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Running Hot and Cold – Summertime Bread Soup with Pesto

Things are really heating up around here, in more ways than one. First and foremost I want to give a big shout out to my fabulous mother who has been working hard to help P4P (penchant for produce) gain some more exposure. And she has done so with great success – the blog hits are certainly coming on more heavily and I am excited to have new readers. To all of the newcomers out there, thank you very much for taking the time to peruse my blog. I hope you come back and visit often and am looking forward to hearing your questions, comments, and suggestions! You are what makes writing this blog exciting!

But as I mentioned earlier, its been getting hot hot hot. The South has been experiencing a major heatwave and temperatures in my new home state of Tennessee have been in the high 90s and low 100s for the last few days. Unlike the Northeast summers of my childhood, where mornings would start cool and temperatures would rise gradually and peak in the afternoon cresting and then falling as the cool moved back in for the evening, the heat here in the American South is hard hitting and unrelenting. When I left the Yoga studio yesterday at 7AM it was already 87 degrees and the evening temperatures are not much better. And in times like these, when the sun will not relent, the folks down here do what they have always done to beat the heat: they wear wide brimmed hats, they eat Popsicles and drink ice cold beer, and, whenever possible, they stay indoors and crank up the AC.

Since arriving, I have felt as though I have been living in two entirely different climates. On one end of the spectrum there is the hot, humid and sunny outdoor climate, which I inhabit only briefly and in short spurts as I dash from indoor location to indoor location. On the opposite end is the cool, dry, and shaded indoor world where I spend most of my time. But the problem is that some places, (mostly restaurants, malls, and grocery stores) are downright cold! And while I am becoming more vigilant about bringing a sweater with me when we go out for dinner, when I walk into a meat locker like establishment from the outrageous heat outside I find myself searching the menu for something to warm up my once burning and now freezing arms and legs.

And this brings me to today’s post, a very comforting and surprisingly summery bread soup, inspired by yet another Ottolenghi recipe. This soup is entirely vegetarian and can even be made vegan by simply substituting olive oil for the butter I use to sautee the onions and fennel. The fennel is what makes this soup truly special, its slightly sweet and anisey flavor bring a great deal of freshness to the soup.

Be patient when sauteing the onions with the fennel, keep the heat fairly low (med or so) and don’t stir them too often. After 10 minutes the veggies should begin to caramelize. This light caramelization is possibly the most integral component in the soup as the sweet onions and fennel mellow the acidity of the otherwise dominant tomatoes. The recipe calls for a dollop of pesto which tops off the soup and gives it a great dose of fresh herby flavor. While I love Trader Joes I am not a huge fan of their pesto, I prefer the brighter flavors of a refrigerator pesto to a canned one for this dish – I have used the one from Costco with great success (it freezes well as well. Whole foods carries great pestos as well.

Summertime Bread Soup with Pesto

3 TBSP Butter
1 ½ Onions Sliced
1 Large Bulb of Fennel Sliced
4 Cloves Garlic Minced
3 Large Carrots, Peeled, Cut Lengthwise in Half and Sliced
3 Stalks of Celery Sliced
1 TBSP Tomato Paste
1 ½ Cup White Wine
1 28-Ounce Can Plum Tomatoes with Their Juice
1 TBSP Chopped Oregano
1 TBSP Chopped Fennel Fronds
1 TBSP Chopped Thyme
2 Bay Leaves
2 TSP Sugar
6 Cups Vegetable Stock Reduced
3 Large Slices Stale Italian Bread Well toasted and Cut into Small Cubes
2 Cans Chickpeas, Rinsed Well
Pesto
 
 

In a large sauce pan melt butter over medium heat. Add Onion, Fennel, and two small pinches of salt and sautee for 10 minutes or until fennel and onion turn golden and begin to caremelize. Add garlic, celery, and carrots and sautee 4 mins more.

Stir in the tomato paste and cook for an additional minute, stirring. Add wine and bring to a boil. After boiling for a minute or so add the tomatoes, herbs, sugar, and broth and bring to a boil again. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

While the soup is simmering place the chickpeas in a small bowl and lightly mash them with a potato masher. Some should remain whole while others will eventually melt into the soup.

When the soup has finished simmering taste and add salt and freshly cracked pepper as needed. Remember when adding salt that the dollop of pesto on top will add saltiness to the dish.

About 20 minutess before serving time add the chickpeas to the soup. Wait till about 5 minutes before to add the bread.

Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve topped with Pesto and a small sprinkling of fresh parsley.

Categories: Carrots, Celery, Soup, Tomato Tags: , , ,

A Legume Party – Smokey Baked Beans with Kielbasa

I cannot believe we are leaving on Friday, it still seems so unreal. Our belongings are almost completely packed away in boxes around the house, and its strange to open drawers and cabinets to find that the item I am searching for is tucked away in one of the brown boxes that line our walls. It is so strange to think that we will soon be leaving this apartment we have inhabited for so long, that I will no longer frequent the same restaurants, or shop in the same stores, or climb in the same gym after the end of this week. While I am excited to leave and to move on to a new scene in a new town my years in Delaware have been some of the best and I will certainly miss this place.

Last night we had a going away party for Dustin and countless members of the climbing gym came out to see him off. Thank you to everyone who came out, your presence meant so much to Dustin and to myself! We have learned so much from knowing each and everyone of you and will carry that with us as we move on to our new home in Nashville. We certainly will miss you! Our door is always open to visitors.

Now, before I get to sappy, lets move on and speak a bit about today’s featured recipe. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but these baked beans are pretty darn delicious. As the beans were simmering away in the oven the filled the home with the most amazing smoky sweet aroma. I could not wait to taste the final product! Like some other recipes featured here recently this one was inspired by a recipe in the June/July BBQ edition of Saveur and has been edited to meet our tastes. The initial recipe included significantly higher amounts of sugar which I reduced in the recipe below. If you prefer a sweeter dish feel free to adjust the amount of brown sugar to meet your liking.

Smokey Baked Beans with Kielbasa

1 lb. Smoked Kielbasa Cut into 1/2″ Round
10 Slices Bacon Cut into 1/2 Inch Strips
4 Cloves Garlic Minced
2 Medium Onions Diced
1 TBSP Thyme Minced
2 Cups Good Quality Barbeque Sauce (we used Trader Joe’s Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce)
3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1 Cup Beef Stock
1/4 Cup Molasses
1 TBSP Yellow Mustard
1 TSP Kosher Salt
4 15-oz. Cans Navy Beans Rinsed Well and Let Dry
1 16-oz. Can Whole Peeled San Marzano Style Tomatoes Crushed by Hand

Preheat oven to 300 degreese

Sear Kielbasa in a single layer in a small amount of oil in a pan on the stove (you may need to do this in batches.) Allow the sausage to brown, remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Repeat the process with the bacon, browning in the bottom of the same pan and removing with a slotted spoon.

There should be around 4 TBSP of Grease in the bottom of the pan, if there is more remove excess with a spoon. Saute the garlic, onion, and thyme in the pan until translucent.

Add BBQ Sauce, Stock, Sugar, Molasses, Mustard, Salt and some good cracks of black pepper and allow to simmer. Add beans and stir gently. Break tomatoes into the pot by hand and stir again until just mixed. Taste for seasoning, remembering that the beans will reduce slightly, making the flavors stronger.

Put a lid on the pot and place in the oven, allow the mixture to bubble away in the oven for around 2 hours, removing the lid half way through baking.

Carefully remove the pot from the oven and taste for seasoning. Add additional salt and pepper as needed.

Spread the Love Around – Sweet Corn Succotash with Cumin

I know I have already shared with you a bit about my love of sweet and juicy summer corn. It’s funny because I have not always been a big fan of this great North American staple. Perhaps I was negatively influenced by one too many ears of the severely over boiled and gummy back yard barbecue variety, but in my first year as member of a downtown Philly CSA I left my share of corn in the swap basket on an almost weekly basis. It was not until the end of the season when I arrived one day to collect my share that I came upon the end of the collection line to find the swap basket completely empty. I debated for several moments over leaving the ears for another taker but, as the remainder of the share was a bit sparse, I shoved the 7 ears in my bag and trudged home determined to make my glut of corn into something palatable.

As usual, when I finally battled my way through Saturday morning traffic and out of the city, I arrived home to lay my CSA bootie on the kitchen counter and started to think over possible uses for each ingredient in the trove. Part of that early August share included a block of locally produced farmers cheese, beautiful brown free range eggs, a pint of cherry tomatoes, a loaf of seeded italian bread, a bag of brilliantly verdant green beans, a small slab of thick-cut Amish Country bacon, and, of course, the 7 ears of late season Jersey corn.

As I hold as one of my primary cooking tenets that any vegetable can be made to taste good when sautéed with smokey bacon, I set about searching online for recipes that paired the week’s lancaster county porky delight with the over abundance of bi-color corn that lay in a heap on the counter. I included in my searched other veggies from the week’s share such as greens beans, and tomatoes and what appeared on my screen was recipe after recipe for an old style american classic – succotash. Now, my impression of succotash at that point in time was less than stellar, my prior experiences with the dish had been in college where the vegetable melange was likely poured straight from the freezer bag into a large vat and either boiled or steam to death. This resulted in a seemingly creative and deceptively colorful side dish, which was unfortunately totally devoid of flavor.

I decided to run with the idea anyway and cooked up a recipe for my own rendition of the classic that incorporated the week’s bounty of tomatoes and green beans. The result was very similar to the dish you will find a recipe for below. From time to time I tweak the dish by adding zippy hot peppers like jalapeños or faintly spicy and slightly smokey Poblanos, occasionally, I substitute parsley or cilantro for the basil I initially incorporated but for this meal I selected the simple sweetness of the basil and cumin scented corn mixture as I thought it would nicely complement the spicy and herbaceous steak with salsa verde from my most recent post, which accompanied this dish on the table that evening.

I’m not sure what initially made me reach for cumin when I concocted this recipe but, amazingly, it really works here. Its earthy qualities nicely balance the bright summer vegetables and accentuate the smokiness of the bacon. A strong punch of garlic rounds out the dish and propels the flavors into another dimension. Making this dish reminds me of stir-frying, in fact, I recommend cooking it in a very large cast iron skillet or, alternatively, a wok, which will be large enough to house all of the vegetables while still allowing the cook to stir comfortably.

Although all of the ingredients end up in the same frying pan, they are added at different times and thus, need to remain separate until cooking. The bacon, corn, tomatoes, and green beans can all be prepped ahead of time. The bacon should be thinly sliced and may be rendered in a large pot on the stove several hours before it is needed. If doing this step ahead remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve until needed. The bacon fat should be kept and can be stored in the pan (if you’re planning to cook it relatively soon) or alternatively poured into a small heat resistant dish and chilled until needed.

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At least an hour before cooking you will want to start on trimming the beans and cutting them roughly into thirds. Place these in a small prep bowl. The tomatoes should be cut in half length wise and should occupy their own prep bowl. There are many fancy apparatuses sold on the market that can be used to cut corn from the cob but I think a paring knife works just fine. Try to pick corn that have a little piece of the stalk remaining at the base and keep this on when you shuck the corn. Using the small stem as a handle hold the corn vertically (upside down so to speak, as the narrow end will be at the bottom) and slice down the length of the ear remaining fairly close to the cob. I recommend doing this on a large cutting board as the kernels have a tendency to run amok and fly of the edge of your workspace – setting out a larger space might well be a good idea. As I have mentioned in a previous post I love the frozen garlic that comes frozen in small cubes from Trader Joes but, if using fresh garlic, mince this just before cooking as allowing it to sit in the open for too long will alter the flavor.

I hope your family loves this as much as mine does, leftovers can be stored and reheated or served at room temperature as a side salad of sorts. Enjoy!

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Sweet Corn Succotash with Bacon

2 TSP Cumin Seeds Toasted and Ground
6 Slices of Thick-Cut Bacon Sliced into Segments about as Wide as Your Index Finger
1 Pint of Grape Tomatoes, Halved Lenth-Wise
1 lb. of Green Beans, Trimmed and Cut Roughly into Thirds
5 Ears of Corn, Kernels Sliced from the Cob (see above for my personal method)
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
10-15 Large Basil Leaves, Cut into a Chiffonade
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Sauté bacon in a large cast-iron skillet or wok until fat has rendered and bacon is crisp. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Do not wash pan.

Over medium heat add the garlic to the bacon fat and sauté until fragrant. Add the green beans and cumin and sauté until just slightly tender.

Add the corn and stir, followed almost immediately by the tomatoes. Sauté until just warmed.

Remove the pan from the heat and add basil. Stir in salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and serve warm.

Why I Love Home Goods – Israeli Couscous Salad with Sardines and Tomatoes

I love Home Goods. I really love Home Goods. If you don’t have a Home Goods (which is related to Marshalls and TJ Maxx and sells, well, home goods, at a mere fraction of other store’s prices) near you, I’m sorry, you’re missing out. The one near us is simply phenomenal (the selection from store to store tends to vary quite a bit, I have been in others that aren’t quite as good). I love to go in on days when its not too busy and make a B Line towards the gourmet foods section some days the finds are better than others at times the selection may be quite slim but I still always find some cool new spice or or salt or jam to take home and add to the arsenal I keep in the pantry for which I use when I need some inspiration to a dish (or in times of desperation when I get back from a business trip to find that there is no fresh produce in the house and raid the pantry in hopes of scrounging up something meal-worthy.)

On this particular trip the selection was amazing, I got some great nut oils (walnut and hazelnut) and can of stir fry oil which is flavored with ginger and garlic, I also came across some high quality hot smoked Spanish Paprika, which I love to add to sauteed greens for breakfast. Nestled in among some salts on the bottom shelf were some small tins of cured fish. I selected some smoked mackerel and a container of smoked trout, a tin of herring, and a small can of Portuguese sardines in Peri Peri sauce which I put to use in today’s featured recipe which is a take on a great recipe for Pearled Cous Cous with Roasted Tomatoes which I found on Smitten Kitchen last summer and immediately fell in love with.

While we are speaking of favorite things, I have used a particular favorite ingredient in this recipe that I want to talk a little more about. Garlic. Specifically Raw Garlic that I buy FROZEN from Trader Joes. It comes in a little flat that looks like a miniature ice cube tray and holds small squares of frozen minced garlic which are each equivalent to approximately one large clove. I am a garlic junkie so I used two in this recipe which I put in a large mixing bowl with the oil and allow to simultaneously thaw and infuse the olive oil with its garlicy goodness while I prepare the remaining ingredients for the dish.

While we are on the topic of specific ingredients lets talk about sardines. Before you wrinkle your nose let me tell you I was a bit apprehensive about what to do with them once I opened the can and peered inside at chunks of silvery fish which included both skin and spine. I am assured that you can eat both but I slit them in half and removed the spine before slivering the flesh into the salad. I might recommend to other first timers that you follow a similar path. To other more experienced sardine eaters, please, by all means, eat the fish spine and all, I am told there is good calcium in doing it this way but I will stick to my gut for now and keep taking the spines out (I have to say the spine removal process is a very simple procedure – hardly a taxing surgery by normal cooking standards.) If you’re really not sure about the fish, leave them out, I wont stop you, but you’ll be missing out on the hint of salty ocean flavor they bring to this Mediterranean summer dish. The salad makes a great side dish for a summer feast, it would go well with a simple meal of grilled meats or vegetable kabobs and is perfect for a summer picnic.

Israeli Couscous Salad with Sardines and Tomatoes

3/4 Cup Puy Lentils
1 Bay Leaf
2 Cups Israeli Couscous
2.5 Cups Chicken Broth
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
2 Cloves Minced Garlic
1 Quart Grape Tomatoes Cut in Half Lengthwise
1/2 Cup Olives Chopped
1/4 Cup Basil Cut into a Chiffonade
2-3 TBSP Lemon Juice
1 Tin of Sardines in Peri Peri Sauce, Spine Removed and Flesh Flaked.
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper

Bring a medium pan of water to a boil, add lentils and bay leaf and reduce to a simmer, simmer until just tender, approximately 20 minutes. When just tender remove pot from heat, drain lentils and run under cold water until cooled.

While Lentils are cooking bring chicken broth to a boil in a separate pot, once boiling add couscous and simmer uncovered for approximately 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let it stand for 20 minutes until cooled.

Place garlic in a large mixing bowl with the olive oil while you halve the tomatoes and chop the olives and basil. Place the tomatoes, olives, and basil in the bowl with the garlic and olive oil and mix. Add couscous, lentils, and lemon juice and stir. Add flaked sardine meat and taste for seasoning.

Add salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste.

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