Sunday, December 10, 2017

Minestrone, a Hearty Winter Warm Up

2017 Minestrone
My hunt for a seriously good minestrone recipe continues, both in casual dining restaurants and in my own kitchen at home. Some days inspiration comes from colorful Pinterest photos or intriguing cookbook recipes, or more often develops as a random, freeform exploration featuring seasonal produce in the fridge. This week's version, an adaptation of Ina Garten's Hearty Winter Minestrone, was declared a success. Not surprising since Ina's recipes rarely disappoint. You'll find her original recipe online here and in her 2012 cookbook Barefoot Contessa Foolproof.

I took some liberties with the ingredient list, added a few vegetables and omitted others, changed the pasta, used leftover prosecco rather than white wine... and it was still delicious. Adaptability is what makes minestrone such an amazing soup, but don't just take my word for it.
"If all were right in the world, there would be as many recipes for minestrone - the Italian soup of simmered vegetables and beans- as there have been individual pots of it cooked. That's because it's really more of a process than a fixed recipe." J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
Read more of Kenji's lengthy but interesting Food Lab treatise on minestrone here for some history, basic technique, ingredient suggestions, and a kettleful of researched fact and opinion.

My previous minestrone soups varied widely in flavor and ingredients, some more successful than others, and have combined fresh, frozen and boxed or canned ingredients. Perhaps incorporating dried beans and their cooking liquid will boost the next  kettle of soup to the next level of layered flavors. For now, I'm happy to work with this recipe again. Thanks for the inspiration, Ina, and thanks, Kenji for the encouragement to stray from a written recipe.

2015 Minestrone
2013 Minestrone
2012 Minestrone
2011 Minestrone 
2010 Minestrone

A 2017 Winter Minestrone

from an Ina Garten recipe
serves 6 to 8

2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 strips of thick-sliced bacon, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cups carrots, chopped
4 large stalks celery, chopped
1 sweet pepper, chopped (I used a poblano instead)
2 Tablespoons garlic, peeled & chopped
2 teaspoons Italian herb mix (Penzeys)
1 heaping teaspoon dried basil
2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes with juice
8 cups low-sodium chicken stock, divided
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper, to taste
1 can small white beans, drained & rinsed
2 cups cabbage, chopped (I used Napa)
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 cup green beans, chopped (I used frozen)
4 cups fresh baby spinach, loosely packed
1/2 cup white wine (I used prosecco, because it was open)
2 cups cooked small pasta, tubes or small shells
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, &/or a gremolata mix of parsley, garlic and lemon zest for serving

1. Use a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven and heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until lightly browned but not crisp. 

2. Add the onion, carrots, celery, pepper, garlic, Italian herbs and basil to the pot and cook until the vegetables begin to soften.

3. Add tomatoes with their juices, 6 cups of chicken stock and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender.

4. Add white beans, cabbage, zucchini and green beans; cook until heated through and cabbage is slightly softened. Add remaining chicken broth as needed, though minestrone should be fairly thick.
Taste and adjust seasonings (typically more salt and occasionally some hot sauce).
5. Add the wine and spinach; stir in until greens wilt. 

6. Spoon equal portions of cooked pasta, about 1/3 cup each, into individual soup bowls; ladle the soup over the the pasta. Top each with Parmesan and/or gremolata and serve.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Brownie Crackle Cookies

What could possibly be better than an ooey, gooey, fudgey, still-warm, double chocolate brownie? Mmmmm, not much since this chocolate lover finds brownies nearly irresistible, BUT a whole brownie can be too much of a good thing. Finishing a brownie calls for commitment. Ta da! Brownie Crackle Cookies to the rescue, for those moments when just one bite will suffice. Not as densely chocolatey as a fudgey brownie, these cookies still scored a two-thumbs up rating from my chief taste tester.

The recipe comes from a box of Ghiradelli Double Chocolate Brownie mix, the blend with chocolate chips already in the package. My pantry always holds a box or two of brownie mix for emergencies (don't judge). I added a handful of chopped walnuts to this batch for a bit of crunch, an optional addition we enjoyed enough to repeat. 

Yesterday's not-so-much "emergency" was more a matter of timing, I needed a simple but delicious snack in a hurry. These cookies were just that - simple to mix and delicious to eat. A box mix designed for 16 brownies instead produced 3 dozen cookies, enough to serve afternoon guests and still have some left for the cookie jar. Win, win!

Brownie Crackle Cookies
yields approx 2-1/2 to 3 dozen cookies

1 box Ghiradelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix
1 cup flour
3 eggs
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup walnut pieces, chopped (optional)
3/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats.

Stir together the brownie mix and flour in a medium bowl. Add the eggs and oil; stir until blended. Add the nuts and stir to mix.

Measure the powdered sugar into a small bowl.
Use two tablespoons or a small cookie scoop to form tablespoon-sized balls of dough. Roll each ball gently in powdered sugar to coat completely. Place the sugar-coated balls about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake 11-13 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through.

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