Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sunday supper: Pasta e fagioli

For some people, "Sunday suppers" are big affairs...lots of boisterous family conversation, potluck dishes lining lace tablecloths in grandparents' houses, and old family recipes being prepared lovingly for the thousandth time.

I admit I love the idea of a traditional Sunday dinner. But since there are only four of us in our house, and most of our relatives are a 5-hour plane ride away, I can't muster up the energy to make it a big thing. Instead I've come up with a new take on Sunday supper. I call it Sunday Supper Soup.

I'm not talking about cracking open a can of Campbell's chicken noodle. I'm talking about a made-from-scratch, simmering-on-the-stove-for-hours, seasoning-and-tasting-until-it's-just-right kind of soup. There's just something about Sunday afternoons that inspires that kind of cooking; especially now that the weather has cooled down.

Last Sunday, I was really excited to try out a recipe for Pasta e Fagioli that I found on The Foodinista's website. When I saw it was her father's recipe and required a lot of pureeing, seasoning, and tasting, I knew it would be perfect for Sunday Supper Soup.

I did spend quite a bit of time laboring over this soup. It requires some TLC, not because the recipe is difficult but because there are a few different steps; it's not the kind of soup that just requires you to dump a bunch of stuff into a pot and bring it to a boil (although those can be great too). The thing is, the TLC pays off. This soup tastes rich and nourishing in a way that none of those "throw stuff in a pot" soups can. My husband actually declared it to be one of the best things I've ever made. And I've made a lot of great stuff, let me tell you.

I've never made pasta e fagioli before, so I can't compare this recipe to any others. But I really can't imagine finding a better one. I do agree with The Foodinista that it can get a little thick, but adding a little more broth or water will fix that right up. And, of course, like any quality soup, this needs to be served alongside a big chunk of crusty bread.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Better late than never

For years I've been reading article after article, blog post after blog post, tip after tip about meal planning. It's the best way to save money! It will eliminate stress from your life! You won't yell at your kids as much during dinner time! It will make you thinner, richer, and more beautiful! (well, maybe not that last one, although it makes a skewed kind of sense if you think about it).

Anyway, the point is that meal planning is heavily touted. And for good reason - if you plan out a week's worth of meals, go shopping for all the ingredients you need, and prepare as much as you can ahead of time, you won't have to drive yourself crazy figuring out what to make for dinner, or make last-minute grocery runs at 5:00 when everyone else in their mother is at the store.

Despite completely agreeing with the logic behind meal planning, however, I can never bring myself to do it. What scares me away is that big chunk of time I need to dedicate to planning the meals, writing out the super-long grocery list, and making one big grocery trip. I do have an excuse in that I rarely get the chance to go to the store alone, and buying more than 15 things with the girls in tow causes me endless stress, which would negate the positive effects of meal planning.

So what I've decided to do is meal planning lite. Instead of planning 5 nights worth of dinners, I will plan two fairly nice, elaborate dinners each week (ideally things that can be reheated and eaten as leftovers), and then fly by the seat of my pants for the rest of the nights.

This week I am planning ahead to make Pasta e Fagioli (courtesy of The Foodinista), and Salmon with Lentils.  To prepare, I've pre-chopped all of the ingredients and put them into bowls. Then when it comes time to cook, I can simply dump the ingredients into the saute pan or pot instead of frantically chopping my onion while the garlic burns in the pan.

I feel less stressed already...and I bet by the end of the week my crow's feet will have diminished substantially.

PS - I'll post the results of my two experimental dishes to let you know how they turned out.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Soup to stave off the sickies

As I walked into Whole Foods, filled with self-pity for all the sniffling, sneezing, and phlegm-expelling I'd been doing over the last week, a little pamphlet by the front door caught my eye. I saw the words "COLD, "FLU," then..."Better Than Chicken Soup!" I immediately grabbed the pamphlet and flipped through it--praying for a recipe or a remedy that would help me out. 

Given the sorry state of my health at the time, if they had recommended boiling crocodile chunks and pureeing them with liverwurst I probably would have tried it. But the recipe for a comforting, semi-spicy miso broth soup made from a variety of immunity-boosting ingredients actually sounded good. I grabbed all of the ingredients I needed and headed home to whip up a giant pot of the stuff. Wow, was it good. It wasn't good in the same decadent way that buffalo chicken dip with Tostitos scoops is good. It was good in that homey, nourishing, delicious, "I know this is really good for me, but it actually tastes great too" way. I don't even like two of the ingredients (butternut squash and kale), but I liked them in this soup.

Here's the recipe (courtesy of Whole Foods):

1 small yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
4 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth (I used chicken)
1 tsp ground turmeric
8 fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 1/2 cups julienned fresh kale
1 cup cubed butternut squash
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)*
6 thin slices astragalus root (optional)**
Juice of 1 fresh lemon
1 tsp miso paste

*Instead of cayenne pepper, I used a few squirts of sriracha, an Asian hot sauce that looks like this:

**I had no idea what astragalus root was, and neither did the guy working in the Whole Foods produce section, so I left it out. 

In a large pot over medium-high heat, cook onion and garlic in 2 tbsp broth, stirring occasionally, until tender and most of the broth has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add a splash of broth if needed to keep onion from sticking, then stir in turmeric and mushrooms and cook until mushrooms are tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in remaining broth, kale, squash, ginger, cayenne and astragalus. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, then add lemon juice and miso (adding more miso when still very hot will diminish it's probiotic benefits). Cover and let sit 5 minutes before serving.

I was so excited when this soup turned out great. It's the type of soup I can imagine making over and over again throughout the years. I can picture my kids away at college in 15 years, telling their roommates "My mom made this AMAZING soup whenever we were sick, and it made us feel a million times better. It was like magic!" 

I should point out, this soup is actually intended to prevent illness, rather than cure it. So even if you're feeling great, you might want to start eating some so you can keep feeling that way. 

Wishing everyone a healthy flu season!