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Paparot—Spinach-Cornmeal Soup

Fruili-Venezia Giulia

I’m just barely one-third through the regions of my Regions Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). I skipped a few recipes because of seasonal availability of ingredients, but I’ll get back around to those later. Right now, I’m in Fruili-Venezia Giulia, at the very high point of Italy.

This is another simple but unique recipe. Cornmeal is a common ingredient in this region of Italy, and it figures heavily in a traditional soup called Paparot. It’s a thick, hearty soup, but made properly, it’s silky and luxurious. Although it is traditional to serve it with crusty toasted bread, you can also add some rice or noodles.

Paparot

Spinach-Cornmeal Soup

Makes 6 servings.

2 pounds spinach, washed, large stems removed
¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 or 2 large garlic cloves, peeled but whole
¾ cup all-purpose flour
8 cups broth
2/3 cup fine cornmeal
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Boil the spinach in a large pot of water with ¼ teaspoon salt just until wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain well and squeeze out as much water as possible. Chop the spinach and set aside.

In the same pot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the garlic and saute until golden on all sides. Remove the garlic and add the spinach. Whisk in the flour. Pour in half the broth, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. If any lumps form, work them out with the back of a wooden spoon.Pour in the remainder of the broth, then whisk in the cornmeal. Work out any lumps that form with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook over medium-low heat 30- to 40 minutes, stirring frequently and pressing out lumps, until the soup is thick. Season with salt and pepper.

 

 


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Minestra di Zucca

Fruili-Venezia Giulia

Welcome back to my Regions Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). This week’s recipe moves us into Fruili-Venezia Giulia, which is in the most northeastern corner of Italy. It borders Austria and Slovenia and it’s cuisine is influenced by those cultures. It uses a lot of root vegetables and hearty grains. The first recipe from the region I offer is a very simple one: butternut squash soup.

You’ve had butternut squash soup before, right? So have I. It’s a pretty common dish. There’s something a little different about this one, though. After the squash is cooked, a cup of ricotta is stirred in, creating a unique soup. The recipe is straight-forward and I don’t have too much to say about it, except for one thing. The original recipe instructs to “squeeze dry” the squash. I don’t know what they mean by this, but I put the squash in a sieve and pressed on it with a wooden spoon to release excess water. I further tweaked the instructions for clarity, and I thought the soup needed salt (not given in the original recipe). Other than that, it’s all pretty easy. Give it a try. Enjoy.

Minestra di Zucca

Squash Soup

Makes 6 servings.

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup ricotta
1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Pinch ground cinnamon
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the squash in a pot large enough to hold it all and cover with water. Add ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil; lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until the squash is tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the squash into a sieve set over a bowl to catch the water. Press the squash to release as much liquid as possible. Reserve the cooking water.Return the pot to the heat. Combine the oil and butter, and heat until the butter has melted. Add the garlic, then whisk in the flour.Add the squash and mash it with a potato masher or a stick blender. Stir in the ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, cinnamon, pepper, and salt. Stir in some of the reserved cooking water until it reaches a consistency to your liking. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

 


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Zuppa di Santa Lucia

Campania

This is the next entry in my Regions of Italy project, based on the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). Today we’re in Campania.

When I was going through the recipes from Campania, trying to decide which ones to do, as soon as I spotted one called “St. Lucy’s Soup,” I knew it would be on my list. St. Lucy, or Santa Lucia as she is known in Italian, has always been a part of my life.

Although her year of birth is recorded as 283 A.D. in Syracuse, Italy, not much is known about St. Lucy or the actual details of her death. Legend has it that she devoted herself to God and vowed chastity. Her mother had betrothed her to a young man, who, after being rejected, turned her in to the governor, Paschasius (Christianity was outlawed at this time, and paganism was the accepted religion).

As punishment, Paschasius sentenced her to work in a brothel, but guards couldn’t physically move her, even after tying her to a team of oxen. The guards then tried to create a pyre around her, but the wood wouldn’t burn. They finally succeeded in killing her with their swords.

One cloudy aspect of her story—and this is important part—was what happened with her eyes. There are conflicting stories about that. Some said that just before she died, she warned Paschasius that he would be punished for his actions, and for that, he had her eyes gouged out. Others said that Lucy plucked her own eyes out to discourage a suitor who admired them greatly. (That sounds a bit drastic to me.) Word of her faith and piety spread and she was venerated as a saint. When her body was being prepared for burial, they discovered her eyes had been miraculously restored.

What’s interesting is that “Lucia” is related to the Latin word lux, which means light. So, who knows where reality ended and legend exploded. She is the patron saint of vision and is often depicted holding a plate with eyes on them.

Tributes to St. Lucy in my childhood room.

When I was about 6 years old, I almost lost my sight. I was in the hospital for 9 days, during which time, doctors hovered around me, put me through countless tests, and poked and prodded me. The only information I have about that event is that I had a rare virus in my cornea. My parents didn’t speak much English, so the actual medical language was lost on them.

Knowing the kind of person my mother is, and my father was, the prospect of their child going blind must have been an unbearable torment for them. Especially for my mother. She prayed to Santa Lucia to restore my vision.

Whether it was St. Lucy’s intervention, medical knowledge, or natural self-healing, my vision was indeed restored, if a little shaky. But my mother, an Old World Italian woman who believes in the saints and in prayer, believed that she had Santa Lucia to thank, and from that time on, my room always had statues of St. Lucy, placed there by my mother. Kind of creepy as a child to look a statue of a woman holding a plate of eyeballs. But whatever.

And here’s something else. You probably don’t even know it, but one of the most popular Italian tunes that can be heard throughout the decades in the movies or TV shows is “Santa Lucia.” See if you recognize it. (Here’s Elvis performing it!)

Anyway, on to the actual recipe. Continue reading


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Lentil, Barley, and Vegetable Soup

Creating beautiful dishes with leftovers is something I love to do. There’s something very satisfying about taking bits and pieces from previous meals and turning them into something new and delicious. Maybe I get it from my mother, who, always trying to substantially feed her family of four, never let anything go to waste.

Sometimes a mish-mash of leftovers can be delicious, but not necessarily nutritious and filling in the long term. What’s often missing is protein. And protein is what you need to keep you satisfied for the long stretch, so you don’t go diving into a bag of nachos like you haven’t eaten in a week.

This recipe is an example of what you can do with a bunch of leftovers that can also be protein-rich, healthy, and filling. If you’re cooking lentils for another dish, make some extra and put it in the freezer so that you have it on hand when needed. Then, when you find yourself with a bunch of leftover odds and ends, bring it all together with some broth, and add those lentils for sustaining protein.

You can substitute whatever vegetables you have on hand, and can add whatever herbs or spices you want to create the kind of flavor profile that you like.

Enjoy!

Lentil, Barley, and Vegetable Soup

Makes 6 servings.

2 teaspoons olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon paprika
½ cup chopped carrot
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups vegetable broth
½ pound green beans, cut into ¼-inch pieces

2 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 packed cups chopped spinach or other greens

2 cups cooked lentils
1 cup cooked barley
¼ chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a 2-quart Dutch oven or saucepan. Add the garlic and sauté over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Sprinkle in the paprika. Add the carrot and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.Stir in the tomato paste. Work it in until it’s blended with the carrot and garlic. Stir frequently. When the bottom of the pot starts to brown, pour in about ¼ cup of the broth. Stir it in and scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the remaining broth, green beans, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until green beans are tender but still firm, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the spinach and stir it in thoroughly. (If you’re using other greens, let them cook a few minutes until tender. Spinach doesn’t need much time at all.) Add the lentils and barley. Continue simmering about 6 to 8 minutes longer to ensure everything is hot and to give the ingredients a chance to blend. Stir in the parsley. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

 

Makes 4 main course servings.


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Butternut Bisque with Roasted Snow Peas and Caramelized Mushrooms

I love butternut squash soup. There’s a savory sweetness to it that’s like nothing else. There are various ways to make it—smooth or chunky; with only broth or with cream; cream or almond milk; plain or with other ingredients, such as greens or beans; etc.

I chose to make this batch a plain bisque with only broth…but with additions. I decided to try roasting snow peas because roasting is my favorite way to prepare vegetables. I’d never roasted snow peas, however, and had no idea how they would turn out. I was pleased at the result. They have a roasty smokiness with just a hint of a pleasant bitterness. I thought they would make a nice topper to the bisque. And caramelized mushrooms? I don’t really think I need to sell that.

Butternut Bisque with Roasted Snow Peas and Caramelized Mushrooms

Makes 2 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
4 cups cubed butternut squash
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1½ cups vegetable broth
6 ounces snow peas
6 ounces cremini mushrooms
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minutes. Sprinkle in the paprika. Add the squash and 1 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 or 4 minutes. Pour in the broth. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes.Meanwhile, combine the snow peas with 1 tablespoon of the oil and one teaspoon of the salt and spread them out in a baking pan. Roast until nicely brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Stir them  halfway through cooking time.Heat the remaining oil in a medium skillet. Add the mushrooms and remaining salt. Sauté over medium-high heat until the mushrooms are golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. They will release water after about 6 or 7 minutes; after the liquid evaporates, the mushrooms will begin to brown.When the squash is done, puree it by either with a stick blender or by putting the contents of the saucepan into a blender. Stir in the black pepper. Taste the soup for seasoning and adjust, if necessary.Ladle the soup into 2 bowls. Arrange some of the snow peas and mushrooms on top and serve.


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Fresh Tomato Soup

All of my life, I never liked tomato soup. It always tasted like watered-down ketchup to me. Granted, my experience with tomato soup had been the canned variety, but I also had once or twice tried it in a restaurant or catered affair situation (I can’t remember which) and thought it was equally distasteful.

Then, I found a recipe for tomato soup using fresh tomatoes…and it changed my world. Now I knew what tomato soup was supposed to taste like. And I never looked back.

This is my recipe for fresh tomato soup. The  ingredients are extremely simple and the focus is on the tomatoes. It’s best to make this in summer, when tomatoes are at their peak. It doesn’t much matter which variety you choose, as long as they’re ripe and fresh. Enjoy! Continue reading


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Vegetable-Bean Stew with Spaghetti Squash

Very often, my stews and chilis are built on whatever produce is in season and available at the farmers’ markets. I’ll be honest—I don’t get everything at farmers’ markets. I’d be constantly broke. But I’ll find one or two or three items that are in season, sometimes only briefly, and that look particularly good. In this case, I had some gorgeous greens from a couple of bunches of beets, beautiful red onions, and bright, fresh out-of-the-ground carrots. I gathered a few more vegetables and assembled this stew.

But the beautiful thing about vegetable stew is that it’s wide open to ingredients. You can use whatever vegetables you like, whatever beans you like, and whatever herbs and spices you like. Or omit any of those things.

I had the good fortune of having several cloves of garlic in the refrigerator that I had pan roasted. I chopped those up and added them. If you want to add an extra depth of flavor, you can pan roast a few cloves before you begin the stew.

Vegetable-Bean Stew with Spaghetti Squash

1 small spaghetti squash
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped red onion
3 to 5 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup red wine, broth, or water
2 cups chopped green pepper
2 cups chopped, seeded tomatoes
1 ½ cups chopped carrots
4 cups vegetable broth or water
3 cups beans of your choice (such as Great Northern, pinto, cannellini, etc.)
4 cups (cleaned) chopped greens (such as beet greens, kale, chard, etc.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt*
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup freshly chopped herbs of your choice (basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, etc.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Split the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and strings from the center. Place the halves face down on a baking sheet. Roast until the tip of a knife goes through the flesh easily, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove them from the oven. When they’re cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape out the flesh. Place it in a bowl and set it aside.Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 3 o 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.Add the tomato paste and stir it in until it’s well blended. Cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes. When the bottom of the pot starts to get dark streaks, pour in the wine and stir it in. Scrape up the dark bits from the bottom of the pot.Add the green pepper, tomatoes, and carrots. Stir and cook 5 minutes. Pour in the broth and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are tender but still firm, about 10 to 13 minutes. Add the beans, greens, salt, and black pepper. Stir and cook another 5 minutes, or until the greens are tender. Stir in the herbs. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary.*Salting is best done in stages. Add a little bit of salt whenever you add a new ingredient. This gives each item a chance to absorb the salt, and it builds layers of flavor. This kind of instruction is difficult to impart in a recipe, but I have faith in you, my dearest readers.