Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking: Appetizers and Soups [CoTM Sept 2006 and Nov 2013]
September 2006 Cookbook of the Month: Please post your reviews of appetizer and soup recipes from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking here. Please mention the name of the recipe you are reviewing as well as any modifications you made to the recipe.
A reminder: the verbatim copying of recipes to the boards is violation of the copyright of the original author. Posts with copied recipes will be removed.
Ohhhhh, that Pasta e Fagioli. Get yourself a BIG bag of fresh cranberry beans right now at your nearest farmers market--this is their season--and shell 'em while watching your nearest pennant race on TV. You can freeze the ones you don't use. This is delicious.
Risi e Bisi: skinning pea pods, on the other hand? No thanks. One of the five most thankless tasks I've ever undertaken in the kitchen.
Minestrone alla Romagnola: You really can follow the rhythm she suggests of prepping and sauteeing the veggies in sequence. It makes the cooking pretty fast. Also delicious.
Roasted Peppers and Anchovies: I've eaten bushels of this over many Octobers as part of my post-season baseball buffet.
I made Pasta e Fagioli last week with dried barlotti (same as cranberry beans?) beans and the short tubular pasta. I used little riblets for the pork ingredient in the recipe. I didn't have have homemade meat broth, so I used the beef better than bullion.
My bean to pasta ratio was off. We all agreed that there was too much pasta. Now, this could be my fault. I used beans that I had cooked earlier in the week for another meal and I didn't measure the pasta. Also, there wasn't enough soupy broth, I should have added more or not drained the bean broth as called for.
We enjoyed the soup, but I don't think I would make it again. It wasn't the pasta e fagioli that I remember eating in Italy, that is for certain!
Oh, utter CHOWsaster!
Let this be a lesson, fellow Chowhounds.
I decided to do the pasta e fagioli last night. I had something I had to go to for an hour or so, so I figured I could let it simmer in the oven while I was gone; I've done it before, and it's generally worked.
Firstly, I couldn't find cranberry beans on my way home, so I picked up dried cannellini beans. Mistake #1: in her recipe, she says to use canned cannellini if you're not using cranberry, but I decided to take a risk. The question became to soak or not to soak? I'd be simmering them in the oven for an hour, which is about the length of a quick soak, so I decided to take my chances.
Otherwise, I followed the recipe fairly closely, using beef broth I picked up from Boulette's Larder, a place in SF that sells overpriced homemade beef broth, but I was in a hurry to get home and get prepped before heading out. I generally don't measure exact tablespoons, as she suggests; I prefer a bit more celery in my soup, for instance. I used a hamhock and dropped in a few frozen parmesan rinds for good measure, and then also dropped in an extra cup of broth (4 instead of 3) since I'd be leaving the soup alone for some time.
I brought the soup to "slightly more than a simmer," as instructed, popped the soup in the oven, and after ten minutes check the simmer level; not one bubble at 350. So I took another chance and turned up the heat. To 400.
Then I headed out. I'd like to blame the fellow chowhound who bought me a third beer, but it's all me.
As I headed back into my hallway, I could smell the burned tomato and broke into a run; whipped open the oven door, yanked out the Dutch oven, and goggled at the site of practically bone-dry beans surrounded by a crust of blackened beans and tomato. I dumped in about three cups of water and began carefully ladling out the non-crusty bits, hoping I could at least salvage what was left; unfortunately, the damn beans weren't even CLOSE to being cooked. (Or else they'd cooked and then re-dried in the oven.)
I added some more tomatoes and water to what was left--about seven cups of soup all told, actually, not bad at all--and set about opening all the windows and scrubbing the pot. (Oh, the genius of Le Creuset; I soaked it overnight, but most everything came off with no trace.)
After another hour of a rapid simmer, I dunked in my emulsion blender and blended some of the beans; I let it simmer a bit longer, until the beans were at least edible to my palate. I boiled the macaroni separately, sprinkled some parmesan on top, and ate at about 10:30 last night. (After, of course, going through several dinner rolls while I waited.)
In the end, the soup tasted burned, no doubt about that, and I wouldn't serve it to anyone but me, but somehow the magic of good ingredients did come through. I look forward to trying again. With cranberry beans or soaked cannellini. And without the three-beer vacation in the middle.
re: Robert Lauriston
My nearest Italian deli is the one in the Ferry Plaza, and they didn't have borlotti beans. I noted that she said "canned" cannellini beans; I didn't notice anything about soaked beans, though. My impression was that the cranberry beans went straight into the soup, and if they were dry, to simmer them for 45 minutes to an hour, or until soft. I guess I didn't make the distinction between "dried" and "fresh."
In any case, I'm well aware that I didn't follow the recipe closely. I took a chance, and it failed. But these flubs are what make cooking such fun for me--it's why I love Julia Childs so much. :)
It could be worse...........I feel asleep on the couch while baking a beautiful braided sesame bread ring once, and woke up three hours later. It would've made a nice spare tire for the tractor.......took my chickens two weeks to peck through that mother! I was so mad, I threw out the baking pan!
Poached Shrimp with Olive Oil and Lemon Juice (Essentials, p. 65)
This is a very simple yet delicious appetizer - the shrimp are poateched in water with celery, carrot, salt and vinegar, then dressed with "the best" EVOO, lemon juice and pepper and left to sit for an hour before eating. We had it as a light lunch, and I had some lovely fresh chives which I chopped and added.
Stuffed Spaghetti Frittata with Tomato, Mozzarella, and Ham (p. 286)
Hmmm, not sure if this is the right category, but....
This was delicious, both hot, and at room temp. Basically it's a frittata with spaghetti, but layered with a ham, tomato, and cheese mixture. I made some modifications since I just used what I had on hand. I used the leftover spaghetti with Smothered Onion Sauce, so I skipped the 2 tablespoons of chopped onion and just heated the tomatoes in the olive oil. Let it cool, then mixed with finely diced ham, and a blend of cheeses (the recipe calls for buffalo-milk mozzarella, but I used a mixture of parmesan, fontina, and some left-over grilled halloumi). Beat eggs, add pasta to coat. Heat butter in a non-stick skillet with oven-proof handle. Add half of the pasta/egg, top with the tomato-ham-cheese mixture, then another layer of the pasta/egg. I've never made a frittata with pasta before, and I thought I needed more eggs, so added two more. Topped with shredded parmesan and finished under the broiler. Even with all the modifications, it was delicious!
Pics (with a close-up of the layers):
Aquacotta. This is a very famous Tuscan soup. It involves a fair amount of prep. You can make the soup ahead and then continue to the final steps which take approx 20 minutes including oven time. These steps include poaching some eggs and placing in soup, sprinkling eggs with salt and pepper and grated parmesan and then in the oven for ten minutes. I did not reheat the soup before starting this so, it was not hot enough when I took it from the oven. I heated it on the stove. Marcella did not give this instruction, but really as an experienced cook I should have thought of it. Anyway, my only variation from her recipe was to throw in the rind from my parmesan and I think it added to the soup. The recipe calls for a boullion cube--I think next time I would use chicken stock since I felt the soup was a little light and I would like a little more depth of flavour.
The rest of the meal included smoked salmon appetizer, green salad with pomegrante seeds and balsamic vinegarette, roasted peaches and figs with honey and creme fraiche. I also made Gratin of Cauliflower with Parmesan Cheese from Essentials.
I just made this soup, too. We absolutely loved it, and I thought the added step of poaching eggs and finishing it all in the oven wasn't too much trouble and added a great deal of richness to the dish. My four year old proclaimed this the best thing he'd ever eaten, and I also thought it was much more than the sum of its parts.
Lentil Soup (pg. 99)
There was a discussion on the Barefoot Contessa's lentil soup (October/2010 COTM) and one of the posters suggested trying this recipe. I'm glad I saw that post and remembered it because this soup was the BOMB! Unbelievable flavor and taste. Beware though, it does take at least 1.5 hours of cooking time so plan accordingly.
Heat butter and oil in a pot. Saute chopped onion and pancetta (I used proscuitto) until the onion turns a deep golden color (this took longer than expected). Then add chopped carrots and celery, canned tomatoes and their juice and simmer for 25 minutes.
Note: she calls for 2T of finely chopped onions, carrots and celery. I probably had a tad more but no more than 1/4 cup. Also, she calls for 1 cup canned plum tomatoes in their juices, cut up. I had, frozen, about 2 cups total. But, it wasn't completely defrosted so I took away the frozen part. But, I still had a bit more than the cup called for.
Anyway, after the simmer period, add the lentils (I used green le puy), broth (I used boxed meat broth), salt and pepper. Cover the pot and simmer for about 45 minutes until the lentils are finished.
I tasted the soup like this and it was great. I was hesitant to follow her last instructions, which were to add 1T butter and 3T grated parmesan. But I did and this last bit of added ingredients just sent this lentil soup through the roof. This soup just screamed umami goodness. My husband was so happy for the soup and has already requested it to be dinner again soon.
Lentil Soup, page 99
Beetlebug has already done a very good job of outlining the procedures for making this soup, so I won't repeat. I was pleased that I read her review so I knew to allow enough time. Unlike beetlebug, I actually measured all the ingredients and used the exact amount listed in the recipe. [After last night's fiasco, I am being VERY cautious.]
I used some guanciole that I cured this Fall instead of pancetta or prosciutto and homemade chicken stock. Due to the guanciole, I did reduce the amount of oil by one tablespoon. I used standard brown lentils from the Indian market.
Totally awesome soup! How can so many simple [and cheap] ingredients produce so much goodness? This was so delicious! I served it as a main course soup with a spinach salad and some crusty bread. A cup of this soup was plenty, so there is enough left for lunch tomorrow.
Lentil Soup, On-Line Recipe
Yesterday dawned with me having all the signs of a Lollapalooza of a cold. So what do we need to counteract the onslaught? Why soup of course. In my case Marcella's Lentil Soup. I relied on the on-line recipe, which according to the EYB ingredient list, is almost like the original except for the pancetta/prosciutto.
Because I was making a non-meat version I omitted the pancetta. I used 2 cups of chicken broth and 2 cups of water, no celery so used 2 slim carrots instead. I did not add the tablespoon of butter at the end. And yet, the soup was wonderful. Just what the doctor ordered. I liked it so much I had a bowl for breakfast this morning! The cold? What cold.
Lentil Soup. p. 99
I'd been meaning to give this soup a try since reading BB's review a long while back. This weekend I finally tried it. And, like others, we loved it. I made 1.5 times the recipe as that suited the amount of tomatoes and lentils I had on hand. I increased everything else proportionally except the butter and olive oil - those I left at the original amounts. (When cooking from this book I almost always reduce the fat quantities a bit). Delicious soup. There wasn't a huge amount leftover and if making again I would definitely double the recipe.
Potato Soup with Smothered Onions (page 96)
I discovered this recipe when I was looking (1) for a way to use up a lot of potatoes; (2) to make use of some newly made chicken stock; (3) to avoid buying additional ingredients; and (4) to stock the fridge with help-yourself meals and snacks for friends who are staying with me and can eat soup, hot or cold, no matter the weather, every day.
You start by caramelizing one-and-a-half pounds of thinly sliced onions in butter and olive oil. When they’ve become lightly browned, you add two pounds of peeled, cubed boiling potatoes and stir before adding three-and-a-half cups of beef stock or broth (I substituted my chicken stock). That’s cooked until the potatoes are soft, at which point she says to mash most of the potatoes against the sides of the pot with a wooden spoon. I just took out my potato masher; much easier, and worked just fine. That’s cooked for another eight to ten minutes and grated parmesan and chopped parsley are stirred in at the end.
The recipe calls for adding three tablespoons of grated cheese and serving more at the table, but since this wasn’t being served in the traditional way, I just tripled the amount of grated cheese and stirred it in. And I didn’t bother with the parsley.
This is a marvelous soup, thick, hearty, and very tasty. I gave one of the guests a few tablespoons in a coffee cup to taste for salt and he went back and refilled that coffee cup to full two times. And this was just for a mid-afternoon snack.
Vegetable Soup, Romagna Style/Minestrone alla romagnola, p91
This was fantastic, and had the added bonus of helping me clear out my vegetable drawer! It has that typically Italian thing of tasting much better than the sum of its parts due, as Marcella says, to the fact that you add layer upon layer of flavour by sautéeing the vegetables one by one, in the order specified. It also cooks for a long time, which you think would make for a rather muddy soup, but actually you get - to quote MS - "a dense, mellow flavour that recalls no vegetable in particular, but all of them at once."
I made the recipe as written, apart from I substituted home-made ham stock for beef broth or consommé, and leeks for courgettes. I also substantially reduced the amount of EVOO called for, from 8T to 3, and the butter from 45g to 30, with no ill effects.
Briefly, you sauté slice onions in the butter and oil until pale gold and wilted. Add diced carrots, sauté for a few minutes. Repeat with, in the following order, celery, potatoes, French beans (omitted), courgettes (leeks), shredded Savoy cabbage (cavolo nero). Then add tinned tomatoes, broth and parmesan rinds (optional - I had some that I'd been saving for soup). Simmer for 2.5 hours (really!), then add tinned cannellini beans and cook for another half an hour.
Delicious, hearty and healthy. Perfect for this damp and dreary Autumn weather we're having right now in London. Time-consuming though! Luckily it makes a lot.
Minestrone alla Romagnola (Pg. 89 in my edition of the book)
This was a winner for me. I simmered the soup in my new Mauviel Copper soup pot that I recently brought back from France so the several hours that MC has you spend on this soup gave me a chance to spend some quality time my new favourite pot.
Much as Marcella and greedygirl noted, the soup has such a long simmer that I was a little worried about the results being a bit muddled, but the result of the long simmer is a beautiful marriage of flavours. The both is rich with the oil and butter and resplendent with the taste of the many veggies that went into the pot. My only variation was to cut back on the fat a little. I also think the parmesan rind is essential, as it gives it that slightly umami quality one looks for in a minestrone. I would also suggest dicing quite small, as she suggests. For rustic vegetable soups I usually go with a relatively large dice, but I found I liked the texture of the soup much better with the small dice.
The soup is keeping very well also, as I made it on Sunday and it was still delicious today.
This is a definite winner which I will happily make again!
Vegetable Soup, Romagna Style/Minestrone alla romagnola
My goodness, what a delectable treat this turned out to be. I made the soup last night, cutting the fats in half, but otherwise following the recipe, using the basic meat broth from the same book. When I first tasted it, I kind-of shrugged and thought that it was good, but nothing memorable. Fast-forward to lunch today--when all the flavours had intensified--and it really fit the description that Marcella and the other reviewers were raving about. I do feel, like delys77, that the parmesan rind is not an optional ingredient and really pulls the soup together.
Frittata with Zucchini and Basil Pg. 280
As discussed on the main thread, there was some confusion as to where this firttata write up should go, for lack of a better place I am going to put it here.
This was quite simple really, but she does have you caramelize the onions and brown the zucchini more than most would, resulting in a slightly more time consuming but much better preparation. The balance of ingredients was just right. My only quibble is that my zucchini didn't brown very much. I did get some colour, but she was calling for what seemed like a well browned result, which I can't see happening with that much zucchini, even in my largest pan.
Also, I followed her suggestion of using a pie plate and foregoing the the stove top step. Mine took closer to 20 minutes (not the 15 that she indicated) but the result was very nice and much easier than starting on the stove and switching to the oven.
Overall a winner.
She suggests to methods for cooking, one is the option I usually follow whereby you start the frittata on the stove top and finish in the oven. The other option she gave was to simply butter a pie plate and bake in the oven. I used a glass pie plate and still got a little browning on the bottom, not too much and not too little, just right for us. I often find when I started it on the stove top (especially with an electric range) that the bottom gets a bit darker than I would like.
The recipe that I'm reviewing ISN'T!!!
I have a kitchen apron that I wear when I make "arrabbiato minestrone denso." The apron has an image of a caldron and the following statement. "I don't need a recipe...I'M ITALIAN." The recipe is spicy because one of the ingredients is "peperoncini"...homegrown.
The apron statement is a little misleading because I am not of Italian descent, but my wife's grandparents came from Italy. So, I'm IBM (Italian By Marriage).
The minestrone is eaten for breakfast every morning, and has been for over 6 years. WHY? Because it has kept my cholesterol levels low for that period of time. As low as 111. WHERE IS IT WRITTEN THAT ONE NEEDS TO EAT CEREAL FOR BREAKFAST?
Vivi, ama, ridi e specialmente mangia bene!
Frittata with Asparagus Pg. 283
This one wasn't a winner for us. The process is very simply, boil (steam in my case) some prepared asparagus until al dente then mix in with eggs, salt, pepper, and parm. The challenge I found is that I don't actually like steamed asparagus unless it comes with hollandaise. As is they didn't do much for the eggs, and the chunky presentation wasn't very nice.
I did roughly chop them before they went into the eggs, but MC makes no mention of this. That said, the whole spear of asparagus would likely have been even less attractive.
Oh well, you win some you lose some.