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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup

In Food on March 24, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Albert always tells me not to cook a new dish when guests are coming over, but I don’t always listen. Such was the case just before leaving Trieste, when Alice and Michele joined us for a farewell dinner. We decided that I was in charge of the first course and Albert was in charge of the second course, and given my winter predilection for soups, I decided to concoct up a soup.

Now, we have a minor problem in our household. I love soups. Albert doesn’t. But….he does like mushrooms, and mushroom soups. So when I proposed soup as the first course for dinner, it was mushroom soup or bust.

(For the record, he also quite enjoys my Tom Kha soup…perhaps I’ll send you the recipe for that one in the future, but I didn’t dream that one up on my own!)

This soup turned out fantastic. Literally, stellar. Everyone loved it, and it has since been repeated for other visiting guests (Francesca and Severio) and for special soup nights at home. I strongly recommend you give it a shot. This soup is lush and luxurious, with layers of mixed mushrooms paired with barley and chestnuts and then blended to a delightful, chunky, hearty deliciousness! Served with a dollop of cream and/or oil and freshly grated parmesan cheese, this soup has left every eater asking for seconds.

If you don’t have the chestnuts, the soup is also fine (just a bit less thick and rich) if you skip them. I once tried to sub in some alternate nuts and it just didn’t maintain the flavor profile, so I recommend chestnuts or no nuts.

By the way, pictures of our second course (escalivada and charcuterie, along with Albert’s homemade olive bread, fresh out of the oven) are also below. Looks delicious, eh? It was certainly a wonderful meal!

Ingredients:

  • 2 yellow/white onions, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 10 large/15 medium mushrooms—washed and sliced
  • red wine (2-4 glugs)
  • 1 L water
  • 2/3-1 cup barley
  • 1 cube vegetable bouillon
  • handful of dried mushrooms
  • 100-150g frozen chestnuts
  • Soy sauce
  • 75-125g heavy cream
  • Olive oil
  • A generous sprinkle of salt
  • A sprinkle of pepper
  • A sprinkle of thyme
  • Bay leaves (3-4)
  • Butter (to taste)
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Heat a glug of olive oil in a large pot. Add the onions, and simmer for 5 minutes. Then, add the garlic, and simmer for another 3-5 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and 2-3 glugs of red wine. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes.

In the meantime, boil 1 liter of water in a medium pot. Once the water is boiling, add the barley, vegetable bouillon, and dried mushrooms. After the mushrooms have cooked for 10 minutes, add the water and barley to the large pot.

Add salt, pepper, thyme, and bay leaves. Cover and simmer for 20’, stirring from time to time.

Add the chestnuts and cook for another 20-30’.

Remove the bay leaves. Add cream, a glug of soy sauce, and oil or wine to taste. Blend with an immersion blender. Add salt, pepper, wine, oil, soy sauce, cream, or butter to taste.

Serve topped with oil, cream (optional), and fresh parmesan cheese.

 

The bread

 

The spread

Stuffed olives

In Food on December 27, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Albert and I invited everyone over for an aperitivo in honor of my birthday. (Yes, I know my birthday was at the beginning of the month; let’s just say this post spent a long time “gestating” before it finally became reality.)  The event in itself worked out splendidly–it’s wonderful how we’ve managed to make so many great friends in such a short time. Yes, in just under two months, we managed to make 10 friends who joined us to celebrate my birthday.

Our menu featured some classic hors d’oeuvres that are staples in our repertoire: baba ghanoush with fresh sliced vegetables and grissini for dipping; pa amb tomàquet and assorted toppings: 2 kinds of cheese (for the veggie-friendly) and 2 kinds of embotits (for the non-vegetarians out there!); and focaccia (a recipe for the perfect focaccia will grace the pages of this blog in the near future, as soon as we’ve nailed it perfectly!). Of course, the drink of the evening was the spritz. And the night also saw two new dishes: a delicious sweet tahini dip and some stuffed olives.

I’ve been dreaming about stuffing my own olives for a while now. Every time I walk by them in the store, I salivate over them, but stuffed olives are just SO darn expensive that they’re by necessity a luxury item, even in Europe where olives are much more accessibly priced than in the States. Recently, however, I discovered some really delicious pitted olives in the grocery store: lightly marinated in oil, oregano, and herbs, they are delicious on their own or chopped up into a salad or on top of a focaccia. They’re also big enough to stuff, so in honor of my birthday, stuffed they were.

Stuffing olives is certainly a time-intensive task, and it’s a bit on the oily side too, so be prepared! However, it’s also a lot of fun. I imagine that this could be a great way to keep the kids busy and entertained while cooking up the rest of the meal. So get ready to get oily, and prepare for a great hors d’oeuvre!

 

Stuffing olives: you can see the block of feta, feta matchsticks, herbs spread over the work surface, pitted green olives, oregano, and the first few olives I've stuffed in this picture.

Feta stuffed olives

Ingredients:

  • Good quality pitted green olives, marinated in oil, oregano, and herbs
  • Block of feta cheese (approx. 100 grams should be sufficient for 30+ olives, but this will depend on the size of your olives)
  • Your choice of dried herbs: I used oregano, red pepper flakes, and basil
  1. Cut the feta cheese into matchsticks small enough to stuff into your olives.
  2. Sprinkle herbs on a plate, and roll the cheese matchsticks into the herbs, coating them on all sides.
  3. Stuff herb-covered cheese into your olives. It helps to squeeze the olives slightly at the center when you are smushing the cheese into them. If you need more cheese, add more; if you have too much, feel free not to put it all in your olives.
  4. Clean off any cheese that has smeared on the outside of the olives.

That’s it. They’re that easy! And boy, were they delicious.

Fast food in Italy?!?

In Food, Life in Italy on November 28, 2010 at 9:21 pm

(Note: This post was a special request from the folks pictured below!)

Sadly, a new Burger King near our house just celebrated its grand opening–fast food is gaining importance the world over. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised with one of the fast food options we discovered at the mall when we joined a group of friends for a movie last week: A fast food pasta restaurant.

The big difference: real, fresh, cooked-to-order pasta dishes. You picked from a variety of pasta options and they cooked up your pasta for you on the spot. And the pasta was pretty good quality, too. Check out this pasta bar with some of the types of pasta you could order and/or purchase to take home with you–egg fettuccine, spinach fettuccine, bacon fettuccine, mushroom tortellini, and even chocolate ravioli (well, perhaps that one’s not so healthy!):

Food was served on real, ceramic dishes, with real silverware. Check out my pasta dish: a kind of vegetable ravioli with an herbed cheese sauce. “Buon Appetito” is right:

Here’s a shot of all of us at the table (can’t you see me sitting there at the back left?):

PS. Sorry for the long delay between posts–last week was busy with a trip to Barcelona for Hugo and Daniela’s wedding; the wedding party, ironically, was held at an Italian restaurant!

The aperitivo and the Spritz–two Italian staples

In Food, Life in Italy, Trieste on November 14, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Perhaps you’ve noticed I haven’t written as much as I hoped (and promised) to. The reason: I’ve been having quite a few aperitivos and quite a few Spritzes.  For those of you who have been to Italy, you know that the aperitivo is the Italian equivalent to Spanish tapas, and a vague friend of the American cocktail hour.  It varies a bit in every city, but all versions involve meeting up with friends at the start of the evening for a drink and a nibble at a favorite bar.

In some Italian cities, you go inside the bar and sit or stand near the counter; you pay for one drink and eat the delicious appetizers that are served up ’til your heart’s content.  Trieste, however, is filled with outdoor terraces–so it’s more common here to grab a table outside one of the many bars that fill the city. In this pedestrian-friendly strolling city, people have their aperitivo outside regardless of the temperature (they bundle up or turn on outdoor space heaters) and the weather (huge umbrellas as big as 9 square meters protect you from the rain).

We especially frequent a place called “Bar Russian” in the Borgo Teresiano part of the city, which is composed of wide pedestrian-only streets and is one of the key shopping districts in town–a perfect place for an afternoon or evening stroll, and a common spot for the aperitivo.

Here, you sit down at a table, and for the price of a drink (3-4€) they also bring you a wide variety of food to nibble on.  Each place is different, and some are more generous than others, but it’s common to find items from simple staples (olives, potato chips, peanuts, pistachios, or grissini–long, thin Italian breadstick-crackers, often with different seasonings or toppings) to elaborated spreads or spreadables (artichoke and olive dips, delicious salsa; once we even were served a truffle dip!) and warm foods (pizzas, foccaccias, pastries, mini-sandwiches, and more). If you are inside, you just mosey up to the bar to munch away; places lay out snacks for the patrons who stand at the bar (and in some places, the spread is a smorgasbord filled with tons of different dishes!)


Perhaps the most famous cocktail in this part of Italy is the Spritz, a bright orange drink which, unsurprisingly, also has many variations.  The “classic” Spritz is a mix of sparkling wine (often Prosecco; in some places they also use dry white wine), seltzer or other very fizzy water, and Aperol (the distinctive bitter-orange-and-rhubarb alcohol produced by the Campari company), in approximately equal proportions. Serve over ice cubes in a medium-stemmed, medium-bulb wine glass, dressed with a large green olive or an orange slice (or both!).  Since I’ve come to Italy, the humble Spritz has become my go-to pre-dinner drink.

Spritzes come in many variations, and here, you can’t order a Spritz without specifying which kind you want. The most common seem to be the classic Spritz-Aperol or its darker companion, the Spritz-Campari; Campari is a much stronger, more bitter alcohol, and makes for a darker red color in the cocktail. Then there’s the “Padova-Milano,” which mixes Aperol and Campari–theoretically in recognition of the differing traditional preferences in each of the cities–or the Spritz Bianco–a light, summery Spritz which omits the stronger alcohols–basically just white wine with water here! And these are just the most common variations in Trieste–there are lots of variations.

So: sorry for my absence, but I’m sure you’ll understand–the Italian cocktail cultures comes calling regularly at the best blogging hours!

Caponata

In Food on November 2, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Tonight, we had caponata for dinner.  Mmm, delicious. Here’s a picture:

Caponata is a traditional, eggplant-based Sicilian dish. I used this recipe for ours:

http://racheleats.wordpress.com/2009/03/11/caponata/

It involves gently frying a variety of vegetables (ours included onion, celery, fennel, zucchini, and eggplant) and then adding in tomatoes, pine nuts, raisins, and basil and dressing it with a vinegar and tomato sauce accented by sugar, salt, and pepper. The dish is then covered, which allows the flavors to meld as the vegetables continue to steam.

I just discovered Rachel’s blog last night, and am looking forward to cooking my way through it!  Delicious Italian food, described in English. For all you English speakers out there, check it out!

I’ve also discovered that there are many varieties of Caponata: it always has eggplant, but among the ingredients that we didn’t include are capers, olives, carrots, green peppers, and even octopus! There will certainly be some variations on this recipe appearing in our kitchen in the near future!