So let me tell you about making soup in August.
I mean, who makes—let alone eats—soup in August? Except that, in August the garden out back is simply bursting with wonderful stuff, more than we newly empty nesters can possibly consume in a year when home entertaining is pretty much taboo.
Out back I have five varieties of tomatoes, both heirlooms from the Landis Valley Farm Museum Seed Project, and Camparis and San Marzanos I started from saved seeds. We simply can’t consume all these tomatoes ourselves as they ripen, so I have to be creative and productive, and be ready to squirrel away tomatoes for the winter months, when the tomatoes at the grocery store come from South America. Yech! Plus, there’s the herb garden—thyme, sage, oregano, parsley, chives, sweet and Thai basil…
Okay, okay. So I made copious quarts of sauce last week (recipe here: https://jeffskitchen.net/2013/08/25/canning-a-fabulous-marinara-sauce-quickly-and-simply/). And a batch of chutney. And admittedly, I will harvest, roast, peel, and can the last of the San Marzanos and Amish Pastes when the chill arrives—if it ever arrives—so that I have them to cook with in late fall and winter. And there is panzanella (recipe here: https://jeffskitchen.net/2018/07/02/authentic-tuscan-panzanella/ ) to be enjoyed while the big slicers are around.
This here recipe is about as good as soup recipes can get, especially if you like tomato soup. It’s not that “just-add-water-and-serve-with-grilled-cheese” creamy stuff from concentrate (although I have to admit, that’s pretty good too). And it’s not cold summer Gazpacho (although that’s pretty good too if you like cucumbers (recipe here: https://jeffskitchen.net/2013/07/16/cheffzillas-gazpacho-with-a-kick/).
But it’s a warm and flavorful chunky Mediterranean-style garden soup that tastes great, is completely vegan, freezes beautifully, and is even good cold.
So, if your garden is overflowing with tomatoes, if a bunch show up in the break room at work, if you can’t resist the huge piles of giant fresh tomatoes at the farmer’s market, or if you just want something sweet and swell, try this soup. It’s even one of the easiest soups you’ll ever make.
• 3 lb Roma tomatoes, halved, or whatever assortment you have on hand
• 2 to 3 carrots, cut into small chunks
• 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil (I used home made garlic-infused EVOO)
• 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
• 5-10 garlic cloves (to taste), smashed (I used a whole head of garlic)
• 1 14-oz can crushed tomatoes (Muir Fire-roasted, if you can find them)
• 1 cup packed, fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
• 3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme, or 2 tsp dried thyme leaves
• 2-3 sprigs fresh oregano, or 1 tsp dried oregano
• 1 tsp sweet paprika (you could use smoked paprika if you like, but I think it’s one too many flavors)
• 1 tsp ground cumin
• 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
• Juice of 1 fresh lime
Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
• In a large mixing bowl, combine tomatoes, garlic, and carrot pieces. Add a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Toss to combine.
• Transfer to a large baking sheet and spread well in one layer. Roast in heated oven for about 45 minutes. When ready, remove from the heat and set aside for about 10 minutes to cool.
• Transfer the roasted tomatoes, garlic, and carrots, and all the juice to a food processor fitted with a blade, and blend till just barely chunky.
• In a large enamel or stainless (NOT ALUMINUM!!!) soup pot, heat 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add onions and cook for about 3 minutes, then add salt and pepper and cook briefly until golden. Don’t let the onions burn.
• Pour the roasted tomato mixture into the cooking pot. Stir in canned tomatoes, vegetable stock, basil, thyme, and spices. Season with a little kosher salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover part-way. Let simmer for about 30 minutes or so.
• Remove the thyme springs, squeeze in the lime juice, and transfer tomato basil soup to serving bowls. If you like, add a generous drizzle of olive oil. Serve with your favorite crusty bread or grilled pieces of French baguette. Enjoy!
I came across an intriguing recipe the other day, and it looked about halfway unbelievable. I thought I might be able to improve it, and improve it I did. I changed it up from the original because A) doing so here would approximate plagiarism; B) I think my version came out way better than the original; and C) I’m not the biggest fan of zucchini in one-pot dishes–I find it to be mushy and I don’t think it adds significantly to the flavor layers in the dish. In most Asian cuisines there are layers of complex flavor and texture, and to me, zucchini doesn’t contribute enough to the dish to make it into the final product. I will, however, provide you with a link to the original at the end of the post.
The recipe as presented is vegetarian, but if you so desire, please try it with chicken, shrimp, pork, beef, or tofu for a jolt of protein and additional body. If you wish to add chicken, beef, or pork, cut into 1-2-inch strips and pound them flat (cut tofu into 1-inch cubes); marinate them 30-60 minutes in 2 Tbsp light soy sauce and 2 Tbsp rice vinegar; add them to the pot after the eggs are cooked; stir-fry them until just barely done; then set aside and continue on, and add them back just before adding the sauce. I am also presenting you options for oils, mushrooms, and leafy herbs based on your preferences. Any will work, in any combination–that’s the beauty of Thai cooking: options abound, while techniques remain the same.
This is a very tasty and simple-to-make one-pot noodle dish, and I highly recommend you try it when you need something quick, tasty, and different.
Spicy Thai Noodles
1 8-ounce package medium-width rice noodles
2 Tbsp peanut, coconut, or vegetable oil, divided
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 head bok choi, chopped, largest leaves chopped into strips
8 ounces mushroom (preferably shiitake, but white will do), chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tsp fish sauce (optional)
1.5 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce (or more if you wish, up to 1.5 Tbsp–you know what you like)
2 inches fresh ginger, grated
1/4 cup fresh Thai basil (or sweet basil or cilantro–whichever you prefer), chopped
4 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup peanuts, chopped
1. In a large heavy pot, fill halfway with water, salt, and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl combine brown sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce if you are using it, sriracha, and ginger; whisk well to combine; set aside.
3. Return the pot to the stove, heat over medium heat, and add 1 Tbsp oil. Add beaten eggs and red pepper flakes and stir to scramble the eggs. Once cooked, set aside with pasta.
4. Return the pot to stove, heat remaining 1 TBS oil over medium heat. Add the bok choi, mushrooms, and garlic. Saute over medium high heat for 5-6 minutes or until veggies are cooked through but the white stalks are still crisp.
5. Turn heat down to low, add pasta and eggs back to pot, then pour the sauce mixture over the top. Using a wooden spoon, stir well to coat pasta and vegetables with sauce. Remove from heat, add peanuts, green onions, and basil or cilantro; stir to combine, then garnish with additional chopped peanuts and chopped green onions.
6. Serve immediately.
Notes: Serve warm or cold – it’s great both ways! If you choose shrimp as your protein, add that when there is about 2-3 minutes left with for the veggies to cook.
Also, if you wish to see the original recipe from which this is adapted, you can find it here: http://pin.it/smcI5bM
Do you slave over a hot stove for hours perfecting your generations-old spaghetti sauce? The one your grandmother made, the one your mother made, the one your aunt across town made and to whom you traveled on Sundays because “her gravy was THE ONE!”
I don’t. At least not any more.
Blame it on Nino.
He is Nino Elia. He’s a chef of note here in the Lancaster PA area, who specializes in-home dinner parties, small events, and private cooking classes. Ellen and I met him doing a cooking-class presentation at my new favorite gourmet shop in the area, Zest! They called it Date Night with Nino!, and boy was it ever. Sixteen (mostly) cooking enthusiasts who love to get together and have a good time. This particular event was all about cooking Sicilian.
Nino presented pan-fried Kalamata olives with rosemary and ricotta salata, pollo alla vucciria–which he called Chicken Chaos (aptly named!), and spaghetti con pomodoro arrosto al forno, which basically is spaghetti with oven-roasted tomatoes and basil. It was all amazing.
When I was single and living in Olde City Philadelphia I used to make the spaghetti dish almost every night, because it is filling, healthy, cheap, and simple. But I didn’t know it had a name–to me it was spaghetti with a quick, fresh tomato and basil condiment.
Nino has raised this dish to an art form, taking it to a place beyond what I knew of Sicilian cuisine. It isn’t actually very far from what I used to make, but far enough to have awakened in me a new appreciation for what gets made for dinner in Sicily. I can imagine this dish being served nightly at homes all over the Italian island, and no one ever tiring of it–in fact, one can imagine alterations from time to time to keep the idea fresh.
So no more long, loving hours in the kitchen with red gravy (save that for some other recipe). Don’t cook your sauce to death. This one reeks of fresh ingredients. But also, it is so quick and simple that you will likely want to make this one of your go-to “dinners in a hurry.” That’s the way it ought to be.
Spaghetti con pomodoro arrosto al forno
12 ripe Roma tomatoes
5-8 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh basil, divided
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and pepper to taste
For the sauce: Cut the tomatoes in half and place on an olive-oiled baking sheet, skin side down. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic, chopped basil, and olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes in a pre-heated 400-degree oven. After 20 minutes turn the tomatoes cut side down an bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover loosely with foil, and set aside until just before the pasta is finished. Pick off the skins and half the sauce in a large saute pan over low heat. Chop or mash the tomatoes into chunks, taste for salt and pepper and adjust the flavor.
For the pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. When the tomatoes come out of the oven, add a tablespoon salt to the boiling water and stir once. Then add a box of spaghetti, stir once or twice, and cook for 2 minutes less than the recommended time on the package for al-dente pasta (the timing is important–the pasta will continue to cook after you remove it from the water). With a slotted spoon, remove the pasta from the water and place it in the pan with the sauce. Toss lightly to coat the pasta with the sauce.
Serve the pasta topped with the remaining sauce, garnished with more freshly chopped basil, freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Want to see more of Nino? Check him out at: https://www.facebook.com/Nino-Elia-145679935496202/
So today I’m faced with a challenge. We went to a new Italian restaurant for supper the other night, and it was wonderful—Salt & Pepper in the new Worthington shopping plaza on Oregon Pike, about halfway between Roseville Road and Landis Valley Road in Manheim Township. The best Italian food we have had since we moved here, other than homemade.
I had delicious linguine and clams in red sauce, E. had an excellent chicken Parmesan and spaghetti, and M. had spaghetti in vodka sauce, a light and creamy red sauce. It was an excellent meal.
The challenge, then, is to recreate the spaghetti in vodka sauce and make it even better than the restaurant’s version. I liked it, but I wished it had had a bit more of a spicy bite. I like my red sauces to have a little punch. Vodka sauce, on the other hand, is not particularly robust, relying on subtle but complex flavors mixed to perfection.
So what to do?
What I’ve done is replaced black pepper with white pepper, minced shallots instead of garlic, caramelized red onions instead of minced yellow ones, and a bit of sweet paprika and more red-pepper flakes than what most recipes call for. These changes add complexity to the dish. One further adjustment is that I use Absolut Peppar as the vodka in the recipe, but that is a personal vanity. Most any good vodka will do, but I truly like the layer of black pepper flavor it imparts. My favorite vodka is Blair and Brown, a true potato vodka made right here in Pennsylvania, but I’d rather savor that on the rocks with a bit of tonic and lime. Perhaps together?
Try this recipe at home. Use penne or linguine instead of spaghetti, and whole-wheat pastas will add a bit more bite to the dish. I’m certain you’ll like it, and will serve it to guests. It’s a true winner, sure to garner oohs and ahs from your friends and naysayers who think that vodka sauce is a bridge too far. That’s a bridge I willingly cross.
Penne with Vodka Sauce
1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano) , drained, liquid reserved
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium red onion, minced (about 1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium shallots, minced
1 teaspoon sweet Spanish paprika
1/4-1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
kosher salt and freshly ground WHITE pepper (much better than store-bought fine-ground)
1/3 cup vodka (try it with Absolut Peppar)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pound penne pasta
2 whole sprigs fresh basil, plus 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
1. Puree half of tomatoes until smooth. Dice remaining tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces, discarding cores. Combine pureed and diced tomatoes in liquid measuring cup (you should have about 1 2/3 cups). Add reserved liquid to equal 2 cups.
2. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. To caramelize the onion, add onion and brown sugar and cook over a low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are light golden brown and soft, about 15 minutes. Add tomato paste, and cook, stirring constantly about three minutes; add shallots, paprika, and pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Stir in tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Remove pan from heat and add vodka. Return pan to medium-high heat and simmer briskly until the alcohol is cooked off, 8 to 10 minutes; stir frequently and lower heat to medium if simmering becomes too vigorous. Remove the basil sprigs and stir in cream and cook until hot, about 1 minute.
4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Cook until just shy of al dente, then drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water, and transfer pasta back to Dutch oven. Add sauce to pasta and toss over medium heat until pasta absorbs some of sauce, 1 to 2 minutes, adding reserved cooking water if sauce is too thick. Stir in the minced basil and adjust seasoning with salt. Divide among pasta bowls, garnish with chopped basil, and serve immediately.
Morgan and her mom made these incredible spring rolls the other night for company, and they were a huge hit. I thought they were every bit as good as any I have had at a restaurant. Fact is, this is a restaurant recipe, from la Patisserie in Birmingham, Alabama, where a large Vietnamese population has resettled after the floods in New Orleans. There is a wonderful video that accompanies this recipe, for which I will post the link at the end of this recipe. Try these. You will need to find a good Asian market to get the rice wrappers, but if you haven’t found one already, you owe it to yourself to find one. Now. The one near us is wonderful, and always smells great. Very nice people, too.
Shrimp Spring Rolls
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 ounces rice vermicelli
24 baby shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 rice wrappers (8.5 inch diameter)
3 leaves lettuce, chopped
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
4 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
4 teaspoons finely chopped Thai basil
- Whisk vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, garlic, and red pepper flakes together in a small bowl. Set the dipping sauce aside.
- Fill a large bowl with room temperature water. Add rice vermicelli and soak for 1 hour.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in shrimp and cook until curled and pink, about 1 minute. Remove the shrimp and drain. Or you can buy precooked baby shrimp with the tails on. Defrost and pinch off the tails. Transfer rice vermicelli noodles to the pot of boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Remove and drain in a colander. Immediately rinse the vermicelli with cold water, stirring to separate the noodles.
- To assemble the rolls, dip 1 rice wrapper in a large bowl of room temperature water for a few seconds to soften. Place wrapper on a work surface and top with 4 shrimp halves, 1/4 of the chopped lettuce, 1/2 ounce vermicelli, and 1/4 each of the mint, cilantro, and Thai basil. Fold right and left edges of the wrapper over the ends of the filling and roll up the spring roll. Repeat with remaining wrappers and ingredients. Cut each roll in half and serve with dipping sauce.
Makes 6 spring rolls
Servings: 1 roll, 2 tablespoons dipping sauce