Soups & Salads

Ribollita

Ribollita

 

With autumn’s arrival thoughts of what to cook naturally veer towards warming heartier fare with richer earthier flavors that lift the spirit and warm the cockles as temperatures wane. Soup, soup, and more soups is what fall cooking is all about. Fortunately locally grown late summer and fall vegetables are available until the first deep frost. So, as the old saying goes, best to make hay while the sun shines. Cook up plenty of beautiful healthy and hearty fall soups to serve as main courses throughout fall and make more to freeze that will surely brightening up meals when the winter months drag on.

Over centuries frugal rural Italian cooks relied entirely on  locally grown produce as the main staple in their diets. Cooking methods for making deeply flavored foods out of readily available local ingredients evolved into what contemporary Italians now call cucina povre. Rustic vegetable based soups like minestrone and ribollita, as well as vegetable stews have became Italian classics.

In fact Minestrone dates back to the Romans although the popularized canned variety we are all familiar with worldwide has little semblance to what you will find coming out of rural Italian kitchens even today. Minestrone is a vegetable soup that includes a variety of seasonal vegetables and usually includes pasta or rice and sometimes meats.

Much less well known is Ribollita, a thick, rustic, infinity healthy, and abundantly flavorsome Tuscan vegetable soup that is much more to my liking. Ribolitta begins with a sofritto (battuto) of finely diced onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and chopped parsley that is slowly braised in olive oil until the vegetables are very soft and deeply flavorful. Tomatoes and cooked beans are then added, along with liquid to cover, and cooked for another half hour or so. Then, traditionally, cavolo nero (black kale) is added along with herbs and seasonings and simmered. Finally torn day old bread is added to the soup and cooked until softened. Serving ribollita Tuscan style with a flourish of fruity extra virgin olive oil is pure perfection.

Cavolo nero may be hard to find, but not to worry. A deep green kale or a combination of kale and spinach will do just fine. 

Cavolo Nero

Cavolo Nero

Ribollita     serves 6 to 8

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups finely diced onions
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 ¾ cups finely diced celery
  • 1 ½ cups finely diced carrots
  • 1 cup loosely packed chopped Italian parsley leaves
  • 8 canned whole imported Italian tomatoes , juice drained and reserved for another use
  • 1 can/240g imported Italian cannelini or borlotti beans with their liquid
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4 big bunches cavolo nero or kale, center ribs and stems removed, leaves chopped
  • spinach leaves, chopped (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cup diced zucchini (optional)
  • 4 thick slices day old country bread, torn into bits
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon of pure ground red chile powder (optional)
  • extra virgin olive oil to finish

 

Equipment: A Dutch oven with a lid or a deep wide pan with lid.

Prepare all your vegetables before you begin cooking.

Place the pan on the stove top over medium low flame. Add the olive oil to the pan and when hot add the onions and stir to coat them with the oil. Cook for several minutes until the onions are translucent. Then stir in the garlic, celery, carrots, and parsley. Stir to evenly coat the ingredients with oil and reduce the heat to low. Partially cover the pan with the lid and braise for 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to very low if the ingredients are browning to much. They can be lightly colored but you want to avoid any scorched flavor.

Once the vegetables are softened add the drained tomatoes to the pan, breaking them up with a wooden spoon while stirring them into the vegetable mixture. Then stir in the beans and their liquid. Add enough water to the pan to just cover all the ingredients. Stir in the bay leaves, marjoram, and thyme. Partially cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes, Stirring every 10 minutes.

Remove the lid from the pan and add the chopped cavolo nero leaves, kale leaves, or a combination of kale and spinach leaves, as well as the zucchini if using. Fold into the mixture evenly and then tuck the torn bread down into the broth. Season with salt, pepper, and red chile (it using) to taste. Add enough water to just cover the mixture. Partially cover the pan and cook for another 20 to 25 minutes or until the leaves are very tender.

Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste. The soup should be very thick with just enough liquid to engulf the vegetables without drowning them in liquid when serving.

Serving:

Ribollita may be served at once or ideally cooled and then refrigerated until the next day. This allows the flavors of the soup to fully develop.

Reheat the ribollita slowly along with a little added water if needed. Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil around the edges of the ribollita and serve!

A Soft and Billowy Potato Salad

A Soft and Billowy Potato Salad

 

Melissa Clarke’s article,  An Accidentally Creamier Fluffier Potato Salad in the NY Times last month, as always,  captures Melisa’s delightfully playful ways in the kitchen that can turn what might be considered mistakenly over cooked potatoes for a potato salad into a mistake worth repeating.  Her purposely soft cooked starchy potatoes folded together with a mildly rich dressing makes the case for a fluffier potato salad that is truly carving worthy.

Keep in mind the secret to success here is to gently simmer your potatoes until they are as soft as they can possibly be without falling apart.

The recipe that follows differs from Melissa’s but uses the same soft cooked potato method. Once the potatoes are drained and cooled for 10 minutes, they can then be gently folded together with sauteed onions, pancetta, garlic, and celery. The salad is then dressed with a subtly rich mayonnaise and Greek yogurt dressing and served while still warm! This has been a steadfast tried and true method I have followed for years and remains my favorite way to make potato salad not matter what ingredients you are using!

 

A Craving Worthy Soft & Billowy Potato Salad      Serves 6 

  • 2.2 pounds/ 1 kilo gold potatoes, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 oz /57 grams pancetta, thinly sliced and diced
  • ½ cup finely diced onion
  • 1 plump garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup finely diced young celery
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise (Hellmann’s)
  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt + more to taste
  • 1/3 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon chipotle chile powder or red chile powder (optional)
  • 1/3 cup finely sliced Italian parsley leaves
  • assortment of salad leaves and greens
  • smoked flaked sea salt (Maldon) for finishing
  • fresh parsley leaves for garnish

Peel the potatoes and cut them into ¾ inch cubes. Place in a large sauce pan and cover with water. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Stir in some salt and simmer the potatoes until they are very soft and tender but still just holding their shape. Test by inserting a knife blade into a potato which should slip easily into the flesh. Once perfectly cooked, drain the potatoes in a colander and set aside to cool briefly. Then transfer potatoes to a large bowl and set aside.

While the potatoes are simmering, heat the olive oil in a medium size saute pan set over medium low heat. When hot add the pancetta and gently cook several minutes without browning. Add the onions, season with some sea salt and pepper , and continue sauteing until the onions are soft without browning. Add the garlic and celery and season with chipotle powder or chile powder if using. Saute 1 minute more and remove the pan from the heat.

Using a silicone spoon, distribute the warm pancetta onion mixture over the potatoes and gently fold the mixture into the potatoes. Then scatter the parsley over the top.

In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, and Dijon mustard and stir until well combined and smooth. Then spoon the dressing over the potatoes and fold in until evenly distributed. Taste and season with more salt if needed. You will notice the dressing will cling nicely to the soft starchy potatoes which gives this potato salad its soft billowy texture so do not be tempted to over mix.

Serving:

Arrange a bed of assorted salad leaves and greens  on each individual serving plate and place the potato salad centered into the leaves. Garnish with parsley leaves and scatter some smoked flaked sea salt over the potatoes and serve.

Summer Baby Beet and Orange Salad with Romesco Dressing

Summer Baby Beet and Orange Salad with Romesco Dressing

 

Summer’s baby beets are an ideal starting point for conjuring up some inventive salad bowl mash ups that are sure to brighten up your summer table.

Garden to table without to much fuss is what summer eating is all about. With that in mind I put together this salad with what I found on a recent trip to my local organic farmers market and produce shop. Here in the tropics there is an abundance of vegetables, beautiful salad greens, and fruits to choose from year round. Oranges happen to be in season here at the moment and ideal for this salad, but apples, pears, or even melon would be a tantalizing choice. The romesco dressing is my own adaptation of the classic Catalonian romesco sauce that nicely ties all the salad ingredients together with a burst of nutty spiciness. For further reading on Romesco (click here)

 

Summer Baby Beet and Orange Salad with Romesco  Dressing     serves 4

Roasting mature beets in the fall does make perfect sense and delivers a deep beetroot flavor. However my preferred cooking method for these delicately flavored summer baby beets is a gentle boil with the added perk of not overheating your kitchen in the process.

Prepare the romesco dressing while the beets are cooking and refrigerate it so it is will be nicely chilled for dressing the salad later.

Baby Beets

Baby Beets

For the Salad

  • 8 baby beets
  • 1 small red onion or large red shallot
  • 1 or 2 oranges
  • 4 bunches romaine lettuce
  • 1 large bunch of arugula (rocket)
  • 1 small head crisp iceberg
  • freshly ground pepper
  • orange zest

Wash the beets and place in a sauce pan on the stove top. Bring to a boil, add salt, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook the beets until tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Test by easily inserting a toothpick into the center of the beet. Remove the beets and set aside to cool. Reserve the cooking water to use later.

When the beets are cool enough to handle slip off the skins and trim off the root ends. Thinly slice the beets crosswise and place in a bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil and set aside.

Remove the skin from the onion (or shallot) and thinly slice crosswise and separate into rings. Place in a bowl, cover with cold water, and refrigerate.

Zest the orange with a vegetable peeler. Very thinly slice the zest lengthwise and then slice very finely crosswise and set aside to use later for the dressing.

Peel the oranges, removing any pith, and slice crosswise into thin rounds. Halve the rounds, removing any seeds and place on a plate, cover, and refrigerate.

Wash all of the salad greens in salted ice water and spin dry. Cut the romaine leaves into bite size pieces and place in the salad bowl. Tear the iceberg and add to the bowl. Snap off any tough arugula stems and discard. Add the whole arugula leaves to the salad bowl unless they are very large, in which case tear them in half. Cover and refrigerate the salad greens until just before you are ready to serve.

Assembling the salad

Remove the bowl of salad greens from the refrigerator. Drain the onions and add to the chilled salad greens. Add the sliced beets and toss using your hands. Add some dressing and toss, adding more dressing as needed with out overdressing. Transfer the tossed salad to a large deep serving platter or individual serving plates. Tuck the sliced oranges into the salad and drizzle a little more dressing over the oranges. Lightly pepper the salad and scatter orange zest over all and serve.

 

Romesco Dressing

Romesco Dressing

Romesco Dressing

  • 8 partially sun dried tomatoes in olive oil (or reconstituted sun dried tomatoes
  • 6 plump cloves garlic, skin on
  • 1 dried red chile (New Mexico or 2 Thai)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise seeds, lightly toasted
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Jerez sherry vinegar
  • sea salt, about 3/4 teaspoon or to taste
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon honey
  • beet cooking water (for thinning)
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest

Roast the garlic in a dry pan until lightly colored on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool. Then peel off and discard the skin.

Using the same dry pan toast the chile on both sides, pressing the chile against the bottom of the pan. Remove promptly, cool slightly, and then slice open lengthwise and remove all the seeds and discard them. Crumble the chile and set aside.

Using the same pan briefly toast the anise seeds until aromatic. Set aside to cool.

And finally, using the same pan, lightly toast the slivered almonds, tossing them continuously, until lightly colored and aromatic. Set aside to cool.

Using a food processor (or blender) combine the sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, crumbled dried chile, toasted almonds, and anise seeds and pulse until broken down and well combined. Add the wine and sherry vinegar and salt and pulse until incorporated.

Then with the motor running add the olive oil in a slow steady stream. The mixture will thicken into a stiff paste like inconstancy. Scrape down the sides of the processor and add the honey and a tablespoon of the beet cooking water. Pulse until combined. Then add another tablespoon beet cooking water and pulse. Continue adding the cooking water a tablespoon at a time until the dressing has the consistency of cream. You want the dressing to coat rather than clump to the salad ingredients.

Once the consistency is to your liking, taste and add more salt if needed. Then transfer the dressing to a non-reactive bowl and stir in the reserved orange zest. Cover and refrigerate until just before serving.

Chilled Lemony White Bean Soup

Chilled Lemony White Bean Soup

 

Once again summer has officially arrived and what always comes to mind this time of year are lemons for recipe after recipe after recipe. Be it for chicken, seafood, salads or soups, it is lemons and their juice that really bring so many dishes to life in the summertime.

This is my third recipe for a lemon soup, all inspired by Greece’s Avgolemono in one way or another.
For Greek Lemon Soup with Minted Lamb Keftedes (click here) and Lemon Soup with White Beans and Celeric (click here)

The recipe that follows is for a very simple and quick chilled lemon white bean soup that is perfect as an opener for summer meals. To save time I’ve used canned white beans and eliminated the somewhat tricky Greek custom of whisking eggs into the soup to thicken it which can be a little challenging. This soup can be pulled together with very little fuss in about 30 minutes.

Choose your lemon carefully. A thin skinned unwaxed organic lemon, such as Meyer, is ideal if available. I have used a local Chiangdao lemon here in Chiang Mai.

 

Chilled Lemony White Bean Soup

Chilled Lemony White Bean Soup

 

Chilled Lemony White Bean Soup    makes 2 quarts

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 5 cups chicken or fish stock
  • 2 cans (400g each) white beans
  • ½ teaspoon dried marjoram or lemon thyme
  • sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon

For garnish

  • sliced ciabatta or focaccio
  • feta cheese (goat feta if available)
  • lemon zest

Before you begin cooking zest your lemon into long strips using a vegetable peeler. Slice the zest strips very thinly lengthwise. Set aside about a quarter of the thin strips to use as garnish later. Slice the remaining strips into half inch batons and set aside. Then squeeze the lemon and set the juice aside.

Select a heavy bottomed soup pot and place it over medium heat on the stove top. Add the olive oil and when hot add the onions and saute for a minute. Reduce the heat to medium low and continue to cook the onions for about 8 minutes or until soft, stirring from time to time. Then add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add the stock, the beans including their brine, and the marjoram or lemon thyme. Add a little salt and pepper and cook at a simmer for 25 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Remove the pan from the heat and puree the contents in the pot with a hand held immersion blender  ( or transfer to a blender) and blend until smooth.

Return the pot to the heat and add the lemon zest batons and bring to a simmer. Adjust seasonings adding salt and pepper as needed. Then turn off the heat. Let sit for 10 minutes and then stir in lemon juice to suit your taste; about 6 to 8 tablespoons.

Transfer the soup to containers and cool to room temperature. Then cover and refrigerate.

Preheat the broiler

Before serving, Lightly toast the bread slices and top with thin slices of feta. Place under the broiler until the feta has melted a bit and lightly browned in spots. Remove from the oven and cut bread into bite size cubes.

Serving

Give the chilled soup a good stir and ladle into individual soup plates. Place 3 or 4 bread squares
in the center of the soup and garnish with lemon zest strips.

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