A friend approached Joe and said, “Joe, I just tried this great soup. It is called pasta ee fa-gee-oli. You have to try it.”
Joe responds laughing, “That’s not how you say it. It is pronounced pasta fazool.”
“No Joe. It’s pasta ee fa-gee-ol-ee.” It is pasta and bean soup and it is delicious.”
“I’ve eaten pasta fazool my whole life. It is Dad’s favorite soup and he loves to make it. In our house, we call it, pasta fazool.”
How do you say, “Pasta e Fagioli”?
Actually, according to online reference, you do not pronounce the “e” and fagioli has two syllables, fa-joli. The pronunciation is very lyrical and dances off the tongue with the accent on the “joli”. Saying “fagioli” is fun and so is saying “fazool”. The rhythm of the Italian word is upbeat and more captivating than the English translation, “beans”. Yet no matter how you say it, pasta e fagioli is delicious and needs to be in your soup repertoire. It is an Italian soup made with pantry staples of beans and pasta created out of necessity from humble origins. At its core, the soup is made with only four ingredients, beans, pasta, onion, and garlic. 5 ingredients if you count the water. 6 if you count the parmesan cheese. In my household, we always count the parmesan cheese.
Pasta e Fagioli
From my research, there are as many versions of pasta e fagioli as there are neighborhoods in Italy. Traditionally, pasta e fagioli has a stew-like consistency, somewhere in the middle of thick and thin. Too thick and it tastes gloppy, too thin and it is less filling. If Goldilocks were Italian, the three bears would leave pasta fagioli instead of porridge for Goldilocks to sample. She would taste each bowl of pasta fagioli to find the one that was “just right”, with the proper consistency and texture. Whether pasta e fagioli is thick like a stew or not, it is a magical soup with comforting flavor from the beans, pasta, aromatics, and parmesan cheese. Like Mac and Cheese, pasta e fagioli is pure comfort food and not only fuels the body but soothes the soul.
Italian heritage of Pasta e Fagioli.
Switching It Up
Traditional pasta fagioli recipe does not use stock because the soup’s foundation is the same water that cooks the beans and pasta along with aromatics and leftover rinds of parmesan cheese. Cooking everything in one pot helps develop the stew-like consistency of the soup. Plus, using rinds from parmesan cheese adds a nutty and cheese flavor to the water that is really lovely. It is a great technique to use when you need to bump of the flavor of a mild tasting broth or soup.
For my version, I made the soup with a thinner consistency, but it is loaded with lots of pasta, beans, and tomatoes. I chose not to cook the pasta and beans together but cooked them separately. Often, pasta gets gummy in soups because they become saturated and overcooked. I find this very unappetizing and do my best to avoid gummy pasta whenever possible.
Additionally, I made this soup with fresh cranberry beans and the cooking liquid turns dull and grey. I worried that the bean cooking liquid would make the soup unappealing. So, erring on the side of caution, I cooked the beans separately as well. By cooking the pasta and beans separately this gave me more control over the lifespan of the cooked pasta, the consistency of the soup, as well as the color and overall appearance.
Instead of using plain water, I combined vegetable broth, pasta water and the bean cooking liquid to make up the soups’ stock. This mixture keeps the traditional elements but lightens it up both in flavor and viscosity. I chose vegetable stock over chicken stock because chicken stock makes everything made with it taste like chicken soup.
Cranberry beans are stunning to look at with its’ ivory color and magenta splatter. Unfortunately, the beans lose their fun purple appeal as they cook, creating beans with an ivory-grey tone and ugly grey-beige liquid. The vibrant colorful appearance is gone. Have no fear, despite the dull cooked appearance, cranberry beans have a lovely mild and herbal flavor from the aromatics in the cooking liquid. When you cook fresh beans, do not salt the water. Instead add onions, garlic, and herbs to season the liquid. The cranberry beans will absorb all the aromatics and taste wonderful.
If you can find cranberry beans, buy them. This time of year, fresh cranberry beans are available at Farmer’s markets or specialty grocery stores. A pound and a half of cranberry beans in their shell will give you enough beans for this soup. The bonus of using fresh beans over dried beans is they do not take as long to cook, and there is no need for the overnight soaking.
To save time, use canned cannellini beans, reserving their liquid for the stock and rinsing them. Look for the low salt, or no salt variety as canned foods are often high in salt.
More soup recipes
Not only does pasta fazool have the power to nourish the body for a day of hard work, but it also has the power to heal emotionally. Eating soup is grounding, comforting and uplifting on any given day. I am not sure why all I know is how I feel after eating a bowl of soup. While eating soup there is a sense of timelessness and that might be the reason for the feeling of calm and comfort.
Making soup gives me the same satisfaction and reassurance. I find it to be a meditative process with a delicious outcome. What I love about making soup is I can use up odd and end pieces of food like vegetables, chicken or fish and give them new life. Pasta fagioli is the perfect foundation for such an activity. You won’t get the traditional soup, but the premise is the same. Use what you have in the pantry or the refrigerator, even if it is just pasta and beans, and transform those leftovers into a substantial meal.
I dedicate this post in loving memory to my father-in-law, Phil Palumbo. There is no special occasion for this dedication other than I cannot say pasta fazool or enjoy eating this soup without thinking of him and feeling his love.
Pasta e Fagioli
Some people say "Cheese" when having their pictures taken, but in our family, we say, "Pasta Fazool." It is a family tradition started from Joe's dad because it is such a fun word to say. No matter how you say it, Pasta e Fagioli, Pasta Fazool, or Pasta and Beans is a hearty heartwarming soup made from pantry ingredients and just hits the spot when every you need a pick-me-up.
It may look like a lot of ingredients in this recipe for such a basic soup, but each ingredient is consistent with the Italian tradition of using simple pantry ingredients and creating something magical. You can make this as easy as you wish by using store-bought stock and canned beans, or follow my lead and make everything from scratch. Yet, I hope one day, when you are stuck inside from bad weather, you take the time and make this soup from scratch. There is nothing like a homemade soup and its heartwarming lift you get from spending the day creating something delicious to eat for your family.
Cooked pasta absorbs a lot of the liquid in the soup. As a result, some people add warm pasta to individual bowls of the soup instead of the pot. This prevents the pasta from getting gummy from overcooking. But I believe the pasta adds flavor and a nice consistency to the soup, so I do not do that. To prevent the pasta from overcooking, make sure you cook it al dente because the pasta will continue to cook in the warm soup. Also, when I heat up leftovers of pasta fagioli, I add more vegetable stock to loosen it up.
- 2 cups (500 ml) dried cannellini beans or great northern soaked overnight Or, fresh cranberry beans
- 1 onion cut in quarters
- 3 garlic cloves peeled and smashed
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs rosemary or one sprig sage
- 1 rind parmesan
Pasta e Fagioli
- 6 slices bacon cooked and cut into ½ inch pieces optional -see notes for substitutes
- 4 TB (1/4 cup / 60 ml) extra virgin olive oil or you can use a combination of rendered bacon fat and olive oil
- 2 celery stalks diced
- 1 onion, cut in small dice
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 3 bay leaves
- Bouquet garni of 3 parsley sprigs, 1 sprig sage, 2 sprigs rosemary
- Beans from the bean recipe, drained from their liquid. Or 1-14.5 oz can cannellini beans, great northern beans, or kidney beans
- 2 Parmesan rinds, plus grated or shaved for serving
- 4 cups (1 liter) vegetable stock
- 2 cups (500 ml) water, or a combination of pasta water and the bean's cooking liquid
- 1 - 14.5 oz (425 g) can diced tomatoes with liquid
- 4 - 6 oz (125 -175 g) dried pasta such as ditalini, small elbows, or small tube-shaped pasta
- Parmesan Reggiano cheese grated or shaved
If you are using fresh cranberry beans you won’t need to soak them overnight as they have not been dried out.
If you are using dried beans and forgot to soak them overnight, place the beans in a large pot filled with water. Bring the pot of water to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and soak for one hour. Drain the water and proceed as directed for cooking the cranberry beans.
If you are using canned beans, drain and reserve the bean liquid. Rinse the beans. Begin the recipe at step 1 under Pasta e Fagioli.
Place the fresh cranberry beans or soaked beans in a large pot and add the quartered onion, 3 cloves of garlic smashed, 3 bay leaves, 2 sprigs of rosemary. Bring to a boil then turn down the heat to a simmer. Cook until tender, but not breaking apart, about 35 minutes for fresh cranberry beans, or 1 hour or longer for the dried beans. Check the beans frequently so you do not overcook them.
Remove the aromatics, onion, garlic, herbs, pour the beans into the bowl of a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl to catch the liquids. Drain the beans and reserve the bean water. Set aside.
Pasta e Fagioli
In a 5 qt Dutch oven or large stock pot, add the olive oil, (or a combination of olive oil and rendered bacon fat to equal 4 TBS (1/4 cup / 60 ml)), set over medium heat. Heat up the oil to melt the bacon fat if using. Add the onions and celery and a Kosher salt. Sauté until the vegetables are soft and transparent, being careful not to brown the vegetables, about 5-8 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and minced garlic and sauté until for about 1 minute.
Once the vegetables are soft, add the vegetable stock, and 2 cups water (or a combination of pasta water, bean cooking liquid, and water). Add the bay leaves, bouquet garni, parmesan rinds, and chopped tomatoes with their liquid. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
Continue to simmer the stock and add the cooked beans and crispy bacon pieces. Simmer for ten to twenty minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Add the cooked noodles and cook until they are warmed through.
Serve hot with thin slices, or finely grated Parmesan Reggiano.
Pasta e fagioli is best eaten the day it is made but it can be reheated on the stove or in a microwave. You may want to add some extra stock when heating up leftover soup, as the beans and pasta will absorb the liquid in the soup.
Joe's dad often added scraps of meat like ham to the soup to make it more substantial or cook the beans with a ham bone. According to Joe, Dad often used the soup to use up odds and ends of food that was leftover in the refrigerator or the pantry.
I like bacon in this soup as it adds a lovely smokey flavor. Pieces of fried prosciutto are a nice addition as well, but it does not have the smoky flavor of bacon.
If you do not eat pork, a traditional substitute is anchovy filets. Add 4-6 fillets to the sautéed onion and celery when you add the red pepper flakes. You want to cook them down so they melt into the oil before you add any liquids.
For a plant based version, omit the bacon, anchovies, and parmesan cheese rind. You will need additional seasoning to add more body and flavor to the pasta fagioli, which can come from additional garlic and herbs. Or maybe a small amount of miso though not too much to change the soup's Italian flavorings. I have yet to try nutritional yeast, but that is another option as well.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Macaroni and cheese must be one of the most popular foods around and it is easy to understand why. Mac and cheese is pure comfort food with the creamy and cheesy sauce coating tube-shaped pasta. I can’t decide which type of macaroni and cheese I like more, stove-top mac and cheese or baked, as both have their merits. For this blog post, I decided to go with baked mac and cheese because I love the layer of crispy breadcrumbs over this cheesy casserole. They add welcome textural contrast to the smooth and creamy macaroni. In my opinion, this classic baked mac and cheese is the ultimate mac and cheese because it is creamy and gooey in a good way, with lots of cheese and extra flavor from the herb-infused sauce.
What is Mac and Cheese?
What is the foundation ingredient in Mac and Cheese? Other than the macaroni, it is the Mornay sauce made with cheddar cheese. A Mornay sauce is a béchamel sauce, (white sauce made from a roux and milk ) with melted cheese. These two sauces are two of the five mother sauces from French cuisine and are the backbone to a lot of American food.
Traditionally, a Mornay sauce is made with Gruyère cheese, so for this recipe, I decided to stay with tradition and use Gruyère cheese. Because mac and cheese would not be mac and cheese without the sharp taste of good cheddar, I combined a blend of two kinds of cheese for a full-flavored cheese sauce. Most mac and cheese recipes call for using all cheddar cheese, but the texture of a sauce made with only cheddar cheese is gritty. There is nothing wrong with it as it is the nature of the cheese, but it is just not that pleasant to eat.
Extra Cheese Flavor
I discovered to make a smooth cheese sauce with cheddar cheese, using two types of cheeses is essential. Plus the proportion of cheddar must be less than the second cheese in the sauce. Making cheddar cheese the less prominent cheese diminishes the gritty texture and makes a velvety smooth sauce. I recommend two cheese combinations, one with 12 oz (350 g) of Gruyère and 8 oz (225 g) of extra sharp cheddar. Or, for a more economical meal substitute the Gruyère with 12 oz (350 g) of Colby jack cheese and 8 oz (225 g) of extra sharp cheddar cheese. Either combination produces a silky and cheese forward sauce perfect for mac and cheese.
This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten’s Mac and Cheese and where I got the idea of combining Gruyère cheese with cheddar cheese. After my disappointing mac and cheese with 100% cheddar, I sought out more inspiration to fix the gritty texture and her recipe did just that. There is a lot of cheese in this recipe and it is very rich. Yet the combination of Gruyère with its’ aged and nutty flavor with sharp-tasting cheddar give this sauce extra body and flavor. The cheese flavor comes through and is not mild which is a common complaint about a lot of macaroni and cheese recipes.
If Gruyère cheese is too expensive you can use a combination of Gruyère and Swiss cheese or substitute the Gruyère with Colby jack. Colby jack is a milder tasting cheese and usually a favorite with younger children. These two options give you two mac and cheese recipes, one for adults and one for children. Although the recipe has so much cheese in the sauce I believe children will like both versions.
My Extra Step
What makes my recipe different from The Barefoot Contessa’s is I steep the milk with garlic and herbs before I make the Mornay sauce. This extra step really makes a difference in flavor. Fortunately, it does not add extra time because you can easily steep the milk while you wait for the pasta to cook. Unfortunately, it does give you one more pot to clean, but I promise you it is worth it. Dried bay leaves, fresh sage and garlic steep in warm milk and change the sauce from ok to distinctive. Steeping herbs is one of my favorite ways of adding extra flavor without changing the look of the sauce. The sage flavor in this sauce is not too herby or assertive and comfortably rounds out the cheese and cream flavors like putting on a brand new pair of socks. Its soft, comfortable and invigorating.
And Then Some
There are countless ways to change-up mac and cheese. Listed below are just a few examples.
- If you want to have cheesy strands in your creamy sauce add a 4 – 8 oz (125 – 225 g) of cheese cut into ½ inch cubes after you mix the sauce with the macaroni. Personally, I believe this recipe has more than enough cheese in it, but people love the extra cheese.
- If you use the Colby jack and cheddar cheese combination, add about a half cup (125 ml)of Romano or Parmesan Reggiano to the macaroni after you mix the cheese sauce and pasta. The Romano or Parmesan will add some extra flavor to this mild cheese sauce.
- Caramelize two onions then add to the mac and cheese before baking.
- Add blanched broccoli flowerettes or cauliflower to the mac and cheese before baking.
- Cook 6 slices of bacon, not thick bacon, until crispy. Chop up into half inch pieces. Add the crispy bacon to the mac and cheese before baking and proceed as directed. Fried prosciutto is also delicious. Tear pieces of prosciutto and cook them up in a skillet with extra-virgin olive oil until crispy.
- Add frozen peas to the stock pot with the pasta 2 minutes before you stop cooking the macaroni. Drain the peas with the macaroni and set aside to cool.
- For pure decadence, add 1 ½ lb (750 g) cooked lobster meat to the macaroni and cheese. (Ina Garten’s Lobster Mac and Cheese recipe).
- Use Ina Garten’s recommendation and add sliced tomatoes over the top of the casserole, then add the breadcrumbs before baking.
- Season the cheese sauce with nutmeg instead of hot sauce. Add ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg.
Serve Mac and Cheese with Rolled Stuffed Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
Classic Mac and Cheese and Then Some
A classic macaroni and cheese recipe with a smooth creamy-cheesy macaroni filling. I added an extra step of infusing the milk with fresh herbs and garlic to develop extra flavor in the sauce and complement the cheeses. Sprinkle toasted breadcrumbs seasoned with parmesan cheese, ground garlic and dried herds over the macaroni and cheese before baking in the oven. The breadcrumbs add a welcome crunch and textural contrast to the delicious and gooey macaroni.
Make macaroni and cheese with any tubular shape pasta like elbows, shells cavatappi or a small penne or ziti shapes are nice. But it is important to undercook the pasta before you add it to the sauce. The pasta will continue to cook while baking in the oven so undercooking it beforehand prevents the macaroni from getting soggy and limp.
Macaroni is a great make ahead casserole and you can make it two days in advance. Store in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap. Make the casserole up to the point before putting on the breadcrumb topping. You can also freeze it for up to 2 months. Make sure you freeze it in a freezer-to-oven safe baking dish.
If refrigerated, take the casserole out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking to bring up to room temperature. Remove the plastic wrap then add the breadcrumbs. Bake covered in foil for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking until hot and bubbly.
If frozen, remove the plastic wrap and cover the casserole with foil bake for one hour, then remove the foil and bake until hot and bubbly.
Best eaten hot on the day it is made.
Store leftover macaroni and cheese covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The sauce gets drier, but it heats up well in a microwave.
Macaroni and Cheese
- 4 cups (1 L) whole milk
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 1 sprig fresh sage
- 1 lb. tubular shaped pasta like elbows shells, or cavatappi
- 6 TBS Butter
- 6 TBS all-purpose flour
- 12 oz grated Gruyère cheese or Colby Jack
- 8 oz grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
- 1-2 tsp Dried herbs like parsley oregano, or sage or Italian seasoning
- 1-2 tsp ground mustard
- 1-2 tsp hot sauce like Frank’s Red Hot
- Several rounds of freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs, or use 2-3 slices of whole grain bread
- 2 TB melted butter
- ¼ cup (60 ml) Parmesan Cheese
- ½ tsp granulated garlic
- 1-2 tsp of dried herbs like parsley, oregano, sage or basil
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190 °C / Gas Mark 5) with the rack in the middle position. Butter a 9 x 13 inch (23 x 33 cm) baking dish.
Cook the pasta and Flavor the Milk
Heat a large stock pot filled with water until boiling. Season with salt and cook the pasta for half the amount of recommended time. Drain the pasta. Shake out any excess water from the colander then drizzle about 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over the pasta and toss to coat. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat up the milk and cream with the sage, bay leaves, and smashed garlic clove in a saucepan to just shy of boiling. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 5 minutes, making sure the milk does not boil. Turn off the heat then let the milk and herbs steep for 15-20 minutes.
Make the Topping
While you are waiting for the pasta to cook, make the topping. If making fresh breadcrumbs, take the bread slices and rip each slice into four pieces then place in a bowl of a food processor. Process the bread until it becomes crumbly but not gummy. Add the melted butter, parmesan cheese, and dried herbs if using, and process until combined. Pour the breadcrumbs into a small bowl and set aside.
If you are using panko breadcrumbs, pour the melted butter into a small bowl with the breadcrumbs and mix together. Add the parmesan cheese and dried herbs if using. Mix together and set aside.
Make the Sauce
Melt the butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven, over medium heat. Once the butter has melted and stopped sizzling, add the flour and whisk to blend. Continue to whisk the butter and flour to make a roux for about 5 minutes. You want to remove the flour taste and smell. Be careful not to brown the roux.
Remove the herbs from the milk and add the milk into the roux a little at a time. Whisk the milk and roux continuously to thoroughly mix them together between each addition. Make sure you get into the crevasses of the pan to mix in all the milk and flour. Cook the sauce for about 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens. You know it is done when you dip a wooden spoon in the sauce then run your finger across the back of the spoon. If the sauce does not run and break the line, the sauce is done.
Once you have a thick sauce with a smooth texture, add the ground mustard, and hot sauce (if using), and a few rounds of freshly ground black pepper. Whisk them into the sauce and taste. Add the grated cheese in increments whisking the cheese and sauce thoroughly between each addition. Wait until the cheese has melted between each addition as well. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings as needed.
Assemble and Bake
Scrape the cooked macaroni into a bowl with the cheese sauce then stir to mix. If you are adding add-ins like crispy bacon or broccoli, add them now. Pour the mixture into a buttered baking dish.
Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the macaroni in an even layer.
Place the macaroni filled baking dish on a rimmed sheet pan to collect any sauce that bubbles over while baking. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the topping is brown and crispy and the macaroni is bubbly. The internal temperature should register 165°F (74°C) Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
And then some:
If you want to have cheesy strands in your creamy mac and cheese, add up to a half pound ((225 g) of cheese cut into ½ inch cubes to the macaroni mixture and stir to combine.
Add a half cup (125 ml)of grated Parmesan Reggiano to the Macaroni and cheese sauce before scraping it into the baking dish.
Caramelize two onions, then add them to the mac and cheese before baking.
Add blanched broccoli or cauliflower flowerettes to the mac and cheese before baking.
Cook 6 slices of bacon, not thick bacon, until crispy. Chop up into half-inch pieces. Add the crispy bacon to the mac and cheese before baking and proceed as directed. Or try fried pieces of prosciutto.
Add frozen peas to the boiling pasta water 2 minutes before you stop cooking the macaroni. Drain the peas with the macaroni and set aside to cool.
Add 1½ lbs (750 g) cooked lobster meat to the macaroni and cheese. Season the cheese sauce with nutmeg instead of hot sauce. Add ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg.
Add sliced tomatoes over the top of the mac and cheese then sprinkle with breadcrumbs before baking. (Ina Garten's recipe)
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Often, people believe making risotto is a chore. But I find it is not much more work than making a pasta dinner with a vegetable sauce or with shellfish. It takes about the same time and you must pay attention to what you are cooking. Regardless of your perspective, risotto is a meal worth having in your dinner repertoire. This recipe is inspired by Spring, using seasonal produce with the bright zing of lemon and mint. Leek asparagus risotto with sugar snap peas is pure comfort food. It is a blend of rice made creamy from stock and stirring, with a bounty of spring vegetables separately cooked to retain their crisp bite and shape.
What is great about risotto, once you have the basic recipe down, the possibilities are endless. Anything goes. It is a great way to use up odds and end vegetables or leftover fish, chicken and cured pork. Any vegetable pairs nicely with the creamy rice. I like to add a lot of vegetables because I feel it is healthier for me. But many recipes include only just a cup of peas or no vegetables at all, like Risotto alla Milanese, which is the risotto that put risotto on the map. It is only made with the rice, stock, Parmigiano-Reggiano, butter, and saffron.
When I make risotto, I have my music playing in the background or I have the pleasure of a friend sharing relaxed conversation with a glass of wine. It is also a time for meditation, especially if it has been one of those days and you need some quite time. Whatever the mood, you should never feel rushed or stressed when making risotto, you will just end up making mediocre risotto. This just can’t be rushed and defeats the purpose of making a comforting meal.
Variations for Leek Asparagus Risotto
If you want to give leek asparagus risotto an upgrade either for a fancy dinner or for a romantic dinner for two, add some seared sea scallops on top of the plated risotto. If you do not know how to sear sea scallops, click on this link for Dinner Salad with Sea Scallops and Greens for instructions. Brown some butter after searing the sea scallops and drizzle it over the scallops and leek asparagus risotto with a squeeze of lemon. It is a great dinner for a couple to make together. Each person has a job. One can stir the risotto, the other can keep you company and sear the scallops and brown the butter at the last minute.
The dinner salad is a great alternative to risotto when the weather gets hot and humid and you don’t want to stand over a hot stove.
Read more tips on making risotto here.
Leek Asparagus Risotto
A springtime risotto made with leeks, asparagus and sugar snap peas. For a romantic dinner for two, add some seared sea scallops.
When I use a store-bought stock, I like to enhance it by adding fresh vegetable trimmings and simmer for several minutes. This adds some time to your prep, but it does add more flavor to the stock. If you are pressed for time omit this step and save 15 minutes but remember to heat up the stock before adding it to the risotto.
I prepare the asparagus and sugar snap peas separately. This helps the vegetables retain their shape and color. I like the vegetables on the crisp side which is a nice contrast to the smooth and creamy rice.
Leek Asparagus Risotto
- 6 cups (1.5 L) vegetable or chicken stock homemade or low salt store bought stock
- 1 lb (414 g) asparagus
- 1 leeks cleaned and sliced
- 4 oz (119 g) sugar snap peas a heaping cup
- 4 TBS (57 g) butter divided
- 1½ cup (300 g) carnaroli or arborio rice
- ½ cup (150 ml) dry white wine
- ½ tsp Kosher Salt (more to taste)
- ½ cup (50 g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- finely grated zest from one lemon
- garnish with mint and parsley
- Freshly ground black pepper
Preparing the stock and vegetables
Clean and remove the dark leaves off the leek. To clean leek, cut off the root end and slice down the middle of the leek lengthwise but not all the way through. Open the leek like a book and run it under cold running water. Peel back the layers looking for the hidden dirt and rinse off. The dirt likes to hide between the layers of the leek almost all the way through to the center. Dry off the leeks as best you can.
Trim off the dark green layers of the leek and reserve for the stock, then slice in half all the way through lengthwise. Slice the leek in half moon slices about a 1/8 inch (.5 cm) thick and set aside.
Pour the stock into a 3-quart sauce pan and turn the heat to medium-high. Trim off the ends of the asparagus and add the ends to the stock. Add the cleaned dark green parts of your leek. Add a small handful of sugar snap peas to the stock.
Bring the stock to a simmer. Simmer the stock with the vegetables for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the vegetables with a spider or slotted spoon. Discard the vegetables. Return the stock to the burner set to low heat and keep warm.
Fill a sauce pan with salted water and bring to a boil.
While the water is coming to a boil, trim the asparagus into one-inch (2.5 cm) pieces cut on a diagonal. Start by trimming off the top tip just where it begins to get smooth, then work your way down the stalk.
Remove the string from the side of the sugar snap peas and trim each end if needed. Also, while the water is coming to a boil, make a water bath by adding cold water and ice cubes to a medium bowl.
Once the water comes to a boil, add a pinch of Kosher salt then add the trimmed asparagus. Quickly blanch for 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon or spider to remove the asparagus from the boiling water then add to the ice water bath to stop the cooking. Keep the water on and boiling. When the asparagus is cooled remove them from the ice bath and dry on a clean lint free kitchen towel. Set aside. Add more ice to the ice bath for the sugar snap peas.
In the same pot of boiling water, quickly blanch the sugar snap peas for one minute. Remove the sugar snap peas from the boiling water and add to an ice bath. Once cool, drain and dry the sugar snap peas. Cut the sugar snap peas in quarter inch slices on a sharp diagonal. Set aside.
Making the risotto
In a Dutch oven or other 5-qt pot, add 2 TB of butter over medium heat. Once the butter stops sizzling add the leeks and cook until the leeks become translucent and tender, but not browned, about 5-7 minutes.
Add the carnaroli rice and stir to coat. Cook the rice until they become opaque about 2-3 minutes. Pour in the white wine and stir until the wine completely evaporates.
Add about a 1/2 cup (150 ml) of warm stock and stir the rice until it has absorbed the stock. Add the Kosher salt and continue to add warm stock in 1/2 cup (150 ml) intervals, stirring the rice and waiting until the stock is all absorbed until you add more. Continue adding stock and stirring until the risotto is al dente, about 20-30 minutes. After 15 minutes of cooking, taste the rice to gauge your progress. The rice should be tender but still firm. You might not use up all the stock.
Towards the end, add the asparagus and sliced sugar snap peas to warm up. Add the remaining butter and the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with a 1/2 cup of stock. Stir to mix and melt the cheese.
Loosen up the risotto with some warm stock and stir if it needs it.
Spoon a serving into a shallow bowl or plate, and garnish with lemon zest, parsley and mint.
Serve immediately with more cheese and fresh black pepper.
Depending on how salty your stock is, will determine how much Kosher salt you need to add. I always use low salt or homemade stock, which gives me some flexibility for seasoning my food. Taste first and season with salt as needed.
For a really special treat, sear sea scallops separately and serve 3-5 scallops person. Arrange the sea scallops on top of the risotto in individual serving dishes. Brown some butter and drizzle over the sea scallops on the risotto. Garnish with herbs and lemon zest.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
The chili debate might be one of the most passionate food debates out there, especially if you are from Texas. The main debate is about what ingredients make up true chili. This debate does not include chili recipes that have originated from other countries, or about where and when chili came to be in the USA, but whether beans belong as an ingredient in true American chili. If you are from Texas, Texas chili is all that you need to know and Chili Con Carne does not contain beans.
As I understand it, American chili was a meal born out of necessity and survival, and made popular with the cattle drive from Texas to California. Each cook had to make a small amount of meat stretch to feed hungry cowboys with whatever ingredients they could find along the trail, such as chili peppers, wild onions, and garlic. I learned that cattle drive cooks would plant onions, garlic and peppers in the mesquite bushes by the trail so they could replenish their supply along the way. (International Chili Society)
In the beginning of the 20th century, chili’s popularity spread across the nation and was no longer a regional food in the western United States. Chili joints were everywhere in the nation and provided cheap food for the poor. During the depression people believed because chili was inexpensive and so widely available, “… and the crackers were free,” chili saved more lives from starvation then the actions of the Red Cross. (Whats Cooking America, History and Legends of Chili)
American chili has an interesting history and probably a tall tale or two associated with its name. What is consistent is chili came from humble origins designed out of a need for survival. It started as a simple stew using any available meat, dried chili peppers and wild vegetables and has grown into a stew with multiple ingredients focused on developing deep, rich and spicy flavor. This humble stew, with or without beans, has a devout following from all walks of like, who are ready to defend chili’s honor in Showdowns, Throw-downs, Cook-offs, and State Fairs across the landscape of this nation. Not bad for food that started out as an inexpensive means to feed the poor and the incarcerated.
© 2016 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.