Bringing Villa Rosa dei Venti home – Part 2

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.


Cracking egg salad

Just about anything goes when making egg salad. Raid your fridge for condiments and fresh vegetables and the variations can be endless. Of course you can always go for the basic chopped eggs with mayo only. But why settle? I think a good egg salad should be as much about texture as taste.

Recipe (makes 4 to 5 sandwiches)

  • 6 to 7 – Hard boiled eggs
  • 3 to 4 tbsp each – Chopped red onion, pickles, cucumber, parsley
  • 4 tbsp – Mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Alternatives:

  • 3 to 4 tbsp each – Chopped celery, capers, lettuce, chives, bread crumbs
  • 2 tbsp – Mustard (with 2 tbsp of mayo)
  • Pinch – Turmeric, smoked Paprika, Cayenne Pepper

And there are so many ways to serve this up. Try a cup of egg salad on top of some lightly dressed romaine lettuce, spinach, beet greens or thick-sliced tomato. Respect the classics and go for an egg salad sandwich, plain or toasted. Other variations could be a wrap, bagel or open-faced rye bread egg salad sandwich with sprouts. Remember, texture is important. You don’t want just a pile of eggy mush.

Hard boiled eggs

Want to know how to make a great egg salad even better? By boiling those eggs properly! Believe it or not there’s more to it than just putting eggs in water and cooking the @#$% out of them. Boiling eggs the right way requires an attentive eye and some patience. Here’s a fail-proof method I use.

  1. Place the eggs in enough water so that they’re covered over by about an inch.
  2. Put the heat on high and let the water come to a boil. Don’t walk away!
  3. When you start to see large bubbles in the water, lower the temperature to an active simmer. Turn on your timer to 9 or 10 minutes. I prefer 9 minutes.
  4. When the timer dings, drain out the hot water and run cold water over the eggs. This stops the cooking.
  5. Pour out the cold water and lightly slam the eggs around in the empty pot until the shells crack a bit. Add more cold water. Repeat this step a few more times then pile in some ice. The cracking allows water to get in behind the shell which makes for easier peeling.

Lowering the temperature after the water comes to a boil is important. Eggs cooked over too high a heat, for too long, will have an off-putting green sulfur film around the yoke.

I recently switched to buying fresh eggs from the farmer’s market. Truthfully, I can’t say I taste a huge difference between them and ones from the grocery store. To tell if your eggs are fresh is very simple. A fresh egg will have a compact yoke and the white will be dense, sitting in a watery outer layer. As an egg ages the yoke will spread out and flatten and the white will look more like water.