Monthly Archives: November 2012

In the Mood for Italian Wedding Soup

Last night we watched Woody Allen’s delightful new movie “To Rome With Love” and, somehow it put me in the mood for “Minestra Maritata”, an Italian Wedding Soup. No, the movie does not feature any particular Italian recipe or food and, no, I am not always thinking about food when I watch movies. Well, once in a while maybe. Perhaps it was a combination of a cold November night, the burst of “Volare!”(“Oh!Oh!”) and one of the short stories featuring a young couple on their honeymoon all of which prompted me to cook some Italian comfort food next day. Whatever it was, I woke up this morning determined to cook this dish for supper.

For years I have been cooking different variations of this soup (which I used to call “Soup With Meatballs”) using my grandma`s notes without actually knowing it was “Minestra Maritata”. Until a trip to an Italian wedding has opened my eyes to the official name of this soup, which translates to “married soup” so many assume this is a traditional Italian dish for weddings. In reality, the name of this soup stems from an excellent marriage of its ingredients: a mixture of meat, heavy broth, green vegetables, and pasta. This soup is hearty and filling and with this added protein it becomes a complete and balanced one-course meal.

This is my personal twist on a classic dish, which takes around 45 minutes to cook, however, you can speed it up to 30-minutes simple “student version”, when you poach meatballs and pasta directly in the boiling stock, then add spinach (or kale, swiss chard or arugula) skipping other steps or ingredients. I prefer baking the meatballs rather than poaching them because it gives additional layer of flavour to the soup even if it takes more time to prepare. Also, the wine/apple cider vinegar part is essential as it gives this soup a very special flavour.

For the meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground veal (or chicken, or turkey, or sausage meat without casings)
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder (or two minced garlic cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, plus extra for serving
  • 3 tablespoons milk (or water)
  • 1 large egg
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg

For the soup

    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 cup minced yellow onion
    • 1 cup diced carrots (3 carrots)
    • 3/4 cup diced celery (2 stalks)
    • 10 cups homemade chicken stock (or commercial)
    • 1/2 cup dry white wine (or 3 table spoons of apple cider vinegar)
    • 1 cup small pasta such as orzo or stars
    • 12 ounces baby spinach, washed, trimmed and chopped (or 1 small pack of frozen spinach wilted)
    • pinch of chilli flakes, oregano and thyme (to your taste)

    Instructions:

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
    For the meatballs, mix the ground veal, bread crumbs, garlic & onion powder, parsley, Parmesan, milk, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl with a fork. With a teaspoon, drop 1 meatballs onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.
    In the meantime, heat the olive oil over low heat in a soup pot. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and sauté until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock and wine (or apple cider vinegar) and bring to a boil. Add meatballs and pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 6 minutes, until the pasta is al dente. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted.
    Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle each serving with Parmesan if desired.

    Buon Appetito!

    Citrus Herb Roast Chicken & Cheesy Spagetti Squash


    This roast chicken recipe is rustic, simple and is so flavorful, I am sure you will be doing it again and again. For the holiday table I combined it with easy cheesy spagetti squash dish, which makes the final result festive, light and utterly delicious.


    It is a take on a traditional herb, lemon & garlic roast chicken recipe from Julia Child. I added orange, apple, dry cranberries and some herbs to the stuffing. After stuffing the bird, it is very important to air dry chicken before roasting it to keep the meat juicy while making skin crispy.

    The cheesy spagetti squash side dish takes just a few quick steps to prepare and does not require oven cooking, so you can prepare it in a microwave while your chicken is being roasted in the oven.

    Once the chicken is ready and out of the oven waiting to be carved, you just slide the stuffed squash into the microwave for another few minutes to have the ingredients melted. Awesome!

    And the last, but not least: serve the dish with a bottle of crisp and citrusy Sauvignon Blanc. My choice was Chateau Bonnet for it is one of the friendliest and the most easy-drinking Sauvignons in the world.


    CITRUS HERB ROAST CHICKEN
    Ingredients:
    1 lemon sliced
    1 orange sliced
    1 small apple chopped
    1 small onion sliced
    2 cloves garlic crushed
    4 springs thyme (or 1 tablespoon dry)
    handful of dry cranberries
    coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
    pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
    4-5 lbs whole chicken
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    Instructions:
    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
    Rub the bird well with salt and pepper inside and outside and put aside. In the bowl mix chopped apple, sliced onion, crushed garlic, dry cranberries and half of thyme, cinnamon and nutmeg. Squeeze the juice out of the lemon and orange slices into the mix, leaving a few slices for later use. Chop the squeezed orange and lemon peel coarsely and add to the mix. Push the stuffing mix into the cavity of the chicken and fix with the toothpicks.
    Pat dry chicken with paper towel well and let it dry in the open air for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Place the chicken into a roasting pan, season again with salt, pepper and thyme and drizzle with olive oil. Roast at 400 degrees F for the first 20 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and continue roasting for 1 1/2 hours (or until an internal bird temperature is 165 degrees F). Remove the chicken and drizzle it with orange-lemon juice 30 minutes before the end of roasting. Remove the chicken to a plate, loosely cover with foil and put aside for 10 minutes before carving. Discard the stuffing upon carving.

    ***

    CHEESY SPAGETTI SQUASH
    1 large spagetti squash
    2 tablespoons grated parmesan
    1 tablespoon shredded Mozzarella cheese
    2 plum tomatoes finely chopped
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
    Pierce squash few times with fork or knife all over to allow the steam to escape. Microwave on HIGH for 10 minutes, or until the squash is softened, turning after 5 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes to cool.
    Cut squash in half, remove and discard the seeds. Scrape the inside of the squash using the fork to form strands. Place in the large bowl, add tomatoes, parmesan, mozzarella and parsley, toss the mix and spoon into 1 squash shell. If you have more guests use the second shell too, but double the quantity of the stuffing ingredients.
    Microwave for 2 minutes or until heated through.

    The Cheesy Spagetti Squash recipe was adapted from Kraft Kitchen.

    Potato Pizza with Baby Arugula

    Everybody loves good pizza. Almost everybody loves potatoes. Combining these two favs into one dish can actually produce a blissful combination of yum. Years ago I tried my first potato pizza in Livorno, Italy, but was not much impressed. Perhaps it was not warm enough, or my palate was too young at the time… Today it’s a different story – I literally adore it! And now that (with years of practice) I’ve came up with my totally fool-proof recipe of pizza dough that always works, I make this pizza almost every second month. Along with many other varieties of pizzas of course (for that I double or triple the dough recipe below to stash a batch of pizza balls in a freezer and thaw them in a fridge overnight when ready to hit it).

    Although I have dozens of cookbooks on Italian cooking, it was not until I got a “Great Tastes Italian“ that the recipe of potato pizza grabbed my attention due to a good quality image, a svelte look (if ever anything baked with cheese can be svelte) and a mountain of baby arugula on it (that bundle of health). It was called “Potato & Rocket Pizza“. Here we are: the visual impact pushed me to try this recipe and it was so delicious my family was literally fighting for the last piece.

    I am including my perfect pizza dough recipe in this post – please take a note of it and you won’t regret it!

    PIZZA BAKING TIP: When baking pizza, preheat oven to 450F at least 40 minutes before for a stone and at least 20 minutes before for the baking sheet for the best results.



    For potato pizza, you can always experiment with ingredients (try sweet potatoes or very thinly sliced brussels sprouts (pre-soaked in salted water for 2 hours) and lemon, for change), but please do not make this recipe with mashed or boiled potatoes (or you will regret it).

    Certainly, you can always experiment with specialty cheeses of your choice, like feta, blue, brie, Gorgonzola, etc.

    Bake at 450 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes or until pizza base is crisp if you are using baking sheet. For a pizza stone, bake at 500 degree for about 10 minutes, or until both the top and bottom of the crust is brown and the cheese is melted.

    Voila! Remove from the oven, top with fresh arugula and serve. For and extra layer of taste: umami lovers can add some anchovies, while meat lovers can add some prosciutto. I used some dry Coppa for this recipe.

    FOOLPROOF PIZZA DOUGH RECIPE
    Yields two pizzas
    Ingredients:
    2 tablespoons instant dry yeast
    1 1/2 cup lukewarm water
    4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading and stretching
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon sugar
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    Instructions:
    In the bowl, add yeast to lukewarm water and let it stay for about 6 -10 minutes until creamy.

    Combine 750 ml (3 cups) of flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer, and slowly add mix of yeast with water and olive oil. Mix well on low speed until ingredients begin to combine. Add gradually 250 ml (1 cup) of flour and continue to mix for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic and cleanly pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl.

    Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic or parchment paper and towel and allow to rest for 1 hour in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until it has doubled in size. Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a well floured surface. Form dough into a round and split the dough into 2 equal parts. [At this point you can store some extra dough into the freezer and thaw it in a fridge over night in future, when ready].
    POTATO PIZZA WITH BABY ARUGULA
    Ingredients:
    1 pizza dough (see above recipe)
    2 small potatoes, washed, unpeeled and thinly sliced (about 2 cups) [preferably Yukon or Idaho]
    1 small onion, thinly sliced
    3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    7 oz cheese, cut into small cubes [mozzarella or cheddar
    ]
    1/4 oz baby arugula
    1 teaspoon dry oregano
    extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
    Salt and pepper to taste
    Instructions:
    Form the dough into a log on a floured surface. Dust with flour and cover loosely with plastic to retain moisture.  Allow it to rest until the formed dough rises in size again while you prepare potatoes.
    Thinly slice potatoes using a knife or a mandolin. Drizzle sliced potatoes with 1 spoon of olive oil and work the oil into the potatoes with your fingers.

    Grease the baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil (Note: no need to do that in using pizza stone or pizza baking tray with holes). Work out the dough flattening and stretching it gently with your fingers/palms and flipping 3-5 times on the floured surface. Leave the outer edges a little thicker. Once the dough is stretched to a desired size, transfer it to the pizza tray or a baking sheet. Using the palms of your hands, lightly flatten dough out to the edges of the pan. Spread 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon oregano in a circular motion leaving a 1-inch border.
    Distribute the potatoes in a single layer, overlapping slightly if you can. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Top with cheese cubes and onions.
    Bake at 450F for 15 to 18 minutes or until pizza base is crisp and the cheese is bubbling. For a pizza stone, bake at 500 degree for about 10 minutes, or until both the top and bottom of the crust is brown and the cheese is melted.

    Top with arugula and serve. Bon Appétit!

    Why the Red Poppy?

    * In Memory of my father-in-law, my grandfather, and my great grandfather *

    Today is the Remembrance day when poppies blossom on the lapels and collars of the millions of Canadians. Although mainly associated with World War I, this day has become a rite of genuine war remembrance and of all those who fought or died in the line of duty. What does the red poppy signify?

    The poppy was inspired by World War I lieutenant John McCrae’s famous war memorial short rhymed poem “In Flanders Fields”. which described the poppies blowing among the endless lines of freshly dug graves.

     In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.
    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

    There have been numerous interpretations as to the inspiration for the poem, but the most commonly held belief is that McCrae wrote it the day after presiding over the burial of his friend who had been killed in the battle in Flanders fields, where the poppies seeds sprouted up everywhere in battlefields/cemeteries broken ground.

    What is the initial symbolism of the red poppy? The oriental legend goes (I am paraphrasing) there once grew a white flower in ancient China known as the “flower of forgetfulness” from which a potions were made to induce sleep, transformation, and ecstatic dreams. Centuries passed, dynasties rose and fell, then, out of the land of the white poppy, came Genghis Khan. As he swept westward across Asia bringing terror and death, the seeds of the “flower of forgetfulness” put forth blooms wherever the blood of man was spilt. The ravaging hordes poised to invade Europe continued their bloody way when a strange transformation took place: the “flower of forgetfulness” turned blood red and the cross appeared in the centre of each flower, as though nature herself was crying to protest the horrible slaughter.

    The Canadian poppy symbol of Remembrance has been the nation’s visual pledge to never forget all those who have fallen in war since 1921. Other countries have also adopted its image to honour those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, so the poppy now also “stands internationally as a symbol of collective reminiscence”.

     Here are some interesting facts (you may not know) about Remembrance Day:

    * Remembrance Day is observed on November 11 to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918 when the Armistice was signed with German at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (11-11-11).

    * John McCrae was not only a Canadian soldier and poet, but also a well-known Professor of Medicine at McGill University, Montreal.

    * The Canadian $10 bill note features the first verse “In Flanders Fields”, and its French adaptation, “Au champ d’honneur“, by Jean Pariseau, together with doves, a wreath of poppies, and a banner inscribed “N’oublions jamais — Lest We Forget.” According to the Bank of Canada, these written and visual elements symbolize peace and commemoration.
     
    * The coloured red poppy insert now blooms on a 25 cents coin piece newly issued by Royal Canadian Mint.

    * Each November most Canadian students have at one time or another memorize “In Flanders Fields,” to recite it in school gymnasiums and around war memorials in Canada and throughout many other English-speaking countries.

    * Canadian Remembrance Day is a public holiday, but not for everyone in Canada with Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec being exceptions.