Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday brunch

A beautiful Sunday brunch, with a gathering of close friends.  Lots of good food, good conversation, and laughs. 

Spumante mimosas
Creamed dried beef over toast
Zucchini frittata
Sliced yellow tomatoes with mozzarella, dressed with garlic oil and pesto
Oven-roasted Italian sausage
Steak fries
Golden raisin muffins
Nectarine pandowdy
Homemade jams -- strawberry, fig, apricot
Coffee, tea

Couldn't have asked for a nicer afternoon.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday in the kitchen

A productive day in the kitchen -- roasted a big pile of red peppers, steamed a few artichokes, and made a pot of pasta e ceci.

I've posted here about roasted peppers before.  The peppers at Gentile's Produce Market were magnificent and cheap -- $1.49/lb.  I bought two grocery sacks full.

I haven't written about steaming or stuffing artichokes, and I should.  Add that one to the list.

 Steamed artichokes, perfumed with lemon and olive oil. 

As for the pasta e ceci, it's a typical bean and pasta soup that's a staple in every Italian kitchen, a minestrone.  Every recipe is identical and different at the same time.  I'll outline a very basic recipe that you can modify to your needs and tastes.

2 large onions
2 large carrots
a big stalk of celery
6 cloves of garlic

Coarsely chop the veggies, and then process in your food processor until finely chopped.  This is what Lidia Bastianich calls her "pestata."  (Others call it a soffritto, but it's much the same thing.)  It's an excellent base for soups, stews, and the like.

In a large Dutch oven, warm 1/4 cup olive oil.  Add the pestata, a bay leaf, and sprig or two of thyme.  Saute the pestata until it starts to color.

Add two 14-oz cans of chick peas ("ceci"), drained, to the pot.  Add 6 cups stock (or water, if you want to keep this wholly vegetarian).

Cut up three ripe tomatoes into large chunks.  Process into a puree.  Add to the pot.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer about 20 minutes until the chick peas are tender.  Salt and pepper as necessary.  Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.  Drop an immersion blender into the pot and puree a bit, leaving some beans whole. 

Add 1/2 pound of ditalini or tubettini pasta.  Bring again to a boil, and cook until the pasta is just tender.  Turn off the heat.  Taste for seasoning.  Add a handful of chopped parsley at the end if you'd like -- it adds a nice color and flavor.  Serve in soup plates.  Drizzle with some olive oil, and pass grated cheese at the table. 

This soup is always better the next day.

Variations on a theme:  Saute bacon or pancetta in the olive oil before adding the pestata.  If you don't have chick peas, any bean will do -- cannellini, pinto, navy, kidney.  If you used dried split peas, you'd have pea soup.  If you don't have fresh tomatoes, use canned whole tomatoes and crush them with your hands before adding.  If all you have is tomato paste, that'll work, too.  Add it to the sauteing pestata, then add your stock or water.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Facebook fig jam

Chalk this recipe up to Facebook!

I recently friended an old high-school friend, Lisa F., on Facebook.  It's been YEARS since we've seen each other, very possibly since we graduated high school sometime in the last century.  (OK, OK, it was 33 years ago.  Happy now?)

Just last weekend Lisa posted on Facebook that the fig tree in her backyard was producing ripe fruit at an alarming pace, and was there anyone out there who'd like some of it?  I chimed right in -- sure, I'll make fig jam.

I went over that afternoon (she lives nearby), and picked up about 5 pounds of beautifully ripe, sweet, dark figs, picked just that morning off her tree.

Just getting reacquainted after so many years was a delight, and the fruit was a wonderful dividend.  I promised Lisa a couple jars of jam.

Got up early this morning and made some fig jam.  Nothing fancy -- figs, sugar, a bit of lemon juice, pinch of salt.  Cook, jars, process, cool.  I rely upon the National Center for Home Food Preservation for my recipes.  I used their Fig Jam without added pectin recipe.  Can't go wrong.  As I've mentioned in previous jammy posts, making jam is not difficult, but it helps to have a couple specialized tools handy, like a jar lifter, a canning funnel, a candy thermometer, and a big steel (not aluminum) stock pot. 

Cut-up figs and sugar, ready to cook.

Staging area, at the ready.

Figs and sugar, boiling hard.

Eight jars of beautiful fig jam. 

Remind me to tell the story of the Italian word for 'fig' some day.