Comfort foods..

There is nothing better on a rainy or snowy day than a big bowl of soup or my new favorite pasta dish. Comfort foods that are healthy, satifying and delicious are not hard to make. Add a thick slice of your favorite whole grain artisan bread and a either a salad or another new favorite vegetable as an appetizer and you are set to go.

I have become a bit obsessed lately with Italian foods, shopping often at our local Italian market. Probably has something to do with the two books I finished this fall; “Bella Tuscany” and “Under the Tuscan Sun” written by Francis Mayes:)

I can spend hours perusing the aisles for olive oil, balsamic vinegar, all shapes and sizes of pasta, fresh olives and the huge variety of quality cheese perfect for garnishing pasta dishes.

I stumbled on a pasta and beans recipe that is the perfect comfort food. I hope you enjoy it.

Pasta Fazool (serves 4-6)

1 tbsp olive oil for cooking
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 carrots scrubbed and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 cup cooked cannellini beans or 1 tin (19oz-398ml) cannellini beans or pinto beans
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth (low sodium)
14oz or 398 ml tin diced tomatoes
½ tsp Italian seasoning or dried oregano
½ cup dry small pasta (shells or orecchiette)
Grated parmesan or romano cheese to garnish
Fresh ground pepper.

In a medium pot heat the olive oil of medium heat and sauté the onion, garlic, carrot and celery until soft, about 5 minutes.
Drain and rinse the beans and add to the pot along with the stock, tomatoes and oregano. Simmer for about 10 minutes with the lid on.
Add the pasta and simmer for another 10 minutes or more until the pasta is tender. If the mixture is too thick add a little extra stock or water. It should be thick but soupy. Season with pepper and grated cheese and serve hot.

I served it this week with roasted brussel sprouts as an appetizer. These used to be my husband’s most hated vegetable and much to my disbelief and even his own we almost have to “count” them out now to be fair.:) I wash and cut in half about a half pound of brussel sprouts. Toss them in a tbsp of olive oil, 1 tbsp nutritional yeast and fresh ground pepper. I then roast them in our toaster oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Then top them with some freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese and eat hot. I dare you to try it!

Soups On…fresh tomatoes, red wine… Minestrone Soup

This soup is worth the effort, especially now when the ingredients are all fresh,  local and in abundance!  Tomatoes… I think I planted a few too many this year, though there is nothing that tastes so wonderfully fresh than a tomato! I have diced and measured out many bags for the freezer already and I know I will be glad when January rolls around and grocery store tomatoes just don’t taste like tomatoes anymore.

I hope you enjoy this Minestrone recipe.  The wine adds something special:)

Speaking of wine, we are off on our very first Bike Tour to the Napa Valley in California. We will cycle (yes, on peddle bikes) an average of 65 km per day on rolling hills through vineyards, see the redwoods and do a little wine tasting. Can’t wait:)

 

MINESTRONE- SERVES 6-8

 

2 cups cannellini or white kidney beans, fresh, canned or dried and soaked overnight

2 bay leaves

2 fresh tomatoes, squashed ( I use a potato masher)

2 small potatoes, peeled and cut in half

Pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper

4 small red onions or 1 large walla walla onion, peeled and finely chopped

4 carrots, peeled and chopped (large chunks)

4 sticks celery, trimmed and chopped

1 head of fennel, chopped

6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 small bunches of fresh basil, leaves and stems separated (finely chop the stems only)

5 cups fresh Roma (or a combination of) tomatoes diced or 2 cans of good quality no sodium added  plum tomatoes

4 small zucchini, quartered and sliced

2 glasses of red wine

1 good sized bunch of swiss chard or spinach, washed and roughly chopped including stalks

4 cups vegetable stock

4 oz dried whole wheat spaghetti pasta

Grated Romano cheese, to serve (optional)

Your favorite hot sauce

 

  1. Beans- Cover the dried cannellini beans with a generous amount of cold water in a bowl overnight. (make sure the water is at least 2 inches above the level of the beans). In the morning, drain the water and put beans into a good sized pot with fresh water, again covering them with water by at least 2 inches. (If you are using fresh or canned cover with water- start now)  Add the bay leaves, squashed tomato and potato. Cook for 30 minutes to an hour (less if fresh or canned) or until tender and soft but not mushy. Keep an eye on them making sure there is water always covering them, and check by tasting after about 25 minutes to see if they are done. Drain, reserving about a cup of the cooking water, and remove and discard the bay leaf, tomato and potato. Season with the salt and pepper and a splash of olive oil and set aside.
  2. While the beans are cooking, heat a glug of olive oil in a stock pot and add the onions, carrots, celery, fennel, garlic and the finely chopped basil stems. “Sweat” on low heat, with the lid left ajar for about 20 minutes until soft, but not brown. Add the diced tomatoes, zucchini and red wine and simmer gently for another 15-20 minutes.
  3. Add the chard or spinach, vegetable stock and the seasoned beans. Put the dried spaghetti pasta into a plastic bag and gently bash with a rolling pin to break the pasta into pieces. Add to the soup pot. Stir and continue to simmer until the pasta is done.
  4. If the soup is too thick add a little more stock or the reserved bean cooking water to thin it down. Season to taste with a little more salt and pepper if needed.
  5. Serve with torn up Basil leaves, a little grated Romano cheese and a few drops of hot sauce. Yum!