simmer a little longer if I can to let the flavors really meld. You can also do this step in a crock pot on low heat for an hour and then adjust to warm and allow to sit until ready to serve or store.

You are now ready to serve! The best part! On top of pasta, all by their lonesome (actually this is really good with some freshly grated Romano cheese on top for an appetizer course, it’ s called polpette) or on a sub. For a sub get some sub rolls of your liking (I like to get the garlic ciabatta bread from Market Basket and cut in half for two large subs) and place a couple of pieces of provolone on them and toast for a few minutes under the broiler so the cheese starts to melt, then top with meatballs and more Romano cheese! Delish!! Store in an air tight container in the fridge for up to a week, longer than that I suggest freezing them. For reheating purposes I highly recommend doing it over low to medium heat on the stovetop. Bon Appetit!!

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Lasagna…and yes the garlic knots were awesome!

So I made lasagna and garlic knots last night for dinner (see the post on ramuntos garlic knots for recipe) it was pretty delicioso! The lasagna was simple meat lasagna, I bought the noodles you don’t have to cook, because I was tired and lazy, they do the trick. (but if you have time and patience go with the traditional) The recipe is the same regardless of the noodles, grab grandmas old casserole dish spread a little of your favorite sauce on the bottom of the dish (oooh my sauce will be a post on its own!) then layer about three noodles, slather on more sauce, a little ricotta cheese,  and some browned ground meat. I don’t do pork or veal so before I start assembling my lasagna I brown up some good ground beef with a little salt and italian seasoning, but you can also use ground veal, pork or even sausage (works best if you take it out of the linings). Anyway, then I top the beef with a hearty dose of grated mozzarella. Continue the layers about three times (noodles, sauce, ricotta, meet, cheese) and then finish fits a few more noodles and a lot more cheese, bake at 375 for about an hour depending on your stove (last night it only took 45 minutes).   Make the garlic knots at the same time, I started mine after I put the lasagna in the oven, takes about 40 minutes to prepare them and 20 minutes to cook, and you want to eat the right away! And if you don’t need to feed an army, then you will have plenty of leftovers, which is what I did for dinner tonight, and it may have been even better tonight, just be sure to reheat everything in the oven (cover the garlic knots though, so they don’t burn) much better texture than using the microwave.

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Yummy Panini!

So sometimes, even when we have the best intentions of going out for dinner we all get lazy! So, I got a panini maker for christmas and decided to christen it finally with one of my fave meals of all time, Caprese Panini! Delish! I got a nice loaf of ciabatta, fresh vine ripened tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil. The operative word here is FRESH! I brushed the ciabatta with olive oil and italian seasoning, and then i topped the panini with the fresh toppings and drizzled with a good balsamic and threw it on the panini maker, until golden brown delicious, it was heavenly!  A one way ticket to flavor town baby! The best part is that this meal works for any season! Maybe for something really hearty add some italian cold cuts to the sandwich or maybe a side of pasta, and in the summer a fresh salad, maybe caesar? So grab some fresh ingredients and start cooking, it’s too cold to go outside in January!!!

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