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.

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