Minestra di Ceci
For part 2 of this revisit I thought I’d try one of the quicker recipes from Cooking Secrets of a Tuscan Family. One that can be banged out in about in about an hour. Actually this would be the middle timed version. The long method follows the book precisely by soaking dry chickpeas overnight followed by a 3 hour cooking. The faster method being chickpeas right out of a can and heated up. The way I prepared them was cooking canned Ceci for about an hour.
Ingredients. The list really couldn’t be easier. 1/2 lb. of dry chickpeas, 4 oz. of tomato paste, two garlic cloves some rosemary and extra virgin olive oil.
Substitutions. I’m really embarrassed. Yes gang, I used ‘boxed’ chicken stock. While getting my ingredients together I noticed our last two remaining boxes of Campbell’s low-sodium broth. I figure I’d use it up which would taste better than water. Terra hasn’t let me live it down. I apologize to you and your families.
Method. Either start with a soak or a can opener What you’re looking for are cooked, tender chickpeas. Once cooked, blend the chickpeas to a nice chunky purée. In a separate pot heat the oil and add in the rosemary sprig, crushed chopped garlic and a little salt. When you’re happy with the results, read: you haven’t burned the garlic, add in the tomato paste and mix well. Finally pour in the chickpea purée and heat the whole thing for another half hour. Season and serve.
The eating. I was really curious to taste this soup. I was concerned the tomato paste might take over. Was I ever wrong. The paste gives the soup a huge earthy taste. It tastes like Tuscany! And the rosemary adds a second assertive edge. Finally the little bursts of garlic and olive oil sneak in here and there to round out the overall smack. In fact the tomato taste is so wonderful, I wanted more! Next time I’ll add very ripe roasted tomatoes for even more strength. And cheese. My next bowl will certainly included some grated Parmesan.
Keeping it local. I suppose as long as I’m cooking Italian food I’ll never be able to keep things 100% local. My version of this soup used local rosemary and garlic and that’s about it. The chickpeas and tomato paste were both canned, probably goes without saying where the olive oil came from, and the salt and pepper, who the hell knows. Finally the stock, let’s never bring that up again. Final grade, D- for the grocery list.
Want to blow everyone away before serving your main course? Make this soup. It’s that good. But do yourself a favour, make real chicken stock. It’s so superior to anything you can buy. If you end up using broth from a box, lie.
While in Italy last May I took a cooking class in a small Tuscan town called Creti. It was a beautiful sunny day spent cooking, eating and drinking with the Micheli family on their property, Villa Rosa dei Venti. At the end of the evening I picked up a copy of their family cookbook “Cooking Secrets of a Tuscan Family”. Full of great recipes, it celebrates the Micheli family history as well as the food they grow and prepare. Over the next few posts I plan to revisit my time spent with the Micheli’s by cooking some of my favourites from their book.
“Rosa dei Venti” Sauce
We cook a lot of Italian food here at SixTop Industries. Specifically pasta sauces because they’re quick and so good. Most are really basic but some get more involved. The nice thing about pasta sauces is that once you get the fundamentals down you can improvise. Each additional ingredient adds another level of texture and flavour.
The Micheli’s “house” sauce was unusual for me because it goes beyond the usual procedure of cooking vegetables, meat and tomatoes. Read on:
Ingredients. Normally I only use ground pork or sausage when making a meat sauce. This recipe has those but also some really cool extras. Begin with sautéing chicken and rabbit livers, crushed garlic cloves and fresh thyme sprigs in olive oil. Once nicely browned, finely chop the livers and add them in with the other meats. Those being ground pork, veal and Tuscan sausage meat.
Substitutions. Seeing as I don’t live in the most Italian part of the world, and Tuscan sausages are rare, I substituted “spicy italian” jobs from a local butcher. And not having rabbit livers on hand I just doubled the chicken livers. Doesn’t everyone have a big bag of those in the freezer?
Keeping it local. Yes we remain committed to keeping it close to home where we can. So obvious items aside like the olive oil, s/p and cheese, this was a very local sauce. We bought the carrots, onion and garlic at the Halifax Seaport Market from various stands. The ground pork came from the Canning Village Meat Market. The veal and sausages were labelled “Nova Scotia” from Pete’s and the chicken livers came from chickens at Windy View. I just realized two non-local items, the celery was grocery store and the jarred tomatoes also from Pete’s. So I give us a B+. It’s a list as mixed as the locations and people involved. An Italian family’s recipe cooked in Nova Scotia by a Alberta girl and Montreal boy.
Tomaotoes. Ornella (Mama) Micheli and daughter Barbara taught us a specific approach to adding the tomatoes. To start, use bottled tomatoes, not canned. When everything is browned, instead of just dumping in the whole bottle, you do something different. Without disturbing the meat and vegetables too much, create wells and pour in about half a cup of tomatoes into each. Do this in about seven or eight spots. Mama declared this procedure extremely critical! Only after some time of undisturbed cooking do you gently start to mix everything together and empty the bottle. I asked if less agitation makes the meat more tender. Yes, it does.
The eating. After a good hour of slow and low cooking the sauce turns a deep red and tastes smooth and mellow, yet strong. The liver bits melt slightly and add that familiar taste. When completed, sauce the pasta (not too much!), crack on some pepper and grated Grana Podano. With a final hit of extra virgin olive oil you’ll have yourself a meal. We ate ours with chilled Fontella Orvieto Classico.
Try this pasta sauce! It’s a nice change from the usual and doesn’t require tons of work. Now kick back, tuck in and stay tuned for Part 2…
As mentioned before in many of our posts, things don’t always go according to plan around here. Try as we might, disasters are part of the game for the home cook and recipes sure aren’t perfect. Oh the shame of it all. But we buck up right? We dust ourselves off and get back up on the horse. Before throwing it on the grill.
Case in point, the “truck full of jet-fuel crashing into a elementary school” Ballotine de poulet episode from last April. If you didn’t read it, I was at frustration level RED, my hands covered in guts, swearing like crazy while trying to tie up that #$%!@*in’ bird. Terra at my side hiding the sharper implements. Not my best moment but at least the spoils were worth the humiliation of my outbursts.
This time however, it was all Zen man. I went downstairs thinking, don’t get pissed off, concentrate and try to make it work. Debone and tie-up this chicken and enjoy it. And it worked! Wow. It’s like performing a task repeatedly helps you get better. Sounds like Greeting Card crap, but seriously. The tie-up part of the project went nice and easy. None of the stuffing (mushroom and herbs) came out while tying and the final product was pretty and delicious.
I’m not an angry person in the kitchen. Normally cooking is my way to relax. That particular occasion last year was a lousy experience but I got the message. Try and try harder. It’s also fair to admit there’s still many chickens ahead of me before I replicate Jacques Pépin.
NB. Apologies for our absence so far in 2012. There’s no excuses, we’ve been lame. Happy new year anyway!
Christmas is all about the food for us. Are we alone here? Not a bloody chance. It seems this year all I’m hearing about are different holiday dinner plans. Course after course of insanity. Turkeys, pork, veal, vegetables, tourtières, desserts, cheeses, breads. Where do you stop? Actually another question would be, where do you start? With soup of course!
Winter screams for big, hot bowls of soup so why not squeeze one into the line up at Christmas time? With just a few ingredients, including a great stock, soup can start off your Yuletide feast and ease everyone into the heavy loads headed to the table. One I make often, that never fails, is a thick potato and watercress soup. Ready in about 25 minutes, it’s hearty and delicious.
Potato and watercress soup
- 1 lb. – Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled and cut into 1/2″ chunks)
- 1 – Medium sized onion (chopped)
- 1 – Garlic clove (minced)
- 1 bunch – Watercress (coarsely chopped)
- 3 tbsp – Butter
- 2 tbsp – Olive oil
- 2 – 3 cups – Chicken stock (or turkey!)
- Salt and Pepper
- Heat the oil and 2 tbsp of butter in a pot over medium heat.
- Once the butter has stopped sizzling add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent. Don’t forget to season.
- After 5 minutes add the potato and just enough stock to cover.
- Bring everything up to the boil and then lower to a simmer.
- After 10 minutes throw in the watercress and add more stock to cover. You can use water instead but it won’t be as good.
- Cook everything at a simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are very tender.
- Once there find a way to blend everything. You could do batches in a counter blender or the hand held type. Make it as smooth or chunky as you prefer.
- Return the soup to a light heat and stir in the last tablespoon of butter. Season.
On a normal day you could serve this soup as is but t’is the season. Add some cream for crying out loud! We all know the rest of the meal is going to be rich. One variation I’ve tried is adding celery leaves with the watercress. Another could be a small pile of oyster mushrooms sauteed in butter placed in each bowl. Or pan seared scallops. Anyway you serve it, this soup is a champ.
So that’s it for SixTop in 2011. Thanks for all the comments, likes and tweets. We’re already looking forward to another year of posts, pics and crazy diet restriction experiments. We hope you’ll continue reading. Season’s Greetings and Happy New Year!
As of November 1st Terra’s all Nova Scotia diet finally came to an end. We decided to celebrate by inviting the gang over for a multi-course, all night Italian feast like no other we’ve hosted. As luck would have it, the selected night also coincided with a visit from our dear friend Adriana Palanca. What a way to welcome back food.
On the big day we had a ton to do. Shopping at the market, booze, dishes and glasses to pick up, lunch and finally a full afternoon in the kitchen. Bliss! Once home Terra made a fresh batch of her expert apple sauce and jarred it up for take-home gifts. In the kitchen Adriana and I made pasta and tomato sauce. With that done there were vegetables to prep, the antipasto platter to build and two chickens to tie-up. I knew the night of food would go late so the invite was for 5pm. I was only setting the table as NickPick and Doug showed.
We kept the food coming steadily trying to leave enough time between courses for wine refills, burps and the hope of digestion. By evening’s end we ate five courses, two less than I would have liked, but for 10 people we did some damage. The true sign of a successful dinner party here is when Doug says he’s so full he’s getting angry. Which he did, and always as he plates more. What a guy. The others were no slouches either. But those who went for more lasagna gasped a bit when I showed off the two chickens and vegetables about to be roasted. They thought the lasagna was the meal. Bwahaha!
- Cannelloni beans and onions marinated in olive oil and wine vinegar on bread
- Olives and pickled mushrooms
- Prosciutto and various salumi
- Pecorino with aged balsamic
- Olives Ascolane (Fried stuffed olives)
- Roast chickens with sautéed carrots and roast beets with garlic
- Chad’s homemade pistachio ice cream (killer)
It all went down with help from insults, jokes, Italian beers, champagne, 10 bottles of wine and finally limoncello.
No one would disagree the culinary stars of the night were the stuffed olives and lasagna. Both Palanca inspired and made possible with her awesome help. We even put in a long distance call to Mama in NDG for live tips!
Adriana calls Olives Ascolane “little prayers” and here’s why. Originally from Ascoli Piceno, the recipe calls for each olive to be carefully opened to remove the pit and stuffed with incredibly fine, sautéed ground beef and olive meat. The olive is then reshaped,
rolled in fine bread crumbs and fried. No we didn’t make them! That would be insane. Fourtunetly I happen to have a source that keeps me well stocked. Serve them hot with a lemon wedge to complete the miracle.
The lasagna though, was entirely homemade. We made a seven egg and olive oil pasta
that was light and airy like linen. The thin sheets dried in the dining room for an hour before a quick boil. Together with the tomato sauce, we had 12 gorgeously thin layers, bubbling with cheese after an hour or so in the oven.
By 11pm the chickens hit the table. It had been about an hour break since the last course and with all the wine going around we were ready to eat again. I seem to recall Chad and Shawn saying they were actually hungry. Nice! The closers were bowls of smooth, cool ice cream, made by Chad, which completely hit the spot. A fine ending.
This was easily our best dinner party yet. We celebrated Terra’s will power to eat local for a month and welcomed back to the table what she missed the most; olive oil, salt, pepper, citrus and pasta. Thankfully we had friends on hand willing to endure over seven hours of eating and who still asked for seconds.
Terra’s long-suffering sentence of only eating 100% from Nova Scotia has been affecting us both. Now at the halfway mark, we are getting used to the restrictions. Some obstacles persist, limiting us in different ways.
I’m faced with a greater cooking challenge than normal. First off, everything has to pass the “Is it local?” test. Which isn’t really a biggie anymore. With two weeks in we have our sources and plan better for meals. The thing I can’t change is I have to continually figure out how to avoid olive oil, salt & pepper and citrus. All of which I normally rely on to enhance what I cook.
Of course, Terra is carrying the heavier sack of rocks. Take this weekend. She was miserable. Sitting there on the couch counting the days left. Depressed and hungry with her eyes shut tight, she was probably dreaming of November 1st and the sweet, tasty freedom to come. A nice meal out, bread and pasta, olive oil or awesome chips with a movie. Not that she ate those things often before but now the option to have them is missing too. I feel for her.
Truthfully our meals so far this month have been pretty damn good. Our thanksgiving dinner, the roasted chicken and fish dishes are only some of the great things we’ve conjured up that turned out well. This post is about last night’s creation; roasted portobello mushroom caps topped with mushroom duxelle, aubergine and tomato sauce with fried eggs. The only sin was the four tablespoons of butter. The fried eggs were a last-minute addition and I thought they made the meal something more special. We washed everything down with more Jost L’Acadie chardonnay, a surprisingly good Nova Scotia wine we’ve taken a shine to. Here’s what to do:
Roast portobello with fried eggs
- 2 – Large portobello mushrooms
- 4 – Button mushrooms (chopped)
- 1 – Onion (chopped)
- 2 – Garlic cloves (minced)
- 1 – Small aubergine (chopped)
- 3/4 cup – Tomato sauce. I used my usual recipe but omitted all the no nos.
- 4 – Springs of thyme (stems removed)
- 1/4 cup – Cheese (grated) We used a local cheddar.
- 4 tbsp – Butter
- Salt and pepper for you hipsters not on wacky diet like this.
- Set oven to 375°
- Cut off the stems from the portobellos.
- Chop button mushrooms, onion and aubergine and portobello stems into small 1/4 dice. Heat up a frying pan to medium high.
- Melt one tablespoon of butter and evenly drizzle it on the underside of the portobello caps. Put mushroom on a wire rack in a tray and into the oven.
- Put the other two tablespoons of butter in the pan, melt and the pour in all the copped vegetables. Cook until browned. After a few minutes add the thyme.
- Once the vegetable have cooked pour in the tomato sauce. Cook it down so it’s reduced and not runny. When done pour it all into a waiting bowl or something.
- Heat up another pan for the eggs.
- Turn the oven off and take the caps out. Spoon a good portion of the vegetable sauce mix on top of the caps.
- Put the last tablespoon of butter in the pan, crack the eggs in and fry ‘em.
- Sprinkle the grated cheese on the caps with topping and put back in the cooling down oven to melt.
- When the cheese has melted, plate the mushrooms and fried eggs.
With two weeks left to go eating only local we’ll have to keep up the creativity in the kitchen. And while Terra endures the pain, I’ll continue dealing with the cooking limitations and my effort to try something different every night while keeping things somewhat simple and delicious.
This is not me. I swear it. But if I ever ask a server if the chicken had a name, shoot me, stuff me with locally grown herbs and serve with homemade apple torte and Valley wine.