Tuscan Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup and Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

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A year or so ago, I read an article by Amanda Hesser on the future of food writing. As someone (clearly) interested in putting my kitchen work into words, I soaked up every morsel of advice. Amongst the facts and figures, one idea stood out: Amanda suggested to, “never eat the same meal twice. If you want to be knowledgeable about food, you need to experience it yourself.” I could not agree more. Whether or not you are a professional or home cook, it’s easy to retreat to your old standby meals. Everyone has one or two up their sleeve, whether it’s an omelet or osso buco. We turn to them for comfort and familiarity. I challenge you this: once you get the hang of a particular dish or recipe, tweak it. Swap out chicken breast for thighs, trade the baby spinach for those long stalks of Swiss chard. It could be as minute as a drizzle of good olive oil, a splash of vinegar. You may be pleased what you discover when you go off course a bit.

Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup

This soup is one of my go-to meals, particularly as the weather grows colder. Each time it comes out a bit different  – I’ll try a new type of sausage, leafy green or herb combination. Each new version gives me a little more knowledge of flavor.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 bulk hot Italian sausage links, casing removed*
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 carrots, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon each chopped fresh rosemary and thyme
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 bunch Lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped
  • 2 cups cooked white beans (from a 15-ounce can or cooked from dry*)
  • Chili flakes
  • Olive oil, fresh grated Parmesan cheese and black pepper, for serving

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up any large chunks, until deep golden brown and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Add onion and carrot to pot with sausage drippings. Saute for about 5-10 minutes, until soft and translucent. You may need to add a bit more oil. Add stock, herbs and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Add kale and reduce to heat. Simmer on medium-low for about 10 minutes. Add beans and sausage and cook for a few minutes longer to heat through. Remove bay leaf. Taste and season with salt, pepper and chili flakes.

Garnish each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil, Parmesan cheese and fresh black pepper.

Notes:

You may purchase bulk sausage in casing at the grocery meat counter or in a butcher shop. When I am in the neighborhood, I stock up at The Meat Hook in Brooklyn. I mean, come on, you have your choice of ‘Classy’ or ‘Trashy’.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha and Honey

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Isn’t it funny how until just a few years ago everyone hated brussels sprouts? They were passed over like iceberg lettuce, simply not worth the worry. Like hairstyles and skirt hems, everything goes in and out of fashion. Food included. What, you’ve never heard of this phenomenon? Martha thinks it’s worth mentioning.

While I don’t use the word ‘trend’ lightly, there has been a big shift towards big flavor infused into unassuming places. Click through this list of Smorgasburg vendors and you’ll get the idea. Old standbys like ice pops, donuts, pickles and even mustard are being reinvented. While I think some things are best left alone (I’m not sold on artisan mayo yet), I welcome change and even improvement on a classic.

Like these brussels sprouts.

No, they’re not lightly dusted with pecorino or drizzled with olive oil and sea salt. They’re deeply roasted, then doused in a fiery, funky sauce. They’re confident in their ability to be at once sweet and savory. Cilantro adds a bit of controversy. Which is never a bad thing when it comes to vegetables.

Despite what the calendar says, it’s still winter in NYC and at the market. Take advantage of the season while it lasts.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha and Honey

Adapted from Food52

1 pound brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved if large
2 teaspoons olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 teaspoons sriracha (or more, depending on how hot you like it)
1 tablespoon honey
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce (or tamari)
Chopped cilantro, for garnish

Directions

Heat oven to 400F. Arrange brussels sprouts on a parchment-lined baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil, tossing to coat. Roast, stirring every 10 minutes or so until brussels are deep brown and crispy, about 30-40 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, sriracha, honey, garlic and fish sauce. Drizzle over roasted brussels sprouts and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Spinach + Bacon Twice Baked Potatoes

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Growing up, twice-baked potatoes made an appearance at just about every holiday. With beef and horseradish at Christmas, alongside ham at Easter, they were quite perfect for a crowd of 20+.

Nowadays, I wouldn’t consider myself a meat and potatoes person. I like potatoes, and I enjoy meat every now and then, but together? Major food coma. I need a little something green as a buffer for all that heartiness.

These spinach-flecked potatoes are just the thing for the other 363 days a year. Buttermilk is surprisingly low in fat and adds a welcome tanginess. A touch of butter, a bit of cheese and just a sprinkle of smoky bacon keeps things from going too far off course. I think you’ll enjoy these for dinner or lunch with a salad or on their own.

Spinach & Bacon Twice Baked Potatoes

Makes 4 potato halves

2 large russet potatoes
1/2 cup cooked chopped spinach*
1 clove garlic, minced
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup buttermilk, plus more if necessary
1 teaspoon butter or olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, plus more for topping
Pinch nutmeg
2 strips bacon, cooked and chopped, divided
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper

Directions

Prick potatoes with a fork a few times. Bake at 450F for about 45-60 minutes until a knife is easily inserted. Allow to cool slightly, then slice in half lengthwise and scrape out flesh, leaving a bit in the skin.

Place potato flesh in a large bowl. Add the garlic, scallions, buttermilk, butter or olive oil, Parmesan, nutmeg and half the bacon. Mash with a fork or potato masher. Add a bit more buttermilk if it looks dry. You want it a bit chunky – no need for it to be completely smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Divide potato mixture between the 4 potato skins. Sprinkle with a bit more Parmesan. Broil in the oven for a few minutes, until tops are just lightly brown (be careful not to burn!) Sprinkle with the remaining bacon.

*I used frozen defrosted chopped spinach. You can also saute raw baby or regular spinach in a bit of olive oil, cool and chop.

Coconut-Spinach Fried Rice

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For the exception of baking, I rarely cook from recipes. In culinary school, we would tediously copy the day’s curriculum on index cards. We quickly learned that the assignment was more about the act of remembering the recipes than for us to follow them word-for-word. I’m not discrediting recipes – I subscribe to just about every food magazine and own my fair share of cookbooks. They’re excellent inspiration and a great tool for getting more comfortable with technique. But learning how to cook, really cook, requires some gumption. It definitely includes mistakes. And improvisation, creativity and, well, common sense.

I always say that anyone who eats can be a good cook. Think about it: you already know what foods and flavors you like together. Once you learn a technique, like this simple fried rice, you can vary it depending on what you have in the fridge or what looks good at the market. Not a fan of coconut oil? Grapeseed oil is a neutral substitute. Ran out of spinach? Sub in leftover broccoli or frozen veggies. The rest is just a dip in the pantry or fridge: rice, oil, vinegar, eggs, hot sauce. I challenge you to read this recipe and be bold with your variations. Let me know how it goes.

Coconut-Spinach Fried Rice

Serves 2

1 T. coconut oil, plus more if necessary

2 scallions, finely sliced, white and green parts divided

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp. finely minced fresh ginger

1 cup cooked brown rice (I used leftover brown basmati)

2 T. low-sodium tamari

2 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped

1 cup kale, stemmed and thinly sliced (optional)

1 egg, lightly beaten

Lime juice or rice vinegar

Chile-garlic sauce or Sriracha

Sesame oil

  1. Heat coconut oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add white parts of scallion, ginger and garlic. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Adjust heat if necessary to prevent burning.
  2. Add the brown rice and cook for a few minutes to heat through. Add a bit more coconut oil if it starts to stick to the pan. Add tamari, spinach and/or kale and cook for a few more minutes until wilted. Increase heat and add the egg, stirring constantly, until egg is scrambled in the rice mixture. Add a bit more coconut oil if it sticks.
  3. Finish with a squeeze of lime juice or rice vinegar, hot sauce and a tiny drizzle of sesame oil. Sprinkle with green scallions before serving.

Winter Vegetable Hash with Poached Egg and Crispy Shallot

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From what I’ve observed, people in NYC really like brunch. I’ve always been a little ‘meh’ about the meal. There’s often a long wait for a table, you feel rushed the entire meal and to be honest, I’m just not big on drinking mimosas at 1pm.

Yet, the other weekend I found myself at Freemans, a tucked away Colonial cottage-turned-restaurant located in an alley (!) in the Lower East Side. As I caught up with a friend over poached eggs and cheddar grits, I suddenly understood the hype about brunch. Weeknight plans often get in the way of our best intentions for a leisurely dinner. But we can all set aside an hour or two on a Saturday or Sunday.

Here’s my take on the veg-heavy hashes popping up at some of the ‘cool kid’ brunch spots. Daytime mimosa optional.

Winter Vegetable Hash with Poached Egg and Crispy Shallot

Serves 1-2

Olive oil
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
Handful or two Tuscan (lacinato/dinosaur) kale, ribbed removed and thinly sliced
3-4 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 tsp (eyeball) fresh thyme leaves (or another herb, like rosemary)
Pinch smoked paprika (optional)
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
Eggs
White vinegar

  1. Bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over low heat. Add shallot and cook until lightly golden brown and crisp (be careful not to burn!) Remove crispy shallots (leaving oil in the pan) and transfer to a paper towel to drain.
  3. Add kale and brussels sprouts to the skillet and saute about 5 minutes, until kale is tender and Brussels are a bit crisp. Add thyme, paprika and salt & pepper to taste. Set aside while you prep the eggs.
  4. Use this method to poach your eggs. It’s the best way I’ve found for beginners (or anyone, for that matter).
  5. Rewarm kale mixture. Serve eggs on top of veggies with the reserved crispy shallot.

Purple Potato and Kale Fritatta

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In early 2008, I spent a semester abroad in Florence, Italy. I had never left North America, and there I was, living with 6 other girls in a real Italian apartment on Via della Scala. We had a tiny, European kitchen with a tiny, European refrigerator. We shopped at the corner grocery or the Mercato Centrale, an indoor farmer’s market of sorts, buying only as much as we could carry. We lit our stove with a a match. I bought a lot of leather accessories. I stayed in hostels. I also took my very first cooking class. Each Wednesday, we prepared a 3-course meal (plus wine, certo).  For a cash-strapped student, this was one of the best meals I would eat all week. I still credit the class for my decision to attend culinary school 4 years later.

In Florence, I learned about Tuscan cucina povera cuisine – literally translated as ‘poor kitchen’. Tuscan cooks are like alchemists, transforming kitchen odds and ends into something delicious. Classics like pappa al pomodoro, ribolitta and crostini toscani are all based on what would otherwise be trash (stale bread, random bits of vegetables, livers).

A fritatta is a humble dish, an amped-up omelet with no right or wrong way about it. This is a version I dreamed up in a mad dash to clean out my fridge before the storm.

Purple Potato and Kale Fritatta

1 small shallot, thinly sliced

2 cups Tuscan/Lacinato kale (cavolo nero), thick stems removed, thinly sliced

2 small purple potatoes, diced into 1/2″ pieces

1 tsp. fresh oregano, minced

Pinch Spanish smoked paprika (‘pimenton’)

4 eggs, preferably organic

Freshly grated Parmesan, manchego or pecorino cheese

Salt, pepper and olive oil

Preheat oven to 375F.

Place potatoes in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until potatoes are fork-tender. Drain and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in an 8″ oven-proof skillet or cast-iron pan, heat a couple teaspoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and a pinch of salt and sweat for a few minutes. Add the kale and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the smoked paprika and oregano. Transfer kale mixture to a bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs. Add cooled kale mixture and potatoes. Season with a bit more salt and pepper. Heat a bit more olive oil in the same 8″ skillet you used for the kale. Add the egg mixture. Using a heat-proof spatula, nudge the egg mixture toward the center, tipping the pan slightly (like you would an omelet). When fritatta is set around the edges, transfer to heated oven. Bake until egg mixture is cooked in the center, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle on grated cheese. Turn your oven to broil (or place in your broiler…that’s the drawer underneath your oven where you may keep pots and pans, for those with old-school stoves). Broil until just browned. Slide fritatta onto cutting board before slicing into wedges.

Swiss Chard with Golden Raisins and Spiced Squash Seeds

We all learned to love spinach. Then we went kale-crazy. Now, Swiss chard is taking over as the new green on the block. Hearty and nutrient-packed, Swiss chard is a welcome respite from the cold veggies of summer. I upgraded the basic saute with a handful of sweet golden raisins and crunchy, spiced squash seeds leftover from a butternut squash (which I used to make gnocchi – more on that one soon!) The perfect fall side to roasted meats or as a vegetarian main with couscous or cornbread.

Swiss Chard with Golden Raisins and Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

Ingredients

For Swiss chard:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 bunches Swiss chard
  • 1 medium yellow onion, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

For spiced pumpkin seeds:

  • 1/4 cup tablespoons pumpkin or butternut squash seeds, fresh* or store-bought
  • 1/2 teaspoon canola oil
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Pinch cumin
  • Pinch cayenne
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

For Swiss Chard:

  1. Thoroughly wash and dry the Swiss chard. With a sharp knife, separate the leaves from the stems. Finely dice the stems, set aside. Stack the leaves and roll up like a cigar; thinly slice the leaves into a fine chiffonade; set aside.
  2. Heat canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the grated onion and a pinch of salt and saute for a few minutes. Add garlic and sauté about 30 seconds. Add the stems, 2 tablespoons water  and cover, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add leaves and stir. Cover and cook until leaves are wilted, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, stir in golden raisins. Top with pumpkin seeds.

For Spiced Pumpkin Seeds:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °. Toss the seeds with 1/2 teaspoon canola oil, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and roast for about 10-15 minutes or until lightly toasted. Cool.

* Don’t throw away the seeds from fresh squash.  Rinse away squash flesh and pulp and thoroughly dry before roasting.

Swiss Chard with Garlic and Ginger

Swiss chard is the quintessential winter vegetable and a great change of pace from spinach and kale. Less bitter than other greens, chard is a delicate addition to soups, sautés and gratins. This preparation is a bit more labor-intensive but worth it. The stems retain their bright red color and the leaves retain some body.

I serve the sautéed greens on top of brown basmati rice/quinoa (I cook them both together, following the rice directions). To make this more filling, throw in some soy or chicken-apple sausage. Wintertime on a plate!

Swiss Chard with Garlic and Ginger

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

1 large bunch red Swiss chard

1 T. canola oil

Salt

2 garlic cloves, minced

2-3 tsp. minced fresh ginger

1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth

Soy sauce (optional)

2-3 links soy or chicken-apple sausage (optional)

Serving suggestion: brown basmati rice, quinoa or a mix of both

Directions

Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, strip the leave from the stems of Swiss chard. Wash the leaves and stalks. Trim the ends and cut stalks in 1/4 inch dice.

Place the leaves in a steamer basket placed in the saucepan. Cover and steam for 3 to 5 minutes (do this in batches). Remove from the steamer, rinse with cold water, drain and set aside.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet. Add the chard stems and cook, stirring for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for about a minute, stirring. Stir in the chard leaves and broth and stir for a few minutes. Season with a sprinkle of salt OR a dash of soy sauce.

Optional: toss with sliced, cooked sausage until heated through. Serve on top of rice/quinoa.

-Recipe adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s The Very Best of Recipes for Health

Yellow Split Pea Soup with Autumn Squash and Kale

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Another Sunday, another soup. After Mo sent me a slew of pumpkin and squash recipes from Cookstr, I knew I had to make this dish. I have wanted to try my hand at split pea soup and this recipe fit the bill. Lots of seasonal veggies? Check. Ease of preparation? Check. Vegetarian? Check. Inexpensive? Check. In fact, like last week’s pasta and my lentil soup, this dish clocks in at around $5 for a HUGE pot. Looks like I’m giving another blog a run for its money.

 

This recipe is extremely versatile. Don’t like squash? Try diced potatoes (cooking time may vary.) Forgot the fresh rosemary? A pinch of dried also works. The kale can be substituted for spinach or chard, or left out altogether.

 

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups dried yellow split peas

1 fresh rosemary sprig, 4 inches long

1 tsp. dried thyme

4 cups vegetable broth, plus more for thinning

salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 ounces hard shelled squash, such as kabocha or butternut, in 1/3 inch dice (about 2 cups)

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and diced

1/3 pound kale or green chard, ribs removed (about 1 large bunch)

A few drops hot sauce (optional)

 

Directions

 

Heat olive oil in a large pot over moderate heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until onion is soft and sweet, about 10 minutes. Add split peas, rosemary sprig, thyme and 4 cups broth and 4 cups water.

Bring to a simmer, cover and adjust heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until split peas are completely soft, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Taste often and remove rosemary sprig when rosemary flavor is strong enough. (It should be subtle.)

Season soup with salt and pepper.

Stir in squash, tomatoes and hot sauce, if using. Stack kale leaves a few at a time and slice into ribbons about ¼ inch wide. Stir them into the soup, cover and cook until squash and kale are tender, about 20 minutes.

If soup is a little thick, thin with vegetable broth.

Taste and adjust seasoning before serving.

Note: Like all soups based on legumes, this one thickens considerably as it cools. If you make it ahead, you will need to thin it with a mixture of broth and water in equal amounts.

-Adapted from Fresh from the Farmers’ Market by Janet Fletcher

Italian Lentil Soup

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The season has changed and with it, the menu. After a raucous weekend at my alma mater, all I wanted was to recover with a steaming bowl of soup. Lentil soup is great to make in a pinch, because most of the ingredients ar.e pantry staples.  Thanks to their high protein content, lentils make a substantial soup that is a meal in itself. There is a lot of flexibility with this recipe. You can use any kind of vegetables you have on hand – red or green bell peppers, zucchini and celery would all be good additions. While it’s not necessary, I added whole wheat orzo to the broth, but ditalini, macaroni or even alphabets (!) would work. I used spinach in place of the Swiss Chard, but any type of green would be suitable (right now Kale is particularly good.) I skipped the bouquet garni (it was a rough weekend) and used a pinch of thyme and parsley instead. Added bonus – this recipe is CHEAP. A 1 lb. bag of lentils are less than $2, running the entire recipe about $5!

This recipe makes a large pot of soup and reheats well. To glam it up, serve with toasted pita wedges and a simple green salad.

Lentil Minestrone With Green

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

Salt to taste

1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with liquid

1 pound lentils (brown or beluga), washed and picked over

2 1/2 quarts water

A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf, 2 sprigs each thyme and parsley, and a Parmesan rind OR 1 tsp. each thyme and parsley

1/2 pound Swiss chard, mustard greens or kale, stemmed, washed in two changes of water, and roughly chopped (about 6 cups)

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup elbow macaroni or other soup pasta (optional)

Freshly grated Parmesan for serving (optional)

1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat, and add the onion and carrot. Cook, stirring, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add half the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir together for a minute, just until the garlic is fragrant, and add the tomatoes and their liquid. Turn up the heat slightly and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, about 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the lentils, water and bouquet garni, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Add the remaining garlic, salt to taste and add the greens. Continue to simmer, covered, for another 15 minutes. Add freshly ground pepper, taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in the pasta, and continue to simmer until the pasta is tender, five to 10 minutes. Remove the bouquet garni and serve, passing grated Parmesan at the table.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

Advance preparation: The soup can be made up to a day or two ahead of time, but do not add the pasta until you are ready to serve. Reheat and add as directed.

-Recipe courtesy of  NY Times